Mobile Lab Helps Young Students in Greater Memphis Get Hands-On STEM Experience

In 2015, Baptist Memorial Health Care helped sponsor a LeMoyne-Owen College mobile lab designed to help get young students excited about science. This bus, known as “Science on Wheels,” visits fourth and fifth grade students in elementary schools located in Memphis and surrounding communities with a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged minorities.

“The main goal of Science on Wheels is to get kids excited about science at an early age,” said Dr. Sherry Painter, Project Chair for Science on Wheels. “Research indicates that by the time most students reach high school and college, they have already formed their opinions regarding science. Hence, the key to influencing their view of science and their career choice in STEM is to catch them early and make it fun.”

Students can perform various experiments – including DNA extraction, asthma and lung function exploration, exercise and cardiac function, nutrition and obesity, and exploring alternative energy – at the lab’s 12 workstations. They can also observe samples using the latest technology, process DNA samples and learn how an echocardiogram works. But the student participants aren’t the only ones benefiting from Science on Wheels.

“Workforce development research indicates that over the next decade, there will be more jobs in STEM fields than non-STEM areas. Therefore, we need to build up and better diversify the pipeline of students taking an interest in STEM,” said Dr. Painter. “Unfortunately, low-income and minority students are not as well represented in the pipeline. SOW is a creative and effective tool to address this gap. The SOW project also allows us to enhance the STEM curriculum for LeMoyne-Owen College students. It provides them with another opportunity to have a hands-on teacher-learning experience outside of the classroom.”

Over the last two years, Science on Wheels has increased public engagement with science and technology by exposing young students – and their family support systems – to practice aspects of science through hands-on activities. “We have had such a great response from parents, teachers, librarians, students, and the community overall,” said Dr. Painter. “We actually have more requests for visits than we can fill right now based on our staffing. We have had teachers from the schools that we have already visited asking us to come back, saying that the kids are still talking about their experience on SOW.”

An Eye-Opening Experiment

In November 2016, the team set up for the Shelby County Schools Race for Education/Health Expo. A few Memphis City Police officers came on board to see what was going on. As part of the nutrition/obesity module, students read the nutrition label to see how many grams of sugar are in a soda; then they weigh out that much sugar on an actual balance.

“One of the officers did this and saw just how much sugar was in the Strawberry Fanta we had on board and he couldn’t believe it,” said Dr. Painter. “The next thing that I knew, he had stepped off the bus and was telling everyone who could hear him that they needed to get in here and see this for themselves. He started walking everyone through the module himself and opened the eyes of many people that day, including his own, as to how much we need to pay attention to what we are putting in our bodies.”

Baptist Memorial Health Care was proud to be one of Science on Wheels’ title sponsors to help get the project rolling by providing funding to purchase health-related modules shared with participants, as well as funds for ongoing needs of the module and the vehicle itself. “Through this partnership, Baptist Memorial Health Care has furthered its commitment to STEM education in the City of Memphis. This project has allowed Baptist Memorial Healthcare to be an influential pillar in ensuring that the youth of Memphis have an opportunity to be exposed to STEM education early.”

If you’re interested in helping the Science on Wheels bus continue its important work in the Mid-South, you can donate online and designate the gift to support “Science on Wheels.”

“Funds will be used to purchase supplies, perform maintenance on the unit and hire talented scientists and educators to teach and inspire the next generation of STEM professionals,” said Dr. Painter. “Each dollar will help ensure we not only keep rolling, but also expand our reach to the many schools we cannot visit today due to limited resources.”