Layla Greene furrows her brow as she inspects the tower she’s building out of red solo cups. She hops to the opposite side of the structure, spotting where she’ll begin the next level and then using a pair of tongue depressers like tongs, picking up another cup and holding her breath as she carefully sets it in place.

She called the building challenge which required her to stack the tallest tower within a two minute time limit “frustrating, but fun.”

Greene, a 3rd grader from Skyline Elementary School in Stillwater, was having fun and she was using engineering principles as she did it, whether she realized it or not.

She was one of 1,000 children from area schools that the staff at the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board expected to attend a STEM Night it sponsored at the Payne County Expo Center on Tuesday.

Education outreach is part of OERB’s mission, Communications Director Dara McBee said.

The agency spends half its budget on well site clean-ups, spending $112 million to clean up more than 16,500 sites over the years, and the other half on public education, including well site safety, she said.

The agency offers several public outreach events each year to teach young people about the energy industry and science, technology, engineering and mathematics in general.

“It started as a way to get kids engaged in STEM, because STEM is the future of the oil and gas industry and lots of industries in Oklahoma,” McBee said. “We want to get kids engaged in STEM at an early age, so we’re trying to spread it all across Oklahoma … We try to represent all facets of STEM...STEM isn’t just engineering it’s also if you’re interested in zoology or insects.”

It’s part of an effort to encourage students to pursue STEM careers and help fill the millions of job openings there will be in those fields in the coming years.

It was also a way for kids to get hands-on with some technology and have fun, whether they were using a 3-D printer, flying a drone, examining insects up close and personal, looking at salt crystals through a microscope or mixing up a batch of slime.

Because anything can be an opportunity for learning.

Dr. Gayla Wright, Curricula Coordinator for OERB helped Griffin Clemens, a Kindergartner from Stillwater, carefully measure the ingredients for his slime. As she ensured he got the proportions just right, because they were actually doing chemistry, she explained that polymers can be found many places.

Wright explained that slime is actually a polymer because it combines small molecular structures into longer chains. Natural polymers are found in the materials that make up most living things, like cartilage, bone, hair, even DNA while synthetic polymers make up everything from soda bottles to disposable diapers.

In this case, by combining laundry detergent and white glue, two liquids, and baking soda, a solid, they produced a new substance with a different molecular structure that doesn’t quite act like a liquid or a solid.

Students from throughout the area attended STEM Night, including a contingent of 67 from Frontier Schools in Red Rock.

Twitter: @mcharlesNP

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