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Sparking Passion for STEM with St. Francis de Sales

By Rosie DiGironimo

Published on June 9, 2021

St. Francis de Sales studentsThroughout the spring semester, faculty and students representing various departments of Misher College of Arts and Sciences visited seventh and eighth graders at St. Francis de Sales School, just a few blocks from campus, to promote science, technology, engineering and math education and careers. 

Students from St. Francis de Sales participated both virtually and in-person through a classroom video camera that projected the virtual attendees on the screen.

The USciences’ Physics department performed multiple thought provoking experiments with students during the first visit in February. Roberto Ramos, PhD, Dan Fauni PHYS’23, Keeran Ramanathan PHYS’22, Kayla Dickert PHYS’24, Nell Grabowski PHYS’23, and Ryan Creamer PHYS’24 demonstrated activities to challenge student’s hypotheses, spark critical thinking, and learn about the laws of physics.

They created a papercoptor, a cardboard helicopter with foldable flaps, to test how the air resistance and friction affected the speed as they descended to the ground.  

In March, the USciences’ Data Science program guided students through computer programming, coding language, and the relationship to data science. Carl Walasek, MS, statistics instructor, delivered a directional presentation on a computer statistical language software called “R” to simulate games and solutions through coding. Abolfazl Saghafi, PhD, Data Science program director, shared with the students the rise of  big data and how data interpretation is becoming one of the most important forms of science.

“Sparking an interest in Data Science in young students is so important,” said Dr. Saghafi. “The amount of data being produced is doubling every year, we need young minds to enter the data science field to mine and analyze this data to make the decisions of the future!”

Randy Zauhar presentationRandy Zauhar, PhD, Professor of Physics, spoke to students about Neural Networks and their use for medical diagnosis. By “training” the system to recognize patterns in images, the Neural Networks are able to learn and adapt from the images seen and are then able to identify abnormalities. 

“Students witness machine learning in many aspects of their lives without even knowing it. It is important to give exposure to these concepts to inspire interest in these fields, the future of medical advancements is very much rooted in technology and machine learning,” said Dr. Zauhar.

In April, Stephen Moelter, PhD, from USciences Behavioral and Social Sciences department led students in a participatory activity testing how the brain stores memories. Students were excited to learn the difference between deep and shallow processing and were able to understand the differences based on the collaborative activity. 

St. Francis de Sales students Alysson Light, PhD, associate professor of psychology, directed a series of joint projects with students to bring light upon the many social biases that exist in STEM. Through these hands-on projects, students were able to understand the gender stereotypes and biases that exist in the scientific field today. Vinaya Rajan, PhD, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience exposed students to the secret life of infants and explained the difficulties in studying children's cognitive perceptions. 

“Understanding cognitive and brain development from birth to adulthood is important in understanding the larger picture of human psychology; however, it is difficult to study infants and children as they are not able to communicate the same way as adults are used to,” described Dr. Rajan.

Categories: News, Misher College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Department of Mathematics, Physics and Statistics, Data Science, Psychology