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Topographical landscape experiment

Hands-on with STEM

Yakima Valley children and families enjoy learning about science, technology, engineering and math

YVC’s STEM Day returned in January drawing a crowd of more than 500 children and their families to the Yakima Campus. The annual event is a favorite among Yakima Valley families and each year introduces young minds to the exciting world of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

STEM Director Cristy Rasmussen was thrilled that Yakima Valley College again partnered with OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry).  

“By partnering with OMSI, Yakima Valley College had the opportunity to share STEM-related principles and programs with more children in the Yakima Valley,” said Rasmussen. “Engaging with STEM education in early childhood helps children begin to learn and retain a knowledge base that they can build on as they get older.”

screaming gummy bear experiment
Chemistry Instructor Emeka Udenze demonstrates how to make gummy bears scream by boiling potassium chlorate.

A favorite activity for the second year was a screaming gummy bear demonstration held in one of YVC’s chemistry labs. Groups of kids watched Chemistry Instructors Emeka Udenze and Sam Mazhari as they dropped a gummy bear into a test tube filled with boiling potassium chlorate. The resulting reaction created a vibrant pink flame and a scream-like sound.

Another audience favorite was the elephant toothpaste demonstration, during which an OMSI volunteer, created a tubular fountain of colored foam that resembled a giant curl of striped toothpaste. The crowd clapped and shouted as it erupted from its container. The experiment demonstrated exothermic reaction and heat emission. 

Among the other favorites was the hands-on topographical landscaping sand table, which allowed kids to build their own landscapes and witness how their changes affected the elevation. An angry bird demonstration was also popular and helped kids gauge the trajectory of stuffed animals while they launched them at building blocks — with winners earning bragging rights and a free bag popcorn. And the spaghetti tower marshmallow challenge allowed kids to explore engineering concepts by designing and building their own structures, with the goal of creating the strongest and tallest tower.   

For this year’s event, nearly 50 students, faculty and staff helped plan, lead demonstrations or volunteer in other ways. In addition, criminal justice students helped direct families to activities throughout Glenn Anthon Hall and Engineering Club members sold concessions to help fund future club and outreach activities.

7-year-old Cheli Rodriguez builds a structure using marshmallows and spaghetti noodles during the 2024 STEM Day.
7-year-old Cheli Rodriguez builds a structure using marshmallows and spaghetti noodles during the 2024 STEM Day.

Among the volunteers were engineering students Kevin Perez and Joshua Valdez Copeland.

For Perez, who never experienced a hands-on event like this during childhood, getting involved and nurturing a passion for STEM in children is a fulfilling experience.

“Seeing the spark in kids’ eyes [with the activities] is really fun and rewarding,” says Perez. “I volunteered at last year’s event and had such a good time I decided to volunteer again this year.”

Valdez Copeland agrees that giving time to the future generation of STEM students is important.

“This year as president of the Engineering Club I felt it was important to give my time to give back to the future students,” said Valdez Copeland. “It also felt good to see the kids having fun and learning.”

Learn more about degree and certificate opportunities available through YVC’s STEM Pathway.

Voices from STEM Day

Here’s what some parents and children attending STEM Day 2024 had to say about the event.

“I like that there are so many rooms and activities. It’s really fun and interesting.” — Xiomara Sevilla, age 9

“I really liked the volcano. It was fun.” — Killian Rocha, age 5

“I really liked the experience. The toothpaste show was my favorite.” — Cheli Rodriguez, age 7

“I really like the sand activity because it has lots of colors.” — Emma Sevilla, age 6

“I really liked all of the hands-on activities for my daughter. We haven’t been to any events like this in the past.” — Sarah Smith, who brought her 9-year-old daughter Hailey to the event.

Story and photos by Stefanie Menard, AA-DTA ’05, communications consultant.