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May 24, 2016

Bay City Western students analyze sports physics through SVSU, Dow Corning Foundation initiative

Bay City Western - Dow Corning STEMJarret Deming is a natural with a tennis racquet in his grip. Until recently, he never considered how it could empower him to better understand physics.

On a brisk morning - temperatures below 40 degrees - the 17-year-old junior at Bay City Western High School doesn't appear phased by the cold as he swings at the tennis ball. Deming is a natural, after all.

But this year he is getting a little help on his tennis posture and follow through. That support isn't coming from a coach or a teammate or even a how-to video. It's happening in Deming’s third hour physics class, where science, sports and technology are colliding thanks to a community partnership aimed at improving K-12 education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

“I enjoy this more than sitting in a classroom and listening to a teacher talk,” said Deming, who spent class time mapping out and analyzing the physics of his tennis form.

The lesson plan comes from Lisa Welch, a teacher participating in her second year as a participant in The Dow Corning Foundation/SVSU STEM Community Partnership.

The initiative is aimed at influencing 4,000 K-12 students within the Great Lakes Bay Region. Funded by a $254,000 Dow Corning Foundation grant, the project connects teachers with SVSU faculty and Dow Corning officials as they work on ideas for stimulating student interest in STEM.

In summer 2014, Welch was among 12 teachers in the region selected as part of the inaugural group of participants. In summer 2015, Welch was one of 16 educators enrolled in the initiative. She and her colleagues participated in education seminars and interacted with STEM professionals.

That same group of Dow Corning Fellows plans to discuss how the program impacts their classroom during a symposium Tuesday, May 31, from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in SVSU's Curtiss Hall banquet rooms. The event is free and open to the public.

Welch plans to share how Deming - and other students involved in her classroom's sports physics research - benefit from The Dow Corning Foundation and SVSU initiative.

Along with tennis balls, students in Welch's third hour physics class are hitting baseballs and golf balls in the name of science in the name of sports physics research. With iPad technology purchased through the Dow Corning Foundation/SVSU STEM Community Partnership, students are using computer software to produce 3-D maps of their peers simulating at-bats, tennis serves and golf ball chipping.

“I'm really interested to see what we learn from all this,” Welch said. “It's great seeing the way students are reacting to this. They are getting a chance to see firsthand how the topics we are learning in class apply in the bigger picture of sports perfection”

Welch said The Dow Corning Foundation/SVSU STEM Community Partnership has inspired her – and given her resources – to keep students engaged in STEM-geared learning.

Another benefit: “The network of people I've met, from SVSU and Dow Corning,” she said. “I'm not teaching in a small room anymore, on my own. I have a league of people who want to help me teach.”

Each Dow Corning Fellow is paired with an SVSU faculty member as well as professionals from Dow Corning. Welch works with Jason Pagano, assistant professor of chemistry, and Kelly Broker, a Dow Corning product development team leader.

Broker is impressed with how Welch has found new ways to engage students in STEM education.

“There's so much more to science than just what you learn in the classroom,” Broker said. “Experiences such as these give students such a broader perspective of what science is about.”

And it's not always exclusively about science, as Deming has discovered. Sometimes a STEM education ties in with elements of life that don't require hours of classroom lectures or thick textbooks to study. Sometimes a STEM education is found in the swing of a tennis racquet.

“This has been fun,” the 17-year-old says of the classroom assignment. “If it helps me understand the most efficient way to swing in tennis, then that's even better.”