UTeach Students and STEM Faculty Offer Hands-On Activities, North Campus Tours

Physical Therapy and Kinesiology Clinical Associate Prof. Edgar Torres helps with a biology activity led by UTeach student Mareena Soliman for students from Methuen High School Image by Henry Marte
Physical Therapy and Kinesiology Assoc. Prof. Edgar Torres works with UTeach student Mareena Soliman on a biology activity for ninth-graders from Methuen High School.

By Katharine Webster

About 130 students and their teachers from four area high schools visited North Campus in early April for a morning filled with science, math and engineering activities planned by UML students in the UTeach program. 

Half of the visitors were high school juniors and seniors, some of them already planning to attend UMass Lowell next fall. The other half were ninth-graders who came for hands-on activities in math and biology. Everyone toured North Campus and heard a brief overview of the admissions process. 

Some of the high school students didn’t want to leave campus because they were having so much fun, says UTeach Director and Education Assoc. Prof. Sumudu Lewis.

“They loved getting into the university labs with our students and faculty to do experiments,” she says.

Students from four area high schools listen to a UML admissions presentation during a field trip sponsored by UTeach Image by Henry Marte
Students from four area high schools listen to a brief overview of UMass Lowell's admissions process.
UTeach is an education minor for students who major in one of the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering or math. Now celebrating its 10th year at UML, UTeach is a national program that aims to address the shortage of high school STEM teachers, and it emphasizes a hands-on, inquiry-based approach to learning. UTeach students get an initial teaching license upon graduation and completion of the full-time student teaching requirement.

The visit on Friday, April 8, was organized by UTeach “teacher candidates” with assistance from faculty in science, engineering, health sciences, education and math. The teacher candidates are preparing for full-time student teaching by presenting lessons regularly in a high school classroom, overseen by a mentor teacher.

The field trip gave the UTeach students a chance to show “their” high school students the kinds of lab experiments and learning that await them if they go on to college. That’s just what junior electrical engineering major Javier Palma did with a group of juniors and seniors from an engineering class at Lowell High School. 

Palma gave each student a small “breadboard,” equipment and instructions on how to build a circuit that would turn on an LED light and control the rate at which it flashed. The students discovered there were multiple ways to complete and control the circuit.

Students from Lowell High School work on circuits following instructions from UTeach student Javier Palma Image by K. Webster
Two students from Lowell High School work on a circuitry exercise created by UTeach student Javier Palma.
Lowell High junior Jonathan Pronh enjoyed trying different approaches.  

“It’s really interesting to see the different ways you can build a circuit. Right now, I’m experimenting,” he said, as he reconfigured wires and connections. 

The lessons Palma presented under the supervision of Lowell High engineering teacher Megan Pederson ’14 were also a hit with Pronh, who says he “definitely” plans to apply to UMass Lowell to study science or engineering.

“It really opens up things we don’t do in the classroom,” Prohn said.

Pederson, who is now in UML’s Doctor of Education program, says field trips to campus are a great opportunity for her Lowell High students, who live nearby and see the university from the outside but don’t always understand what goes on inside – or see it as a place where they belong.

UTeach student Grace Hansen looks at a water sample brought in by students from Greater Lowell Technical High School Image by K. Webster
UTeach student Grace Hansen checks water samples brought in for testing by students at Greater Lowell Technical High School.
“The university looks scary to them; it looks big. But doing something here with community members shows them it’s actually an approachable place,” she says. “And some of the students can see themselves doing this someday.”

In Civil and Environmental Engineering Assoc. Prof. Sheree Pagsuyoin’s lab, junior biology majors Jessica Coppinger and Grace Hansen helped their students from Greater Lowell Technical High School conduct an exercise with Pagsuyoin and Ph.D. student Varsha Niroula.

The high school students brought pond water that they’d tried filtering at school using a combination of materials, including sand, gravel, charcoal, cotton balls, coffee filters and, in one group’s case, Lucky Charms cereal. In Pagsuyoin’s lab, each group tested the filtered water for chemical oxygen demand, dissolved oxygen, water hardness and Ph to see which group’s filter yielded the cleanest water.

They worked under the hood, created chemical reactions and learned about what oxygen content means about the level of pollution.

Students from Greater Lawrence Technical School on North Campus with Assoc. Prof. Andrew Rogers and UTeach student Matthew Sager Image by K. Webster
Students from Greater Lawrence Technical School listen to Physics Assoc. Prof. Andrew Rogers during a tour of North Campus led by UTeach student Matthew Sager.
High school senior Savanah Chhun, who was in that group, said she will be a first-year student in the Zuckerberg College of Health Science’s applied biomedical sciences program next fall. She’s already working in food service on South Campus on the weekends, and she plans to live at home in Lowell while she goes to school. 

“I didn’t know where I wanted to go to college and my mom wanted me to come here, so I applied,” she said. “It was my first choice.”

Other groups of students toured the small, experimental nuclear reactor and did experiments in Biomedical Engineering Asst. Prof. Walfre Franco’s lab involving light absorption and light scattering. 

Elijah Antunes, a senior at Methuen High School who worked with UTeach student William Zouzas on the light experiments, has also been accepted to UMass Lowell and is considering majoring in the new B.S. in Quantitative Economics, he said.

The high school students who attended came from Methuen, Lowell, Greater Lowell Technical and Greater Lawrence Technical high schools.