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Ronan Stackpole, left, and Elijah Tross, students at Wiesbaden Middle School, shake the sides of an inflatable pool to test the buoyancy of their handmade houseboats on Thursday, May 14, 2015, during the second annual middle school STEMposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Fifty-four students from the DODDS-Europe Kaiserslautern District participated in the two-day event.

Ronan Stackpole, left, and Elijah Tross, students at Wiesbaden Middle School, shake the sides of an inflatable pool to test the buoyancy of their handmade houseboats on Thursday, May 14, 2015, during the second annual middle school STEMposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Fifty-four students from the DODDS-Europe Kaiserslautern District participated in the two-day event. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

Ronan Stackpole, left, and Elijah Tross, students at Wiesbaden Middle School, shake the sides of an inflatable pool to test the buoyancy of their handmade houseboats on Thursday, May 14, 2015, during the second annual middle school STEMposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Fifty-four students from the DODDS-Europe Kaiserslautern District participated in the two-day event.

Ronan Stackpole, left, and Elijah Tross, students at Wiesbaden Middle School, shake the sides of an inflatable pool to test the buoyancy of their handmade houseboats on Thursday, May 14, 2015, during the second annual middle school STEMposium at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Fifty-four students from the DODDS-Europe Kaiserslautern District participated in the two-day event. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

Morgan Houchins, a seventh-grader at Ramstein Middle School, holds up the  houseboat prototype she made with plastic bottles, wood, Styrofoam and other materials during the middle school STEMposium on Thursday, May 14, 2015, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Morgan Houchins, a seventh-grader at Ramstein Middle School, holds up the houseboat prototype she made with plastic bottles, wood, Styrofoam and other materials during the middle school STEMposium on Thursday, May 14, 2015, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

Kahliya Jones, an eighth-grader at Bitburg Middle/High School, adjusts a component on her wind turbine during the middle school STEMposium on Thursday, May 14, 2015, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Kahliya Jones, an eighth-grader at Bitburg Middle/High School, adjusts a component on her wind turbine during the middle school STEMposium on Thursday, May 14, 2015, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

Briget Lilleman, far left, Elijah Tross and Alaina Schwartz work on their three-part poster board during the middle school STEMposium on Thursday, May 14, 2015, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Briget Lilleman, far left, Elijah Tross and Alaina Schwartz work on their three-part poster board during the middle school STEMposium on Thursday, May 14, 2015, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — It’s too early to say what careers the 54 students attending the middle school STEMposium at Ramstein this week will eventually choose.

But organizers hope early exposure to real-world applications of science, technology, engineering and math — the fields that make up what’s collectively called STEM — will reap benefits later. Even if they don’t set out on a path toward a STEM career, at the very least they’ll become better problem solvers, organizers said.

“Ideally it would be great for them to make the connection of how they can move into a STEM field that is of interest to them and make a contribution to society,” said Michelle Woodfork, the assistant principal at Ramstein Middle School and a member of the STEMposium planning committee.

“We want it to be real life,” she said Thursday. We’re trying to create a real cross-cultural, collaborative experience for them at this young age that they may not have until they get into the work force.”

The second annual middle school STEMposium, held Wednesday and Thursday at the Ramstein Youth Center, expanded this year beyond Kaiserslautern-area schools, underscoring the growing emphasis on the STEM disciplines in Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe. All middle schools in the Kaiserslautern District participated: Kaiserslautern, Ramstein, Landstuhl, Sembach, Spangdahlem, Bitburg, Baumholder and Wiesbaden. Eight students from a German gymnasium in Ramstein also took part.

“If this were a real situation, we would have to work with people that don’t speak the same language,” Woodfork said, explaining the inclusion of German students.

The STEMposium set up a problem that teams of kids had to solve using STEM concepts while competing for top-three medals. This year’s problem was fictitious — but not improbable.

STEMposium planners used the scenario of the asteroid Apophis colliding with the earth in 2036, a catastrophic event that forces humans to live offshore and use the limited land available for agricultural and renewable energy generation. NASA scientists have put the impact odds at less than one in a million, effectively ruling out an Apophis strike.

But some students said the possibility, however unlikely, is still unsettling. “I was scared at first,” said Kahliya Jones, an eighth-grader at Bitburg, while testing her wind turbine. “I was wondering if it was actually real.”

Teams of four split their time between constructing a small wind turbine from a kit and building a prototype house boat. They were tested on how much energy their turbines generated and how well their boats floated in a small inflatable pool. Judges evaluated how well they applied concepts learned in Wednesday’s hands-on seminars as well as their problem-solving capabilities and ability to work as a team.

Briget Lilleman, a seventh-grader at Spangdahlem, said she wasn’t fazed by the remote possibility of an asteroid hit, since it was in the distant future.

More pressing was whether her team’s boat would float. It did — and more. “It floated and survived a simulated tsunami,” she said. “We made waves in the pool. Big waves.”

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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