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UL’s WiSTEM Bringing Firsthand STEM Experience to Students

National STEM/STEAM Day promotes science, technology, engineering, art and math. UL’s employees plan to bring hands-on STEM lessons directly to students and schools.

Two children learning science

November 8, 2021

As the global safety science leader, UL promotes STEM/STEAM in our daily lives. On National STEM/STEAM Day, we encourage students to explore science, technology, engineering, art and math. While we work toward a safer world today, we know the importance of inspiring the innovators of tomorrow.

As American students and teachers celebrate National STEM/STEAM Day on Nov. 8, UL’s Women in STEM (WiSTEM) team is building two programs that will bring firsthand knowledge and experience to students while teaching them about potential opportunities for their future.

Founded in 2018, WiSTEM is an initiative of UL’s Women in Leadership Business Resource Group (WILBRG). WILBRG’s focus is on building a strong community of female leaders at UL. A small group of about 12 WILBRG members recognized the importance of women in STEM and felt inspired to start an outreach program for students. This group became WiSTEM. At 40 members strong, WiSTEM is building two programs to help young people explore STEM and potentially pursue related fields someday.

Elementary school STEM workshop

Geared toward third through fifth graders, the What is STEM? Workshop will be a partnership with schools to bring lessons and hands-on activities directly to classrooms. UL’s employees will present STEM concepts related to the company’s work, such as fire safety or statistics. Then, they will talk about the kinds of jobs that they could have someday if they enjoy science, technology, engineering or math. The kids will be in small groups for a hands-on activity, such as an experiment or graphing, that brings the presentation to life while teaching communication and teamwork skills. Once the four sessions — science, technology, engineering and math — are complete, students will have two weeks to prepare for a STEM science fair. Each child chooses a concept related to the topics and presents it to a group of judges. They will need to explain the idea, prepare an experiment and discuss real-life examples. The judges will present first, second and third place awards for the top presentations.

According to Edith de la Torre, a Finance Development Program associate at UL and WiSTEM’s Elementary STEM lead, the project team has created an initial workshop plan and aims to have the program piloted in schools in 2022.

Young entrepreneur workshop for high school students

WiSTEM has also created the Young Entrepreneur Summer Workshop. This workshop, designed for high school students, is part of WiSTEM’s focus on encouraging young people to pursue STEM/STEAM careers. The goal is to get teens excited about STEM and potential careers that utilize related skills. By showcasing what UL does, the students can see the possible paths a STEM education can lead them down.

The project team wanted to use a real-life example that demonstrates what is involved in product design, development and distribution while focusing on STEM jobs the students could potentially do for a living. Over the two-day workshop, students will go through the process of building a toy and developing packaging. They will break into two groups, each completing the toy-building and packaging portions on separate days.

During the building a toy half of the workshop, students will learn the facets of design and manufacturing, including consideration of the audience, supply chain, prototyping, and safety and energy efficiency standards. As they walk through the whole process, they’ll learn how counterfeiting is a potential safety issue and can damage a brand. This exercise provides a valuable lesson on doing business in today’s global environment, teaching them about distribution, shipping rules and regulations and certifications in different countries.

The packaging portion of the workshop demonstrates how complex it can be to develop appropriate packaging for a specific product. Students will design packaging for a single potato chip — keeping packaging to a minimum while still ensuring that the product gets to the user intact and in usable condition. This exercise demonstrates how to apply STEM skills in real life while reminding them of a global focus on sustainability. UL works to minimize negative impacts on the planet and to corporate sustainability. The workshop is a hands-on experience of keeping those goals in mind through every facet of our work.

At the end of the two days, each group of students presents their overall work and experience. They’ll discuss what went well, what they could improve and what they learned while also providing experience in handling feedback.

The Young Entrepreneur Summer Workshop has been in the works since autumn 2019, said Karen Dubiel, a technical training manager at UL and WiSTEM’s summer workshop lead. Now that many schools are open again, the project team is working to pilot the workshop in 2022. Dubiel noted that WiSTEM members would facilitate the program at first. However, the team is building a facilitator’s guide so that any employee at UL can eventually volunteer to run a workshop.

Since its beginnings among the innovators and inventors at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, UL has continuously advanced safety, sustainability and security with science and technology over the years. Encouraging innovation in students is one way to help continue the world’s advancements in STEM/STEAM, keep businesses strong and help improve our lives.

To learn more about WILBRG, WiSTEM or either of the workshops, contact us at [email protected].

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