When more than 1,200 fourth through eighth grade students visit Cochise College for its annual math and science symposium, the University of Arizona will have a presence.
The Math and Science Experience, which will be held April 27 at the college, provides dozens of hands-on displays, activities and workshops related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM fields.
This year, several UA main campus and UA South divisions are contributing to Cochise College's third annual event, which will be held 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
"STEM enrichment opportunities for students in Cochise County tend to be more limited than those in Tucson. Because of that, it seemed natural to create a way to make the experiences available locally," said Tom Lehr, assistant K-12 outreach coordinator at Cochise College.
"Participation of various academic departments, businesses, government agencies and organizations from all fields is vital to meeting the goals of the experience," Lehr also said. “We want to help students see the relevance of STEM in their lives today and as they think about their future plans.”
"These types of collaborations are important because we need to partner with many different institutions to promote STEM education," said Elliott Cheu, the UA College of Science associate dean.
Such collaborations are important not only for younger populations, but for adults preparing to enter higher education.
"Both Cochise College and UA South serve as gateways to
the UA, so having good transfer programs between the UA and these other institutions greatly helps students that want to pursue a bachelor's of science degree," Cheu said.
In 2008, the UA began the Pathways Initiative and collaborates with Cochise College and other higher education institutions to provide degree programs with time-bound and place-bound students in mind.
Today, students can begin their studies at Cochise College before transferring to the UA's main campus or UA South under programs offered through the UA's Outreach College. Degrees offered include those in commerce, political science, family studies and human development, supervision, mathematics and psychology.
"Ideal partnerships enhance our quality, our reputation, and potentially our revenue streams," said Cochise College President J.D. Rottweiler. "A quality partnership is greater than any of the individual parts the partners bring."
Liz Manring, the college's public information officer, said Cochise science students utilize the Patterson Observatory at UA South and faculty and students at both campuses collaborate on a range of workshops and K-12 outreach efforts.
Also, the Cochise Cats program enables students to take classes at UA South and Cochise College. The program's first class of graduates earns degrees next month.
At UA South, Li Xu has actively encouraged her students – some of them in the Cochise Cats program – to get involved and volunteer at Cochise.
Xu even offered a training workshop for current college and university students, and also prospective students, in advance of the experience.
"They are committed to serving during the experience day. They are excited and willing to commit to serving the local community," said Xu, an associated professor of computer science at UA South.
"It's a good opportunity to give students the chance to reach out to communities," she also said. "Many of my students live here and will potentially stay, so they can still help the local children based on what they have learned."
One of her students, Keren Snyder, will be volunteering during the experience along with members of the Math and Computer Science Club.
"For me, this is my favorite event of the year," said Snyder, a Cochise Cats student studying computer science.
Snyder and other members of the Math and Computer Science Club – both college and university students – will introduce youth to Alice, a 3-D program that teaches them about programming.
"Alice is a great way to introduce kids to programming because it makes something very technical into something really exciting," Snyder said.
"I love programming and so in this event I can share this love and maybe help some of them see the beauty of it as well," she also said. "I do believe that for some of them this might be the first step toward becoming a programmer."
Also for UA and UA South, those involved with the Cochise College event have been in fields that include agriculture, nutrition, computer science, optics, mining and astronomy, among others.
"The UA has been a valuable contributor each year," Lehr also said.
"Their exhibits and workshops have made it possible for students to get hands-on, fun learning touching on a wide range of topics," he added. "This is an important time to plant the seeds of possibility, the idea that higher education is an option."
Lehr also said that, like the UA, the college is an important educational resource to help students and their families to not only understand the increased importance of higher education, but to learn ways they can participate.
"It is clear that education is an important part of preparation for one's future," Lehr said.
"Cochise College is an important educational resource for students of Cochise County," he said. "If individuals are to take advantage of that resource, they must be aware of the resource, they must see it as relevant, and they must perceive it as attainable."