Saturday, May 9, was the perfect day to bring kids to the Greensboro Science Center. In addition to enjoying the Center’s regular outstanding offerings, guests participated in the Wild Music Festival. The festival is an offshoot of the UBEATS program, which gives students in elementary, middle, and high school informal, fun exposure to STEM learning by focusing on the ‘science of music.’
The latest iteration of UBEATS programming, and the source of the Wild Music Festival, focuses on immigrant children, a group traditionally underrepresented in STEM learning. The collaboration between the Greensboro Science Center, UNCG Research, the UNCG Center for New North Carolinians, and McNair Elementary School was made possible thanks to support from a Burroughs Wellcome Fund initiative as well as Time Warner Cable’s Connect A Million Minds program.
UBEATS students explore music and sound using techniques that underscore connections with the body and the natural world. The program began with a weeklong summer camp at McNair Elementary School and Haw River State Park followed by monthly club meetings at the Greensboro Science Center throughout the academic year.
The Wild Music Festival shared the students’ first year of experiences and accomplishments with the community at large. The festival featured a physical sound map of Center animals, produced using outdoor and underwater recordings made by the elementary and middle school students. They also created a global sound map by interviewing family members about their most vivid memories of sounds from their countries of origin. UBEATS high school students premiered a five-minute documentary about the program, which they developed under the mentorship of Time Warner news producer Teal Tyszka. Finally, visitors were invited to view art produced by the students, make their own musical instruments in a craft zone, and have their faces painted.
While students in the UBEATS program have become keenly aware of how communicative the wild can be, they have also learned to plan for the future. Professionals, including UNCG graduate students and Greensboro Science Center personnel, speak with the students regularly about diverse career paths in science and steps they can take immediately to pursue their passions. The career component is particularly important and eye opening for immigrant students, who typically have had limited exposure to STEM possibilities in their home lives. “Beginning last summer, it became obvious to me and others that we had to bring in people who can actually be those kind of role models – that can show them some of the career possibilities,” said UNCG researcher Pat Gray. “You could see certain light bulbs starting to go on… How do you start building a larger perspective on possibilities for your future? How do you build a resume? You can start now.”
UBEATS program developers have learned a lot this year also. For example, retention is highest when STEM interventions are introduced early. “One thing we’ve seen is a sort of demographic shift – [the program] started as elementary and middle school, but we’ve really had better retention with the younger [kids],” said Martha Regester, the Director of Education at the Greensboro Science Center. Girls must be engaged the earliest. Through the year, the researchers also refined their approaches to working with immigrant children, who navigate multiple cultures in their day-to-day lives and who often juggle adult responsibilities as interpreters for their families. “There are a lot of elements to this story that are very interesting and trying to figure out how to assist these children into [the STEM pipeline] is always in flux because there are so many variables that you don’t often think about,” shares Gray.
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