Honors College, Brewers knock STEM out of the park

Honors College students Joshua Petrie (second from left) and Brody Hicks (second from right) helped middle school students get more engaged in STEM through the Brewers STEM Crew program.

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

Baseball is just fun and games to a fan, but in the world of STEM it is so much more. It is a commonality that brought together Grand Canyon University’s Honors College and the Milwaukee Brewers to create the Brewers STEM Crew after school club for local middle schoolers.

From mid-November to the end of January, Honors College Associate Dean Breanna Naegeli, Program Manager Dennis Williams and five Honors College students teamed up with the Brewers to create a fun, baseball-themed, eight-week program on Thursday afternoons to get students interested in the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The program highlighted the science and math that come into play in baseball, all while giving students access to the Brewers' spring training facility in Maryvale.

“The program was designed as a community outreach initiative for middle school students from 6th to 8th grade within the neighboring Maryvale schools,” Naegeli said. “The goal of the program was to promote STEM and excite students about STEM through the use of baseball.”

Honors College Associate Dean Breanna Naegeli was present at several of the meetings.

The middle school students were taught how to calculate the geometry of a baseball field, baseball statistics and averages, and the flight and trajectory of a baseball and  investigate the biomechanics of running, throwing and hitting. The use of analytics has increased dramatically in the sport in recent years. 

“Our student team had to build everything from scratch,” Naegeli said. “Every week we met to talk about the curriculum design and how we planned to deliver the STEM-based curriculum to these middle school students. The goal was to keep the program exciting and engaging because we knew they had just sat through eight hours of school. We didn’t want it to be another lecture series, so we had to think of really engaging STEM-based activities for them to participate in and then also bring it to life outdoors on the field.”

The program, which was put together with less than two weeks’ notice by the Honors College, pulled in about 18 middle schoolers for its debut and generated excitement for future renditions.

One of the Honors College student volunteers, freshman Josh Petrie, had to dust off his science skills to help with the program, but his baseball knowledge came in handy. The finance major is no stranger to math.

“I’m not big in STEM, but I knew the baseball-related side and I did a lot of camps at home, so I’m pretty good with kids. I knew I’d be good at that,” He said. “It was kind of cool to see all the different science and the biomechanics in throwing, hitting, running. It’s kind of cool, especially for kids to learn, that when creating a team, there’s a lot of science that goes into it.”

Olivia DuPuy (left) joined Hicks and Petrie in leading the program. 

When the last two sessions focused on applying the knowledge they had learned in the previous weeks, Petrie was able to lead the lessons out on the field.

Pre-med freshman Olivia DuPuy used her knowledge of STEM to contribute to the program, and being the only female student leader gave her an opportunity to be a role model for young girls interested in pursuing STEM in college.

“From my perspective, it was really cool to have girls in the program because when we think about baseball it’s a man’s sport and when we think about science it’s largely been dominated by men but has so much space for women to grow as an industry,” she said. “I joined because I wanted to make a difference, kind of dip my toe into research, but what I gained from it was a better understanding of how science works and how to become a better member of the community.”

The trio of student volunteers was completed by sophomore cybersecurity and communications major Brody Hicks. The former childhood baseball player turned STEM student could offer insight from both sides of the program but offered more to the science aspect.

“These kids, they know what baseball is to an extent -- some of them know it more extensively. So we were really trying to integrate that science portion, the engineering, the physics and the mechanics behind it,” he said.

In addition to helping them academically, Hicks said, the program also gave students a better understanding of baseball.

“It kind of helps them better understand the game itself, how things work and why it’s so important and or dangerous to play these sports,” Hicks said. “With the proper education, they’re more aware of it and see the red flags and the risks and they respect the game more.”

In a survey at the end of the program, the middle school students' responses pointed toward future Honors College/Brewers collaborations.

“They actually wanted to bring some of their friends the next couple years,” Hicks said.

The student leaders would like to do the program again as well. Brewers officials share that enthusiasm.

"It was a great experience to work with Breanna, Dennis and the Honors College crew," said Thad McGrew, Community Affairs Director for the Maryvale site. "Kudos to Breanna for taking on the challenge on relatively short notice and manufacturing a quality blueprint to a really good program." 

Honors students Michelle Fific and Georgia Hughes also contributed to the program, offering their skills in videography and digital design and marketing to capture the essence of the program and market it to middle school students.

And while the Brewers program likely will remain focused on baseball, Naegeli said new doors have been opened to see how STEM relates to other sports and how that can be implemented in other outreach opportunities.

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]


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