CSU Stanislaus Science Day is evidence school can be cool

naustin@modbee.comFebruary 15, 2014 

— From a projection of the solar system to an up-close visit with Jeffrey the hissing cockroach, serious science put its family-friendliest foot forward at California State University, Stanislaus.

Saturday’s Science Day was the third for the university, offering a chance to encourage exploration of lab-zone majors and left-brained career paths.

“The kids get to learn why science is important,” said Mark Grobner, biology department chairman. About 180 university students and 30 faculty pitched in to put on the day’s events, Grobner said, with 25 or so science students from Enochs High School in Modesto joining in to mount a zombie apocalypse.

Teen zombies, all decked out in fake blood and making ghoulish groans, drew youngsters into experiments with blood typing, disease transmission and fingerprinting.

“It’s been awesome!” enthused student teacher Eric Corso, overseeing the station where roughly half of all visitors discovered they carried the zombie virus – really a drop of sodium hydroxide in their test tube.

Zombie fan Paul Porter, 10, watched his fingerprints glow as an Enochs teen in goggles and lab coat brushed them with dust. This was absolutely the best exhibit so far, he said with a grin.

New digs for nursing

The apocalypse overran the first floor of the university’s newly refurbished Science I building, an $18.5 million, to-the-studs makeover for the 1972 structure. On the second floor, visitors could tour the school of nursing’s consolidated quarters, which opened last month.

“Now everything is centralized and the teachers are in the same building,” said nursing student Leah Aragon.

A simulation smart-dummy, nicknamed Ken, hosted crowds in his mini hospital room. Making Ken retch, wheeze and whine about his symptoms was Wendy Matthew, simulation coordinator, from a computer station between two dummy patient rooms. Ken, fortunately, does not mind multiple exams, has no fear of IV sticks and recovers quickly from death.

Other dummies lay unconnected, waiting for wires to bring their diseases and misfortunes to life. Cameras captured students’ efforts to save them, videos that students and instructors will analyze later. Ken and family bring training to the next level, said nursing student Rachel Gonsales. “They test us, prepare us for the real world,” she said.

With unpacked boxes still tucked in the corners, nursing students helped students feel pulse points marked with X’s. In other rooms, nursing students demonstrated cardiopulmonary resuscitation and explained nutritional concepts, such as proteins help you grow, fats are like “a piggy bank” for your body and candy is not considered food.

More than a few said ‘eew’

Across the way in Naraghi Hall of Science, static electricity, math puzzles and anatomy models beckoned to the curious. The herpetology room, with its jars of preserved frogs, elephant vertebrae and slithering wildlife, had a steady stream of “eew”-ing visitors.

A snake shedding his skin seemed to fascinate folks, said anthropology student Rachel Heiss. “I had a little girl who was 2 jumping up and down and shaking, looking more excited than she’d ever been before, while her parents backed away in fear,” Heiss said with a chuckle.

Explaining how whales could be tracked by the DNA in their poop, graduate student D.J. Beals drew connections between sea life and agriculture. With the drought, policymakers are shifting water use from fish to farms, said Beals, who plans to teach ag courses. “It’s all related,” she said.

In the “Six-Legged Zoo,” biology student Nicole Sahota pointed passers-by to Charlotte, the shy tarantula, as Alma Plascencia handed children bug’s-eye glasses to try. “You have a lot of heads. Awesome!” shouted 7-year-old Cole Hackler, looking at brother Mason, 5, through the kaleidoscopelike lenses.

Forensic anthropology major Nancy Valdez stood by a display of fly larvae that help establish time of death. “People usually are afraid of insects and bugs, but they’re very useful in everyday life,” she said.

Greenhouse adventures

Outside, the inscrutable Jefferson lay on the grass considering a carrot lying in front on him. The visitors he viewed with grumpy disdain, however, seemed quite taken with him. “The tortoise was cool,” said Jason England, 11.

Giving tours through the campus greenhouse, Stuart Wooley pointed out class projects in propagation and botanical oddities like the sea onion, a medicinal plant. He grows jicama, jack fruit and ginger as part of a collection of “plants that we eat that nobody ever sees,” said Wooley, an associate professor of botany. His research is on drought resistance of the coyote gourd. “When everything’s brown all around, it’s green and flowering,” he said.

Giving the tours to youngsters, he said, “really helps them appreciate what’s here. Plants are pretty awesome. They eat things, they’re important in medicine. They’re important in culture.”

“We’ve enjoyed coming every year. It’s a great experience for the kids,” said Suzanne Houlden, as daughter Danielle Houlden, 9, stood by the greenhouse. Danielle, a budding paleontologist, got to meet experts in her future field on last year’s Science Day, she said. “I like going around and seeing everything.”

More than 1,000 visitors had traipsed through the exhibits by the noon halfway point, organizer Grobner said. Student helpers came from the university American Chemistry Society Club, Biology Student Association, Blue-Green Hand Society, Math Club, Student Nursing Association, Pre-Health Society, Psychology Club, Society of Physics Students and Alpha Phi Omega.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

Modesto Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service