Beyond STEM: STEMinar

by Ashley van der Pouw Kraan


On January 19, Burnaby Central Secondary School was humming with activity as high school students from across the Lower Mainland flocked together to participate in the annual STEMinar Conference. Sponsored by SCWIST’s Youth Engagement Committee through their Quantum Leaps grant, the event was organized by Burnaby Centrals Beyond STEM club, a youth-led organization dedicated to helping Lower Mainland students discover and pursue their passions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The conference opened with a keynote from Dr.Peter Liljedahl, Professor of Mathematics Education at SFU and past Olympic sprint canoeist. During his speech, Dr. Liljedahl discussed how unpredictable the future can be, taking the students on a journey through his nonlinear life, where he jumped between schools, hobbies, sports and professions before ending up at SFU. His closing remarks were worthy advice for anyone of any age: ‘Excellence is a transferable skill’, ‘You can’t even see the place where you’ll be when you’re 51’, and ‘Never live anywhere where you have to cross a bridge to get to work.’

Buzzing from these inspirational words, the students headed off to their workshops, two which were led by SCWIST’s own Vienna Lam and Dr. Jenny McQueen.

Jenny’s academic background is in biochemistry and genetics. During her PhD at the University of British Columbia, she used common bread yeast as a tool to understand how cells replicate and divide. So it is no surprise that she hosted a workshop focused on biochemistry! Using simple ingredients that can be found at home (red-skinned potatoes, an acid, an alkaline, and a neutral liquid), students learned all about enzymes, catalysts and biochemistry.

Vienna’s workshop gave the students first-hand experience looking at skeletal materials, and the insects that are typically used for postmortem interval estimations. As she took remains out of their padded boxes, students got an opportunity to learn more about the role of forensic anthropologists in identifying human remains. Each student delicately handled the remains as Vienna detailed how different characteristics of the skull could be used to help establish a biological profile.

In the second half of the workshop, students were able to make their own pieces of art to take home – painted with maggots! Not only an important puzzle piece in forensic entomology, maggots can also be excellent artists. Dipped in a water-soluble paint and then gently placed on a piece of cardstock, where they wiggle around and create dramatic lines and whirls on the page.

After each hosting two workshops, the day was coming to a close and it was time to wrap up. Overall, we could not be more proud of the Beyond STEM crew, and the fantastic conference they put on.

In high school and interested in a STEM career? Register now for eMentoring, our 8-week, online mentoring program. We will match you with a STEM professional to chat about life after high school, finding the right career, finances, and more. Registrations due April 5.