SRS alliance brings STEM offerings to K-12 students

June 8, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear News
Gary Senn and Kim Mitchell assist second graders from Chukker Creek Elementary School in Aiken, S.C., with a STEM project.

For almost four decades, the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center at the University of South Carolina–Aiken (USC Aiken) have partnered to bring science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to the area's kindergarten through 12th grade students.

“Few counties in the U.S. offer an education center of STEM programming like the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center, which is designed to impact students throughout their academic years,” said Kim Mitchell, education outreach lead with DOE contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS). “Using a hands-on approach to teaching, science and math are experienced through interesting displays, features, and events. It is a priceless asset to students of all grades, educators, and the residents of communities throughout the greater Aiken-Augusta area.”

Science support: Contributions to the center’s endowment fund support science-based education for all participants, Mitchell said.

“It’s an amazing facility with a small staff of dedicated and highly qualified individuals who continuously impress us,” she said. “We at SRNS truly enjoy working with them throughout the year on a number of projects and programs.”

Below are some examples of the center’s programs:

Gary Senn, the center’s director, said the partnership with the SRNS education outreach program provides access to a variety of resources, including USC Aiken buildings at reduced or no cost.

Some history: In 1985, Bob Alexander, USC Aiken’s third chancellor, and Herb Eleuterio, then technical director at SRS, developed the concept for a science center on a paper napkin, Senn said. At the time of the center’s inception, the United States was becoming increasingly aware of serious shortcomings in science and mathematics education following the U.S. Department of Education’s 1983 publication A Nation at Risk. Alexander and Eleuterio committed to using their combined resources to improve the area’s science and mathematics education.

“Since that meeting, the number of students who have visited our facility and participated in the programs and projects we share with SRNS would have to be incredulously high,” said Senn. “For 40 years, we’ve partnered closely with SRNS, the U.S. Forestry Service at the Savannah River Site, and other generous companies throughout the area surrounding our campus. I have no doubt that the total impact we’ve had on these students has been immeasurable, related to inspiring them to consider careers in STEM-related occupations.”

The center is a cooperative effort between USC Aiken, industry representatives, the South Carolina Department of Education, and schools in the Central Savannah River Area of South Carolina and Georgia.

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