GOA graduates first STEM class, inspiring students to tackle real-world problems

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Last month, Golda Och Academy held its STEM Symposium at the Eric F. Ross Upper School campus, celebrating the achievements of high school students in the Dr. Lynne B. Harrison Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Program and the award-winning robotics team, the CodeRunners, as well as showcasing middle school projects, such as robots built for the FIRST Tech Challenge.

Attendees at the symposium had the opportunity to explore and learn about the capstone projects from students in the four-year STEM program, who were challenged to solve a real-world problem. Projects included a fingerprint-activated garage door opener, a system that automatically detects water level and turns off a bathtub faucet, and a bracelet that detects UVA and UVB exposure and alerts users when to reapply sunscreen. In previous years, students have devised an EpiPen that would automatically alert emergency medical services with GPS location when used, as well as a car seat that alerts a parent when a baby is left inside after the vehicle has stopped and becomes too hot.

One of the guiding principles of STEM education at Golda Och Academy is to use these disciplines to make the world a better place. Each year, small groups create a capstone project in which they receive a small budget to tackle a problem and find a solution, develop a prototype and devise a marketing plan. This past year, faculty members were invited to submit a request for a problem that needed a tech solution. As a result, one of the senior STEM class groups devised a solution to automate the student attendance system at school. Each student was given a unique QR code that they used to sign in with in the morning. An excel spreadsheet was then generated with a sorted list of absent and present students, including the time they arrived. The attendance system was piloted at school.

In addition to taking pride in these innovative projects, Golda Och Academy was proud to celebrate the first graduating class of the four-year intensive engineering program. The current graduates were the first to participate under the direction of teacher Shira Kelmanovich, who holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Stanford University.

“I believe the high school STEM program has exposed our students to careers in engineering and technology and, as a result, has encouraged them to pursue these fields as they move on to college,” Kelmanovich said.

Graduates from the first cohort are continuing their involvement in STEM, attending such institutions as the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering, Tufts University, Dartmouth College, the University of Michigan and the Technion in Israel.

“Through the STEM program we learned that we have the power to solve real-life problems and, above all else, we learned not to be afraid to fail and make mistakes,” said Alex Beigelman, a graduate of the Class of 2018.

As the interest in STEM continues to grow, Golda Och Academy also welcomed its new science department chairman and STEM instructor, Paul-Michael Huseman, to the team last year. Huseman lent his unique expertise to the program and will continue to do so in the fall when GOA expands its offerings, running two sections for the ninth-grade STEM class.

“We are extremely happy that students and parents see the value of the program, and hope to continue to engage as many students as we can in STEM,” Huseman said.

Photos Courtesy of Erin Sternthal