Third-graders from StarChild Academy stand shoulder-to-shoulder as they wait to compete in a paper airplane-flying contest. STEM Day at UCF, March 30, 2018. Photo by Victoria Villanueva-Marquez.

STEM Day at UCF encourages K-12 students to study science, math


The Justice League has had all their gadgets stolen.

Teams of third and fifth-graders rushed to assemble new tools for superheroes including Batman, Superman, The Flash and Green Lantern to help them defeat supervillain Lex Luthor.

Using only Legos, the young engineers designed a helicopter landing pad, a jet and a “Bat drone.”

The Justice League’s Lego Lab was held in the Nicholson School of Communication on UCF’s main campus and was a part of STEM Day, an event that aims to get students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The Justice League’s Lego Lab was designed by UCF students with the American Society for Engineering Education, a student organization that works with local K-12 schools to encourage students to pursue engineering.

UCF’s Center for Initiatives in STEM hosted about 1,200 K-12 students for STEM Day. A variety of student organizations and departments collaborated to put on demonstrations for the students. Demonstrations were held across campus, and teachers shuffled their students from scene to scene. 

A fifth-grader from StarChild Academy meets his dry ice bubble at eye level. STEM Day at UCF, March 30, 2018. Photo by Victoria Villanueva-Marquez.

Alicia Gabbard, a fifth-grade teacher at Winter Garden’s StarChild Academy, brought her class to STEM Day. 

In light of the gender gap in STEM fields, Gabbard said she stresses the importance of STEM to the girls in her class. 

About 40 percent of men with STEM college degrees work in STEM jobs compared to 26 percent of women who go on to work in STEM fields, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration.

“We try to involve it so that they can see that they can accomplish just about the same thing that the boys can,” Gabbard said.

Gabbard said there are two girls in her class of nine students. One of them, 10-year-old Aaliyah Boodhoo, said she dreams of becoming a marine biologist.

“I want to see what lies beneath the depths of the sea,” Boodhoo said.

Elsewhere, a class of third-graders from StarChild Academy marched single file to a paper airplane activity in Classroom Building 1. 

Nicole Demeter, a UCF senior studying computer science, said the demonstration was meant to teach students about physics and how gravity affects airplanes.

Demeter said it also showed students how science exists in the real world.

“We need scientists and researchers, and if they can just see this, they can see that they can do it too,” Demeter said.

UCF students help third-graders from StarChild Academy make paper airplanes in an activity meant to teach them about physics. STEM Day at UCF, March 30, 2018. Photo by Victoria Villanueva-Marquez.

After watching an airplane glide across the room and land gently on the floor, a third-grader immediately reached for his digital camera.

“Can you throw that one again?” Patrick Bingham asked. “It’s very interesting,” the nine-year-old boy said with a smile.

The students sat at desks concentrating as they each made their own paper airplane.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder in matching yellow shirts, they tested their paper airplanes in a competition to see whose would fly the farthest.

After thrusting their airplanes into the air, the students left to have lunch in the Pegasus Ballroom in the Student Union.

Luke Wilder, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Forest Lake Elementary in Volusia County, said he might go into a STEM field in the future.

Wilder, whose team helped design a jet for The Flash, said he hopes to become a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. 

“It’s very interesting,” Wilder said. “I like all the aspects of it.”