Super Saturday Event attracts middle schoolers to the world of science 

Middle School students Eleanor Ryall and Layla Henderson
Eleanor Ryall, 12 and Layla Henderson, 13 work through the process to make alginate.

With the rising demand for workers in STEM-related fields, a Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) program is working to attract younger generations to STEM careers.

GGC partners with local schools to offer its Super Saturday Series, which provides middle school students hands-on experience in biology, chemistry, exercise science and information technology (IT), through participation in activities presented by GGC’s faculty, staff and student volunteers.

GGC initially focused on female students when it began the Super Saturday Series in 2011 as a way to break preconceptions and to increase the number of women interested in pursuing STEM careers. But in recent years, organizers expanded the program to include all middle schoolers.

Led by GGC faculty, Dr. Cindy Robertson, associate professor of IT and Dr. Rebecca Kalman, associate professor of chemistry, the series is a low-cost program available year-round to sixth through eighth graders.

“We have watched hundreds of students enjoy the educational and engaging experiences our GGC professors and students provide at the Super Saturday Series,” said Robertson.

“Being able to attract a future generation to a career in STEM by introducing them to fun STEM activities is one of the most rewarding parts of our job,” Kalman added.

Learning by doing

“It’s kinda cold,” Layla Henderson, 13, said as she slowly poured calcium chloride into a beaker as an initial step to make alginate. Henderson, who attends North Gwinnett Middle School, said she attended the Super Saturday program on the strong advice of her mother. It wasn’t long until Henderson was fully engrossed in the alginate creation process. Henderson and her partner for the exercise, Eleanor Ryall, 12, watched in wonder as processed chemicals slowly morphed into tiny lime green-colored beads.

“It's the coolest thing EVER,” exclaimed Ryall, a Gwinnett Online Campus student, who aspires one day to be a forensic scientist. Ryall, who also said her mother encouraged her to attend the Super Saturday event, predicted that her favorite part of the experiment was yet to come.

“I can’t wait to take the alginate home,” she said.

As Henderson and Ryall marveled over their experiment in the chemistry lab, Dacula Middle School student Thomas Lewis, 12, was busy in another room studying plastic representations of human skulls, bones and teeth. As he held a plastic skull in his hand, his eyes darted back and forth as he searched the set of artifacts in front of him.

“I was trying to figure out which jaw connected to the upper set of teeth,” he said. “I saw one that might fit into the mold, but I was still trying to see if there were others that fit.

The seventh grader, who was initially contemplating a future career in robotics or neuroscience, said the exercise spurred his interest in biology.

“I like how many bones there are in the human body and how they go together,” he said.

Dr. Rahaf Barakat, associate professor of IT at GGC and a Super Saturday Series organizer, said the event is worth the enormous effort it takes to coordinate it.

“The one thing I keep in mind is the light at the end of the tunnel – the light I see in the children’s eyes when they explore new things.”

View and download the Super Saturday Feb. 2023 photo gallery.

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