High school students create new STEM circle event for community

Aug. 28, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by Augustana University.

In a couple of weeks, an electrical engineer at Raven Aerostar will speak about her profession.

A month later, a USD professor will discuss tissue engineering.

After that, an Augustana University professor will explain quantum dots.

The free monthly speaker series will continue through April at the Froiland Science Complex.

The expertise will undoubtedly be eye-opening. But behind it all is an equally impressive story.

It begins with Akshay Choudhry, who starts his senior year at Lincoln High School this fall, and his friends, Sam Engebretson and Isaac Sarbacker, who are incoming juniors.

“STEM is and has always been the key to innovation in the world,” Choudhry said.

“We just thought it would be really great if we could get more of the community entrenched in what STEM is and what STEM looks like in a practical sense.”

Last school year, he and his friends were inspired by math circles in other states and decided to create something similar in Sioux Falls. A math circle is an out-of-school gathering designed to enhance understanding of the subject.

The co-founders set out to do the same with the Sioux Falls STEM Circle, focused on the term’s subjects of science, technology, engineering and math.

“I like discovering. I like to learn new things,” Sarbacker said. “When I was younger, it was math, and now as I’m older, it’s becoming general STEM things. I like understanding how the world works.”

Choudhry contacted Augustana vice president for advancement Pam Homan, and she set things in motion.

“We first had to get approval from Augie’s administration, which Dr. Homan was very gracious about, and she gave us good (speaker) references to start off with,” Choudhry said. “We just emailed professionals we thought would be good candidates for our STEM Circle.”

From Raven and Avera to several universities, the professionals said yes and the STEM Circle began.

The hope is to attract a broad audience, from high school students through professionals, and to show how STEM fields are applied in industry. The students hope to go beyond their classroom learning and hear directly from those using the subjects in daily work.

“A lot of times in the classroom, you don’t really get to see what’s on the cutting edge and what’s new and exciting,” Sarbacker said. “So I think this complements our education to get more of what’s in the future but without being overly complicated. I think everyone will be able to enjoy these talks.”

The students already are getting a taste of cutting-edge work at Augustana. All three have spent the past several months doing research with associate professor of math Lindsay Erickson.

They visit weekly and work on a project involving combinatorial game theory – looking at a particular game and working through graphs of who wins it.

“The thing with games is there’s a winner before you even start assuming people are playing optimally,” said Erickson, noting the “solution” to the game of checkers was found recently.

That sort of research then is given to professionals, such as physicists or chemists, to apply math, she said.

The students “are doing well,” Erickson said. “They came in with no knowledge of how to write proofs or anything like that. It turned out to be more difficult than they thought, but it hasn’t deterred them, so that’s good.”

The Sioux Falls STEM Circle is a welcome addition to the area scientific community, she added.

“It’s pretty amazing how they put it all together,” she said. “I have high hopes it takes off. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for people to get into easily accessible science and math topics, and it seems to be that kind of outlet.”

The students even have attracted corporate sponsors Howes Oil and the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation. That allows them to pay speakers and serve snacks. Other businesses also are interested, Choudhry said.

The students haven’t decided where they will go to college yet, but they said the experience working with Augustana has made the school a top contender.

“We’ve definitely been entrenched in the Augie community over the last few months, and the STEM Circle has shown Augie is a strong local candidate,” Choudhry said.

Sarbacker agreed.

“Through our contact with Augustana this summer, I’ve been very impressed by the amount of dedication to STEM Augustana has had,” he said. “It’s definitely put it into contention.”

To learn more about the Sioux Falls STEM Circle and its upcoming events, click here or follow it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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High school students create new STEM circle event for community

Three Lincoln High School students are working with Augustana University to bring a STEM circle to Sioux Falls.

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