Kids’ Tech University at Virginia Tech has been helping grade-schoolers experience the joy of scientific discovery since 2009. The 2016 program, slated to serve 450 young people from across the region, opens for online registration at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 19.
Designed for children ages 9 to 12, Kids’ Tech University uses kids’ curiosity about the world around them to introduce fundamental concepts in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM.) Basic questions like, “Why do snowflakes have six points?” can lead into a guided exploration of molecular structures.
But making STEM subjects accessible to a new generation takes more than entertaining presentations. Developed through a joint effort by the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and Virginia 4-H, Kids’ Tech University has distinguished itself among peer programs by providing parents and educators with interactive tools to fuel kids’ newfound scientific interests.
“With support from the Natural Science Foundation, we’ve developed a series of online activities to build on the concepts kids encounter at Kids’ Tech University,” said Dr. Kristy Collins, senior project associate for education and outreach at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute. “Parents also take part in each round of activities so they can learn alongside their children and keep these conversations going at home.”
The 2016 program will also showcase new, scientific applications of trending technologies like 3-D printing. Carla Finkielstein, an associate professor in Virginia Tech’s College of Science and Virginia Bioinformatics Institute fellow, will demonstrate how this new method of manufacturing can create bio-scaffolds that are tailor-made for studying specific diseases and testing novel treatments. By mimicking a complex cellular arrangement in a 3-D model, kids will get an expanded view of the microenvironments scientists study to find ways of fending off illness.
“With the advancements being made in every part of our field, this is an exciting time to be in the sciences,” said Finkielstein. “Kids’ Tech University is an opportunity to share these new possibilities with the generation that’s going to carry them forward.”
To help kids experience a full range of STEM subjects, Virginia Tech science organizations and local tech firms will host a series of hands-on activity fairs. Volunteers interested in exhibiting at these events can apply online to reserve a space.