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Lab on Wheels Brings STEM-H Opportunities to ACPS Middle School Students

Lab on Wheels Brings STEM-H Opportunities to ACPS Middle School Students

The Immersive Learning Center (ILC) opens the door for Alexandria City Public School (ACPS) middle school students to explore science, technology, engineering, math and health (STEM-H) careers. Access to The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Community Medi-Corps Program’s big blue vehicle is made possible for our students through a National Institutes of Health (NIH) pilot program grant.

The ILC packs an abundance of cutting-edge technology into the 46-foot-long lab on wheels, where students can use advanced technologies such as augmented and mixed reality to simultaneously interact with physical and virtual worlds. It incorporates the latest immersive learning technologies to cultivate critical thinking and applied learning aimed at maximizing student learning and engagement. The ILC was funded by a Growth and Opportunity Virginia grant.

The NIH’s Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning Consortium to Advance Health Equity and Researcher Diversity (AIM-AHEAD) grant focuses on increasing participation and representation of researchers currently underrepresented in the development of artificial intelligence/machine learning models. The grant’s objective is to reach students at an early age to spark their interests in STEM-H.

“Youth who identify as racial or ethnic minorities are less likely to be exposed to and prepared for a range of science, technology, engineering, math and health sciences careers,” NIH AIM-AHEAD Program Manager Kelly Brockway said. “And while talent is everywhere, opportunity is not. This after-school program is an attempt to close the opportunity gap for ACPS youth.”

Brockway explains that exposing students to STEM-H in middle school may help them discover they have an unexplored interest. “Students love this technology, it is the way they are learning today,” Brockway said. “They’re learning hands on and this gives them the opportunity to explore avenues they did not know existed. This will help guide them as they choose their courses at Alexandria City High School.”

Brockway added that the ILC’s cutting-edge technology enables students to explore a wide range of health careers through activities and applications that are not available in the classroom. “Students are empowered through a transformative educational experience. The ILC champions life and health sciences and technology and helps raise aspirations, critical thinking skills and collaborative work.”

Members of George Washington Middle School’s (GWMS) after-school club have had the opportunity to explore the technology inside the ILC. “This is a way to expose students to different fields,” Matthew Mellis, GWMS eighth grade science teacher and club advisor, said. “It’s all about the visuals and seeing and doing.”

Students participating in the program, such as Zoe Garcia Jimenez, say they find the technology enticing and explained that “augmented reality, the use of holograms, is a great way to explore.” Natalia Holbeck found that studying the human skeleton using 3-D helped her learn all the different body parts. Reese Waterhouse says the program has piqued her interest in bio-technology. She encourages all girls interested in STEM-H “not to be afraid to explore what it has to offer.”

An after-school club is also offered at Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School, and additional clubs are being organized at Francis C. Hammond Middle School and Patrick Henry K-8 School. By the end of the academic year, the goal is to have the ILC visit all four schools so students can explore STEM-H activities through immersive technologies.

The NIH AIM-AHEAD grant that is funding the program is part of a one-year pilot that concludes in September 2023. ACPS and The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences plan to submit a proposal to continue its grant funding for ten years at $2 million a year. That amount of money would allow the program to have an even greater impact on middle school students.

“This particular grant is extremely special as it aligns perfectly with a division focus on STEM discovery and career exploration,” ACPS Manager of Grants and Partnerships Greg Tardieu said. “We would like to acknowledge the mentorship and guidance of the AIM-AHEAD Southeast Hub lead Anil Shanker, PhD, and team members Qingguo Wang, PhD, Rajbir Singh, MBBS, and Smruti Mohanty, MSc, MBA, for facilitating the activities in this project,” Tardieu added.

  • 2022-23
  • George Washington Middle School