Pictured above – Tech Ph.D. Student Carey Wilson works with attendees at a recent Harry Potter-themed STEM Center event.
Cookeville – The Millard Oakley STEM Center for the Teaching and Learning of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics on the campus of Tennessee Tech University is known for its unique learning activities it provides for school aged children. It also provides learning and leadership opportunities for the Tech students who work at the STEM Center and plan those activities.
Carey Wilson is one of those Tech students. She is pursuing her Ph.D. in STEM education and will graduate in December 2023. She completed her undergraduate work in agribusiness from Tech and has a Master of Science in agricultural economics and natural resources from University of Tennessee Knoxville. She also has two Masters of Arts in Curriculum & Development, one in secondary mathematics and the second in STEM education, from tech.
Wilson, who is a first-generation college student is originally from Detroit, Michigan but has lived in Tennessee over 20 years. She spent a short time in Kentucky during her junior year of undergraduate school for an internship program.
“I am glad for the educational opportunities I have come across. I hope to continue learning even when I am done with my doctoral program,” Wilson said. “Maybe I can even return to school as a non-traditional student to take courses in engineering and computer science one day.”
Wilson had taught secondary mathematics for many years and has been a student at Tech for a long time. She was doing a professional development session once a month at the STEM Center, while teaching full-time, when in December 2020, STEM Center Director Darek Potter suggested she come work at the center as a graduate student. She quit teaching full-time and started working at the center in January 2021.
“I am beyond grateful for this opportunity to work here,” Wilson said.
Wilson works with Jennifer Meadows, associate professor in curriculum and instruction, and Jane Baker, professor of curriculum and instruction, hosting the STEM outreach events. These events occur once or twice a month.
They create the STEM stations for K-12 students to engage with different STEM concepts that relate to a theme. Their next event is “Encanto,” themed. They are coming up with stations to match that theme related to mathematics and art, physical sciences, engineering and other STEM topics.
She has been a part of “Fab Friday” and “Saturday Safari” events since she started becoming more involved with the STEM Center. She has also worked with different school groups that have visited the STEM Center for a class field trip.
“Since I have a graduate assistant position at Tech now, I have also volunteered my time to work with the “Engineering a Future” program, facilitated by the engineering department at Tech, for a day of coding with potential female engineers,” Wilson said.
Wilson said she believes all students should have the opportunity to equal access to learning in STEM subjects. In addition, working at the STEM Center has strengthened her belief this access should include integrated approaches for students to make the connections among the STEM subjects.
“More specifically, in working at Tech, I have had more time to read about more narrow areas related to Tech. For example, policy, diversity, equal access, the historical foundation of STEM and other STEM-related areas of research,” Wilson said. “I am finding my niche, I get to work with the STEM Center faculty all the time, and I enjoy it a lot. I am so glad for this opportunity to work with the professionals in this field. They have helped me grow in my knowledge of STEM education.”
Wilson said her position at the STEM Center has given her access to opportunities that she would not have had time to do if she were still teaching full-time.
“Working with the wonderful people at the STEM Center, has given me hope that I can find a job that I enjoy going to every day, as I do now when I go to the STEM Center,” Wilson said. “They are so great to work with, and they allow me to have a flexible schedule unlike other careers.”
She said her time at Tech has always been a positive experience. From the first day of SOAR, in the summer of 2006, to her current graduate position at the STEM Center.
“I love this campus, and I love being a student here,” Wilson said. “Maybe I will get lucky and be able to become a part of the awesome faculty that work here one day as well.”
Shawn Hinkle, a Ph.D. student pursing a major in exceptional learning with a focus on literacy, is also making the most of his opportunities to learn and teach at the STEM Center. He has multiple degrees from Tech including a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies focusing on psychology and sociology, a master’s degree in educational psychology and a specialist in education in library science.
Hinkle, who is originally from Arizona but has lived in Sparta for over 20 years, will graduate in December 2025. He is a graduate assistant through the Office of Research under Potter.
Hinkle’s job is to do research and help with some STEM events and outreach activities. He helps Carlos Galindo, STEM Center coordinator, with the school activities, where they do three rotations, two activities and a 3D movie.
He became involved with the STEM Center through his graduate assistantship and has worked there since January 2022. Hinkle wants to either be a university professor or work for a literacy nonprofit.
“I have a greater appreciation for technology after working at the STEM center,” Hinkle said. “I’ve really come to love robotics and outreach. I think STEM education is really important for kids and teens.”
The Millard Oakley STEM Center is located in Ray Morris Hall at 155 West 7th Street, Cookeville. For more information about the STEM Center and its educational opportunities visit https://www.tntech.edu/education/stem/index.php.