Section: Features

SPI Spot fosters interest in STEM

SPI Spot fosters interest in STEM

Photo by Maria Sorkin

A young crowd gathers around a beaker in which Emily Bulik-Sullivan ’16 and Ren DeBrosse ’18 are demonstrating the physical properties of dry ice. Kids squeal with delight as Sullivan pours smoke into their hands from a plastic cup of dry ice and water.

“How come it doesn’t freeze my fingers off?” a girl asks,  to which DeBrosse explains how dry ice turns immediately from a freezing block of ice to harmless carbon dioxide gas with no liquid stage in between. The kids are amazed. They suggest modifying the experiment to make a more foggy CO2 product by adding soap to the water to form milky bubbles. A boy places an empty balloon from another station over the opening of the beaker. The balloon slowly inflates with gas until the pressure forces it off. The children giggle at the whiny noise the balloon makes as it whizzes around the room, and they rush to catch it before it hits the ground.

The inaugural Kenyon Science Kids Day kicked off on Saturday, April 9 at the Science Play Initiative, or SPI Spot, in Mount Vernon. The event allowed Kenyon science students the chance to interact with the local community, and was organized by the KSTEM workshop board, including Maria Sorkin ’16, Toneisha Stubbs ’18 and Meghan Boterenbrood ’18, in partnership with SPI Spot. Much to the board’s surprise, 30 student volunteers responded to their volunteer requests, which included a Student-Info email.

“I love science and I love kids,” Madeline Thompson ’16, a psychology major with a neuroscience concentration, said as she helped students mold plaster into eggs surrounding turtle figurines. All around, Kenyon students were having animated conversations with their young pupils.

Rachel Garcia, director of SPI Spot and wife of Simon Garcia, associate professor of chemistry, appreciated Kenyon students’ enthusiasm to connect with young scientists.

“Our mission is to engage the community with science through play,” Garcia said. “We created the center as the place where science and play intersect.”

SPI Spot began in 2011 under the direction of Garcia and an administrative board. The initiative is open most weekdays, when it caters mainly to preschool visitors, but also hosts special Saturday discovery days and runs several summer science camps for children; this includes a nature camp for which it partners with the Brown Family Environmental Center to allow students to explore the center’s 480-acre preserve. Garcia looks forward to partnering more with the College when SPI Spot moves into the first floor of the renovated Buckeye building next year.

Over the course of the three hours of Science Kids Day, more than 110 children traveled around stations with their parents, decorating cookies, tracing plants and experimenting with balloons, paper chromatography and more.

“I love it here,” one girl said as she moved from playing with cabbage pH indicators to making balloon rockets. Just as exuberant were the Kenyon science students who rediscovered their own childhoods for an afternoon, eager to share their passion for the sciences with the next generation of experimenters and explorers.

SPI Spot is located at 227 South Main Street in Mount Vernon, and is open Monday through Tuesday, and Thursday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturday from 11  a.m. to 4 p.m.


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