Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation is expanding its partnership with the Oilfield Energy Center to enhance STEM education for middle-school age students via the Mobile Oilfield Learning Unit.
“Cabot is dedicated to providing educational opportunities to students and teachers to grow a future workforce and interest in STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics related to the energy industry. The MOLU accomplishes this and so much more,” noted George Stark, external affairs director for Cabot.
The traveling exhibit provides hands-on activities for students and challenges them to apply the knowledge they gather at 24 workstations to solve a series of problems.
“We really try to get the kids engaged in the sciences,” said Matt Austin, MOLU facilitator, who noted that the traveling exhibit was designed to motivate and empower students who may one day be interested in pursuing a career in the energy industry, ranging from opportunities in geology to petroleum engineering. By getting the kids to look at the energy industry from a variety of perspectives, he explained, “We show them that there are an abundance of jobs in the energy industry and that you can align these fantastic careers with subjects they find interesting.”
“As the energy industry continues to transform itself in a time of widespread technological advances, we need to make sure the next generation of workers have the imagination and skills necessary to thrive in a world of new challenges and opportunities,” says Stark.
Tara Craig, STEM coach and computer program teacher at Pittston High School, is passionate about focusing on STEM principles and sees the MOLU as a valuable teaching aid. “Not only will we help our students develop the skills necessary to pursue a career in the ever-growing STEM fields, but we will also give them the tools to think critically,” she stated.
“Any time we can do anything that is hands-on, they get a little more knowledge than we can give them in the classroom,” said Laura Harder, a fifth-grade math, science and social studies teacher at Elk Lake Elementary School in Springville, PA. Her students have just begun exploring the basics of geology – rocks and the layers of the earth – but she is confident that her pupils found relevance in the MOLU activities. Harder explained that the MOLU facilitator patiently worked with students who raised their hands and helped them think through each activity until they found the answer to the corresponding question.
Facilitators leave workbooks with the teachers so they can follow-up the MOLU visit in the classroom with post-trip testing. For the more than 30 schools in the Appalachian Basin that the exhibit has visited, student test scores improved by more than 50 percent, providing proof of the success of MOLU’s hands-on approach.
“We like to see if they just had fun or if they actually learned something,” Austin remarked.
The MOLU will feature many of the same lessons as its predecessors but include some updates to reflect advancements in the industry and elements specific to the Appalachian Basin. According to the MOLU manager Donna Wheeler, earlier versions of the MOLU focused on offshore drilling. “We have now updated our mission and programs to include onshore components,” she explained. “With this new direction, we are developing increasing awareness on how onshore production is vital to the oil and gas industry.”
The new MOLU has already been to more than a dozen schools in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
“The students all enjoyed the ‘hands-on’ learning experience involved,” remarked Reanna Ponzo, Leona Middle School teacher in Shadyside, Ohio. “And the criteria fit the Ohio Learning Standards for sixth grade.”
“Many of the activities the MOLU includes are transferable to countless careers,” said Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School teacher Johnnie Hicks. “The experience is a unique opportunity to show our young people how the material they read in a textbook is applied to the everyday world.”
Between February and May, students at another dozen schools are scheduled for a MOLU visit. The average cost for the experience is $2,200, and a growing number of companies whose executives appreciate the value of STEM education in fostering a skilled workforce have stepped up to sponsor the traveling classroom. They include Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation, CNX, Equitrans Midstream Corporation, Marathon Petroleum, Range Resources, Southwestern Energy and Williams.
While Cabot’s generosity and commitment to preparing a skilled workforce have enabled the MOLU to visit schools in Lackawanna, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties, additional sponsorships are needed by other business leaders to get the MOLU and its hands-on STEM training tools into more schools throughout the Appalachian Basin.
“We are grateful to the energy companies who help to make this fantastic learning experience possible,” said Justin Zimmerman, headmaster of the Linsly School in Wheeling, West Virginia. “Our teachers strive to make interdisciplinary connections for our students, and its experiences like this that might help a student discover a new interest or passion.”
Educators and industry representatives interested in scheduling or sponsoring a MOLU visit to a school may contact the OEC at 713.840.1753 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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