For a brief moment on Friday, UMass Dartmouth The Claire T. Carney Library was a model for the future of the South Coast.
Inside the hall were windmills, greenhouses and self-driving robots used by some of the brightest young minds in the area, all as part of the university. STEAM Your Way 2 College Summer Camp.
The program is supported by a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies to study the importance of positive language development and scientific identity in multilingual communities in Fall River and New Bedford.
Professor Shakhnoza Kayumova, who leads the program, noted that many urban youth don’t tend to explore STEM fields due to language barriers and placements in English classes rather than math or science. In the camps, students can learn the scientific process through their native languages, Portuguese and Spanish.
“It allows them to see themselves as the future scientists of this region,” she said.
During the two week-long camps, students work with UMass Dartmouth faculty, graduate students, youth mentors, and other students in hands-on science experiments.
“It’s a very high level job,” Kayumova said. “They’re learning doctorates and trying to recreate that in the classroom here.”
At this year’s camp, which is the last under the grant, students had to tackle creating a cleaner, more sustainable south coast with models of smarter cities.
The kids first saw a short video from camp instructor and New Bedford High teacher Diana Cost about the Dust Bowl.
“No sound, no words,” she said. “They looked at it and then provided models for what was happening.”
From there, the children learned about composting and ways to enrich dead soil using mushrooms.
“It’s about making our dirt cleaner,” said 14-year-old New Bedford student Kevin Aguilar, who hopes to attend MIT in the near future. “Our soil is bad, we have to find other ways to grow things.”
The way fungi help, Aguilar explained, is that they are able to break down organic matter into nutrients that plants can use.
The students also looked for ways to bring clean water to their communities.
Gaen Da Silva, a 15-year-old from Fall River, worked on a model of using wind to one day power water purification systems that would enter buildings near the Taunton River.
It, he said, could also help increase urban gardening in places that aren’t as close to a grocery store or farmers’ market.
The students also created small greenhouses that can be monitored 365 days a year from sensors they created.
“And they did all of this themselves,” Cost said.
Another 21st century issue the students learned about was cybersecurity, something that particularly intrigued 11-year-old Murod Achilov, Kayumova’s son.
His favorite aspect was learning about computer and phone applications that could fight off online scammers by ccheck incoming calls for audio fingerprints of spammers and close them before the phone even rings.
These numbers are then saved in the app’s database to prevent that number from calling again.
“It protects a lot of your stuff,” he said.
Another interest in cybersecurity was to use a firewall or virtual private network to protect data if a user accidentally clicks on a suspicious link.
“You click on this link and then, wow, you have malware,” Achilov said. “With a firewall, it’s…boom, Wakanda forever!” We won’t let you down.
Although the camps have now run their course, many students said they were excited to experience more in the future.
“It’s been very helpful,” said Keily Castro, 14, of New Bedford. “We learned so many things here that we normally wouldn’t have learned in school.”