The plastic foam, colored beads and pencil erasers littering the tables of a Salt River Project facility in Tempe didn’t look like much. But as local scientists looked on, 33 Coronado High School students turned that material into three-dimensional DNA models.
The students were in their second day at High Tech U, a hands-on science, math and mentorship program that aims to encourage them to look at jobs in technology. While the three-day program has been in Arizona before, Tuesday was the first time it was offered to Scottsdale students.
High-tech job opportunities are expected to grow in Phoenix — from 14,600 jobs to more than 18,000 over the course of two years, according to a work force study conducted in 2005 by SRP and the Maricopa Community Colleges.
SRP decided to bring High Tech U to Scottsdale to make sure local talent pools are keeping up with job demand, said Nikki Jo Brown, a project manager for SRP.
“We thought starting at a high school level was the first answer,” she said.
The program is designed to give students hands-on science and math experiences and it allows them to talk to working scientists about their career paths, said Lisa Anderson, vice president for the SEMI Foundation, which puts on the program.
Schools are asked to choose students for the program who are interested in math and science but may not be at the top of their class, she said.
“In this country and in many countries, students aren’t interested in going into engineering. They’re not excited about it,” Anderson said.
Over the course of the program, the Coronado students were able to launch small, round beanbags and record their flight data and learn about binary numbers by creating a human calculator. They also took tours of labs at SRP and Arizona State University.
“A lot of the kids will say, this is so much fun. Why can’t school be this way? Why can’t we do this in the classroom?” Anderson said.
Sophomore Alyssa Paul said she was having a great time listening to scientists and building experiments, but she recommended the program only if students are interested in science. Otherwise, they’ll get bored fast, she said.
Paul is especially intrigued by genetics and biology, which also happened to be the subject of her favorite speech during High Tech U.
“If one little gene changes, everything can be different,” Paul said.
While Paul wants to be a veterinarian, she said that could change after hearing from different scientists.
“It makes you realize there’s a lot of careers out there you didn’t even know about,” she said.