Area students now have the opportunity to feed their minds with hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) activities through a new “vehicle.” The Tangi STEM Coalition, of which Southeastern Louisiana University is a member, developed the “Brain Food Truck,” or mobile STEM lab, to increase accessibility to STEM activities for youth in underserved communities.
Areas to be served by the new mobile STEM lab include Livingston, St. Helena, Tangipahoa, Washington, and St. Tammany parishes, said Southeastern Assistant Director of Math Science Upward Bound high school program and project co-chair Wendy Conarro. The purpose of the truck, she said, is to present enriching STEM activities by providing content for summer camps, after school and Saturday programs.
“Thanks to the dedication of many volunteers and donors, the Brain Food Truck was introduced to the public at the 2019 Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival, where Hammond High Torbotics Team members took a break from preparing for World Competitions in Houston to serve up STEM activities to families,” she said. “On the menu were Strawberry DNA extraction, building and testing magnetometers and Keva Plank contraptions, commanding a Dashbot, and creating paper circuit art.”
To help supply the Brain Food Truck, Southeastern Instructor of Industrial Technology Ed Rode led a work group of student volunteers during Southeastern’s The Big Event to assemble shelving to store supplies for over 40 STEM activities.
“We would not be this far along without the expertise of partners such as Mr. Rode who took the lead in assembling the intricately designed shelving provided to our project by the Nebraska Children’s Foundation, which has 20 such trailers rolling through their rural communities.”
The Brain Food Truck was funded by United Way of Southeast Louisiana, Intralox/Laitram, and Ponchatoula Kiwanis in honor of late engineer, Lee West. The project was also made possible by dozens of volunteers and hundreds of volunteer hours over the past nine months, Conarro said.
“Events such as the Strawberry Festival and the upcoming Hammond Community STEM Cafe will give us time to test the system while also providing enriching activities at a few local events,” said Troy Williams, project co-chair. “Ultimately, the Brain Food Truck will bring tested, standards-based, student-centered activities to communities who lack such opportunities.”
Conarro said the Brain Food Truck is being piloted this summer, after which they plan to secure funding for a fleet of mobile STEM labs to serve the Northshore region.
For more information or to make a reservation for the Brain Food Truck, visit www.brainfoodtruck.org. Priority will be given to communities currently without summer STEM enrichment opportunities, Conarro said.