July 5, 2022

Cheyney University Creates STEM Club

Cheyney University Creates STEM Club

Cheyney University’s on-campus partnerships with life sciences and technology companies are helping to establish the nation’s first HBCU as a center for STEM education. Through the Life Sciences and Technology (LSAT) Hub more students have access to innovative labs and the ability to learn and work alongside the experts who operate them. The increased attention to STEM experiential learning has allowed students to engage with like-minded individuals across all majors.

Cheyney’s STEM Club was founded in January 2022 to advance that purpose; allowing not just STEM students to share ideas on their various projects but to also host STEM-themed activities for the entire campus. The goal of the club is to bring together students across several majors to experience hands-on activities while practicing lab skills, hearing from guest speakers, connecting with professional organizations, attending conferences, and sharing the love of STEM with everyone.

“Students in STEM are pursuing different careers and were interested in building their skills and were going to the same people asking questions,” said Wilford, president of the STEM Club.

Wilford, a junior who is majoring in computer science with a minor in data analytics said he was originally considering starting a chapter of National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) on campus, but after speaking with Vanessa Atkins, Director of Cheyney’s Life Sciences and Technology Hub, and his peers realized Cheyney needed something more inclusive. Fellow STEM student Kishore Owusu echoed those thoughts.

“I was part of a group of enthusiastic students that felt Cheyney needed a club that would share their knowledge of STEM with the general student body through demonstrations all while exploring the field ourselves and adding on to our knowledge,” said Owusu, who is a founding member of the club.

Throughout the past semester, the club hosted events that included several activities, including demonstrating the chemical reaction known as “Elephant’s Toothpaste,” where hydrogen peroxide is decomposed rapidly producing a lot

of colored foam – it looks like toothpaste, but bigger. They also extracted DNA from fruit, explored the inner components of a personal computer, and participated in a planetarium show, which was the first time many of students had the opportunity to explore the solar system indoors.

The students credit Atkins for her willingness to collaborate with them throughout the process to create the club and her ongoing involvement with all activities.

“Some of our students even learned how to run a planetarium show right here on our campus,” said Atkins.

“Cheyney University has what is needed to help diversify the STEM workforce in our community and beyond.  It is an institution that keeps the students at the forefront of everything,” Atkins said. “The LSAT Hub internship programs with our strategic partners add a unique dimension to the learning process with real hands-on experience in the workplace and the STEM club has a similar theme of hands-on learning, in informal settings.”

Toward the end of the semester, the club hosted a Jeopardy-style quiz game to help students prepare for their finals, exploring subjects like chemistry, biology, anatomy, physics and astrology. This event was such a success that the club plans to host one every semester. Additionally, the STEM Club is already lining up activities and events for the Fall 2022 semester.

Atkins, who has a Master of Science, in science instruction from Drexel University and a B.S. in biochemistry from Jefferson University, came to Cheyney in June 2021. She arrived with an impressive resume that included 14 years at Temple University in several capacities: adjunct instructor, program/project director and two years at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine as an advisor. She heard about the transformative plan President Aaron Walton is implementing to bring Cheyney back to a position of prominence and decided to bring her experience and skills to Cheyney.

“Black Americans make up 11% of the total workforce but only 6% of the life sciences workforce,” Atkins said. “Cheyney’s students are excited about these career opportunities, and our work is focused on making sure they see that these careers are accessible to them. They’re opening their minds and seeing ways to contribute to developing the future through STEM.

Atkins went on to say that STEM opportunities are available and the students at Cheyney are growing in their understanding of the wide variety of career options available to them. Cheyney President Aaron A. Walton recently said the university’s mission of preparing students for 21st-century jobs is advancing.

“We have doubled our percentage of students majoring in STEM in just the past four years,” Walton said during recent announcements about the university’s growth in STEM. “With our on-campus private industry partners, we are again demonstrating how our public-private model is benefiting our university, our students, and the companies with which we collaborate.”

Recently, Cheyney received a $5 million investment from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania  to create a bioscience incubator space at the university called the ‘ThinkUbator.’

“All of this investment is to give students, like the students here at Cheyney, the foundation they need to take advantage of opportunities like the ones that are becoming available right here,” said Governor Tom Wolf at a recent announcement held at Cheyney. “There are many private companies on Cheyney’s campus, and the purpose of the monetary investment into the ThinkUBator program is to expand opportunities in STEM careers:

According to Atkins, as students gain skills and confidence, they tell their friends, who also begin to see there’s a lot more available to them in STEM than they may have thought. For Cheyney University students the STEM club helps them gain exposure, and the Life Sciences and Technology Hub creates opportunities for deeper exploration on the campus of Cheyney University.