Fifth graders at Novi Meadows Elementary School check out the Oakland Schools STEMi Truck during its visit to the school earlier this month.

Fifth graders at Novi Meadows Elementary School check out the Oakland Schools STEMi Truck during its visit to the school earlier this month.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

STEMi Truck rolls into Novi

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published April 21, 2023

 Mia Kiuchi and Caden Steslicki try out the STEMi Truck’s mixed reality headsets.

Mia Kiuchi and Caden Steslicki try out the STEMi Truck’s mixed reality headsets.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

NOVI — The Oakland Schools STEMi Truck made an appearance at Novi Meadows Elementary School April 3-6 to introduce fifth grade students to the many things they can do with science, technology, engineering and math skills.

The STEMi Truck is a mobile innovation lab that spends one week in each school district in Oakland County. It also introduces students to some of the various careers that are offered in STEM fields.

“It is used kind of like a spark for students to figure out what they like doing, what they are good at doing, and then what they can also make money doing,” said Lauren Marchelletta, a STEM consultant with Oakland Schools. “Because we have found a lot of times with career readiness, students know about the jobs that they see. So, we want to expose them to more opportunities than maybe what they are just seeing in the classroom.”

The STEMi has multiple things for students to play with and experiment with, such as self-driving cars, 3-D design spaces, collaborative robots, a construction simulator, a medical simulation table, and some mixed reality headsets. The program is instructed by Oakland Schools staff. Marchelletta said that staff members talk to students about the different careers that are involved with each of the different stations.

“A lot of times we have students come on here thinking you have to be an engineer in order to work with self-driving cars, and that’s not necessarily true,” Marchelletta said. “We need graphic designers who can design the things that are on the outside of the car. Maybe we need people who are in a different career to be involved with advertising or marketing. We need people involved in way more things than just engineering in order to make a self-driving car be what it is.”

The STEMi Truck is a five-year project that was piloted in May 2021 with a few school districts and since then has been expanded to include all school districts. She said they have been able to learn more about which stations work and which ones didn’t through student and teacher feedback. This year they added the construction and medical simulation stations.

“We try to pull inspiration from the students. What are they already interested in and how might it connect to something on the STEMi?” said Marchelletta. “We do have five industries that we have tried to represent on the STEMi. We have the construction industry; the health industry; the transportation, mobility, logistics and energy is one industry; advanced manufacturing; and then (information technology).”

Since the program started, Marchelletta said, they have found that the perfect ages to introduce students to STEM careers are between grades four and eight, when students have not yet made decisions about what they want to do with their lives. She said that by the time students have completed eighth grade, they have usually made some decisions about what they want to do.

Novi Meadows students reacted to the STEMi Truck’s visit.

“It showed how much technology has evolved in the last few years, and maybe when I’m older I’ll want to go into that — maybe like a software engineer,” said 10-year-old Shiv Ramamurthy.

Mia Kiuchi, 10, said she learned that you can be very creative and there are a lot of options with STEM.

“I also learned that for every job, even jobs that you think you don’t use science for, you can always use science,” Kiuchi said.

The event also provides an opportunity to introduce the younger students to students who attend the Oakland Schools Technical Campuses. The older students are able to educate the younger ones on the opportunities offered to high school students during their junior and senior years at the four tech campuses across the county. The programs include culinary arts, mechatronics, health and other programs that provide various types of certifications.

“I thought it was going to be not, like, this cool. I thought there was going to be just, like, some stuff or creations that you can, like, color on actual paper or something, but it was actually things you could color on, like a computer, and then it was like 3D, so it was really cool,” said Jolena Zhou, 10. “I learned that there’s more to STEM than just, like, math and science. There’s, like, a lot more cool stuff.”

Marchelletta said Oakland Schools has seen a “huge” increase in the number of items teachers are requesting from the district’s STEM checkout library since the STEMi Truck debuted. The library includes different types of robots, green screens, drones and other equipment that can be connected to their classrooms.

“We believe that that momentum within the library comes from the visiting of the STEMi,” Marchelletta said. “Teachers want to figure out how to incorporate it more into their classroom.”

“I was looking forward to stem activities that are more like science, but then when I went on there, there was, like, way more stuff that I didn’t even think there would be on there,” said Caden Steslicki, 11. “I didn’t know they were going to have virtual light things that you could color on. I didn’t think they were going to have that or, like, the 3D glasses, and then you get to make shapes and all that stuff. I liked that there was a lot of options and not just one or two.”

“It looked like it was the future,” Kiuchi said to sum up the STEMi Truck experience.

The STEMi Truck will continue to schools within Oakland County through the end of the school year.