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Public Affairs : 4-H Club explores sciences at West Point

Faculty, cadets help 4-H Club explore sciences 

Story and photos by Mike Strasser
Assistant Editor
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Feb. 20, 2014) — U.S. Military Academy faculty and cadets joined forces Feb. 10 at the Science Center to educate an inquisitive group of local students in the areas of chemical engineering and life sciences.

The Department of Chemistry and Life Sciences faculty and Chemical Engineering Club cadets hosted 30 members and parents from the Animals Around the World 4-H Club of New Paltz.

Lt. Col. Robert Bozic, assistant professor and officer-in-charge of the USMA chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, said last year’s outreach project was a successful endeavor that motivated a second invitation.

“The enthusiasm the cadets bring to this is a big deal,” Bozic said. “I think that inspires the young students when people who are closer to their age and in college can relate these subjects and work on little projects with them.”

He has seen similar results here during the Summer Leaders Experience when rising high school seniors cycle through various academic departments, and also with plebes who receive similar types of demonstrations to help inform them of their choices for majors.

“Those are the types of things that get me excited about these demonstrations,” Bozic said. “It gives so many hands-on experience in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and they return with increased interest in those fields and I’ve seen them go into those majors.”

Attendees received hands-on instruction in the laboratories where they raced fuel cell cars, performed lung and stress tests, created samples of gooey Gak and learned about the chemical processes in making chocolate.

Racing cars is a fun activity, but the challenge Class of 2015 Cadet Reed Pyers and other ChemE Club members had was explaining the complexities of how hydrogen is broken down to use as fuel.

Pyers, the club’s vice president-elect, was naturally drawn to chemistry in high school and saw chemical engineering as a challenge at West Point.

On average, about 20 cadets major in chemical engineering each academic year, and Pyers said talking with Col. Russ Lachance, deputy department head, convinced him that he could be successful at it.    

Members of the Animals Around the World 4-H Club make some adjustments to a fuel cell car before another test run Feb. 10 inside the Science Center.

Cadets from the Chemical Engineering Club assisted members of the Animals Around the World 4-H Club Feb. 10 as they discovered the trial-and-error precision of moving a fuel cell car from one end of the laboratory to the finish line at the other end. This was the second year for this outreach program, hosted by the Department of Chemistry and Life Science.

That same influential effect is what Pyers thought the ChemE Club could also provide through outreach efforts with students.

“Hopefully we can provide them with enough information and influence so maybe they would want to pursue a STEM field,” Pyers said. “It’s always been intriguing to me to share that with others.”

Several visitors needed no such motivation, having participated a year ago. They made beelines to their favorite activity and proudly showed off the knowledge they retained.

One eager participant even asked if they could try splitting an atom. Whether he was joking or not, the enthusiasm was certainly there, Class of 2014 Cadet Aaron Beyea said.

“We’re not splitting atoms here but we’re making cars run on water and other cool things,” Beyea, the outgoing club president, said. “Science is pretty cool and that’s the main thing we can get across to the students. If that interest is peaked young then hopefully it’ll continue to the point where they can seriously study it.”

When Class of 2015 Cadet Leland Foster first learned how the fuel cell cars were powered by water it was a mind-opening experience. Now as the recently-elected Head of Confectionary for the West Point Chocolate Factory, he demonstrated how chemistry factors into candy bars.

“Chemistry is really found in everything and most people don’t relate chocolate to chemistry,” Foster said. “So I think we can show students that in order to really understand how the world works you have to know the chemistry behind it.”