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Visits with a purpose

Cal U welcomes young students to learning events

It’s hard to top an event headlined by a princess, a knight and a dragon.

Cal U threw a celebration in honor of St. George’s Day — a Spanish feast day celebrating the legend of a brave knight who slew a dragon, saved a village and rescued a princess — and invited high school students to join the festivities.

Hosted by the Art and Languages Department, the celebration was expanded to include Arabic culture and a student art exhibition of medieval-themed prints, paintings, drawings, jewelry and ceramics.

Sixty students from Fort Cherry, Burgettstown and McGuffey high schools in Washington County, Pa., took it all in during an educational field trip to campus.

Burgettstown students in teacher Kelly Cadarette’s Spanish III class had just finished a research assignment on Spanish holidays, so the timing was perfect.

“I like the opportunity to visit a college campus,” says student Elka Hoelsken.

“We live in what’s called a ‘rural fringe (area)’ and there’s not always a lot of opportunity for us to experience different cultures. Any time there’s an opportunity to visit a college or a bigger city, it’s fun.”

“This provides a broad education for students,” says Dr. Razak Abedalla-Surrey, who teaches in Cal U’s Arabic language programs.

“We see a lot of the ‘hot zones’ in the Arab world in the media, but we don’t get to see or experience daily Arabic culture.”

History buffs don their Revolutionary War-era costumes for A Trip Through Time, sponsored by the history department.

PRIME time

During the spring semester, Cal U held a wide variety of events that brought more than 3,000 middle school and high school students to campus.

They included a Harry Potter literary conference; a 3D computer animation workshop; FIRST® Robotics, BotsIQ and National Robotics League competitions; a statistics and data science poster presentation; a Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program; the Pennsylvania Science Olympiad; and a presentation by a world-renowned anthropologist. 

Many events were funded by a new University outreach called PRIME, the Provost’s Recruitment Initiatives Mobilization Effort, which supports enrollment efforts and highlights faculty expertise.

“The intention of PRIME is for faculty to develop different ways to recruit students into their academic departments,” explains Dr. Tracey Sheetz, dean of Undergraduate Admissions.

Community members are also welcome at PRIME — and many other — University events.

“We want to demonstrate that we have outstanding faculty at Cal U and tap into that expertise. We want to showcase programs, the campus, and the overall Cal U experience to high school and middle school students as often as possible,” Sheetz says.

One approach is to take something children love, such as the Harry Potter book series, and blend it with expertise from Cal U professors and other scholars on topics such as career choices, gender roles and learning communities.

The result was a spell-binding day on Cal U’s campus for more than 260 students from six school districts. Organized by English professor Dr. Christina Fisanick, Cal U’s Harry Potter conference introduced them to the University — and made an English degree seem pretty cool.

Alexandra Junko, a student at Laurel Highlands Middle School, was especially taken by a session on “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” presented by Dr. Sarah Downey, another member of the English Department.

“Going inside of a college classroom was a new experience for me,” says Deven Freeland, who’s also from Laurel Highlands. “It connects to what I’m learning at school, because we’re learning how to write fiction stories.”

Beth-Center High School students Annabelle Larosa (left) and Nicole Hicks learn about swords and sword fighting at the St. George's Day celebration.

One busy weekend

On a Saturday in late April, visitors to the Natali Student Center experienced a Trip Through Time, a journey through history from the medieval age through World War II. It featured a military-style Civil War encampment, demonstrations by Cal U’s Fencing and Medieval clubs, and a panel discussion among faculty in the Department of History, Politics and Society.

Zack Lynch, a student at Greater Latrobe High School, came specifically to see the Civil War era displays with his sister Megan and grandparents Glenn and Carol Boyd, of Greensburg, Pa.

Lynch acknowledges there was extra credit for his social studies class involved, but he loved the day anyway.

“I learned how they treated wounds and amputations,” he says, with a slight grimace. “They used hot irons and maggots!”

 “We learn so much talking to the re-enactors,” says Glenn Boyd. “We’re history buffs, but there is always something we didn’t know.”

The same day, different location, found Delaney Martino, a student at Punxsutawney High School, trying to get one of her school’s two robots back in action at the finals of the Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ competition.

A cascade of mechanical issues doomed the ’bot, but the competition in the Convocation Center was a great learning experience for the 20 students on the Punxsutawney team, one of more than 60 teams at the contest.

“I’ve become more of a leader,” Martino says. “I learned teamwork, better writing skills for the documentation that we are required to provide, and I know basic circuitry because of an electronics class I took because of robotics.”

Ohio-based teams the Flying Circuits (left), of Cleveland, and the Mavericks, of  Milan, react as their practice match winds down at the Greater Pittsburgh Regional FIRST® Robotics Competition.

Looking ahead

A 3D animation workshop, held on two Saturdays during the spring semester, may provide a “what’s next” model for the University’s outreach to middle and high school students.

One idea: “Work closely with teachers. They can tell us what kinds of skills their students need, so Cal U faculty can build content around their input,” says workshop organizer Dr. Aleksandra Prokic, of the Department of Applied Engineering and Technology.

On-campus learning experiences let teens and ’tweens picture themselves as future college students.

“We need to be thought leaders,” Sheetz says. “The 3D workshop was all about exposure to the fun side of technology.

“We want to go beyond the campus tour and introduce students
to our wonderful faculty and the exciting learning opportunities that
Cal U has to offer.

“If they a have good experience, that’s a win for them and for the University.”

Nathan Mohr, of Alliance, Ohio, works on wiring a robot at the FIRST Robotics regional.

By Wendy Mackall, assistant communications director at Cal U

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