STEM education has been a passion of Rep. Robert Dold (R-Kenilworth) since he was elected to Congress.
Monday, he took 22 area high school students on a field trip to Underwriters Laboratories (UL) in Northbrook and three other sites to prove his point.
Dold often touts the importance of educating young people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to ease their way into the modern job market. At UL, the subject came alive in front of the students.
“It was great seeing it in action,” Glenbrook South student Rohan Shah said. “We learn about this in school, but it was cool to see it was really applicable.”
What the students saw at the UL facility was how the scientists and engineers test furniture to determine how quickly it will burn in the event of a fire. Inside a large facility at the lab are two houses, a two-story structure and a ranch that are used for testing.
Bob Backstrom of Northbrook, a fire research engineer, presented a video demonstrating on how quickly a fire can turn deadly depending on the material in a sofa, which can range from just under 5 minutes to more than 30.
“We start fires in those houses and have a fire fighter put them out,” Backstrom said. “We can do it every three days.”
He also explained they are able to cleanse the air within those three days and none escapes into the environment.
Deerfield High School sophomore Eliot Padzensky was selected by his advanced placement biology teacher to join colleagues from throughout the 10th Congressional District to spend the day gaining a first-hand look at what his class work can accomplish.
“It is really cool to have the opportunity to do something like this,” Padzensky said. “This was really amazing,” he added referring to watching a fire set in the house and then extinguished under controlled circumstances.
Keton Patel, a Highland Park High School sophomore, always has his hands busy with something. “I’m always tinkering, trying to figure out how to make things work,” he said.
When he saw the fires set and extinguished before his eyes, he was impressed. “It was crazy what was going on with all that smoke,” Patel said. “I’m always trying to make things and this was very cool.”
Most impressed may have been Stevenson High School teacher Brett Endmann, who runs a program to place students in STEM internships with businesses and institutions of higher education in the area. He has seen a lot of growth in STEM education in the last few years.
“I used to place four or five students,” Endmann said. “Now it’s between 40 and 50. That’s one of the reasons I’m here,” he added, hoping to find opportunities for his pupils not only at UL, but Dow Chemical, Abbott Laboratories and Northwestern University. Those were the other stops on the tour.
Endmann was also glad the students had a chance to see the practical effect of what he and his Stevenson colleagues try to teach. “They get to see problem solving using the scientific method,” he said.
Dold hopes the practical application the students saw will not only motivate them, but will have them talking about it to their schoolmates. He saw a particularly valuable lesson in Northbrook. “UL is helping to expand the uses of STEM education and promote safety,” he said.