Rising Star students learn STEM skills with Lenexa biotech company

Rising Star Principal Kristie Darby said companies like Thermo Fisher bring lessons to life for students who respond to hands-on learning. “It just lets kids explore STEM and explore that for their future, for jobs in STEM,” Darby said. “It’s been a really rewarding experience.” Photo courtesy Kristie Darby.

Extracting DNA from strawberries and learning how to make slime are just a few of the STEM-focused activities Rising Star Elementary students got to experience before the school building closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those STEM activities were part of Rising Star’s new partnership during the 2019-20 school year with Thermo Fisher Scientific, a biotechnology company with offices in Lenexa.

The activities introduced elementary students to hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“The kids are so engaged,” said Principal Kristie Darby. “They love STEM projects because they’re hands on and they’re engaging.”

Thermo Fisher has also delivered “STEMcredible” kits to students so they each have lab supplies like science goggles, a lab coat and gloves.

Thermo Fisher staff gave Rising Star students their own lab kits with aprons, googles and gloves, and also taught them workplace safety skills. Photo courtesy Kristie Darby.

“When the kids get ready to do all their assignments, they put on their stuff and so they feel the part,” Darby said.

Thermo Fisher acquired grant funding to help pay for the projects and supplies, including $3,000 for 12 microscopes for the school building.

The biotech company also did some activities with students at Brookridge, Shawanoe and Sunflower elementary schools during this school year.

Kathy Stack, training supervisor for Thermo Fisher and coordinator of the activities, said the partnership with Shawnee Mission elementary schools started with a desire to give back to the community and get students excited about science.

“If we can help schools do that, then that’s good for the kids, it’s good for the schools, and it’s good for us as a company because they may be the future people that come to work for us,” Stack said.

Squeezing DNA out of strawberries was one popular activity Thermo Fisher Scientific did with Rising Star students. Photo courtesy Thermo Fisher Scientific.

On a trip with Thermo Fisher staff to the Center for Academic Achievement, Rising Star students partnered with high school students to do science experiments. In October, the Rising Star student council toured the manufacturing plant at Thermo Fisher and learned about workplace safety. And the following month, on Family Science Night, students and their families learned how to make their own lava lamps.

Darby said companies like Thermo Fisher bring lessons to life for students who respond to hands-on learning.

“It just lets kids explore STEM and explore that for their future, for jobs in STEM,” Darby said. “It’s been a really rewarding experience.”

Now that schools are closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, educators and professionals at Thermo Fisher are looking at possible programming ideas for the coming school year.

“Kathy is such a go-getter; she seeks out opportunities for my students and really wants what’s best for my students,” Darby added. “We’re looking forward to continuing it next year. It has been very beneficial for the students.”