PacificQuest 2019: Middle Schoolers Experience STEM at PUC

By Larissa Church & Becky St. Clair on July 18, 2019

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Pacific Union College held its annual PacificQuest program June 23-28, welcoming two dozen high-achieving middle school students to campus for five days of fun-filled and exciting learning in STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math. The program is designed to provide gifted students with the opportunity to explore college-level courses and encourage them to pursue a college education.

This summer, PacificQuest offered students three exciting hands-on classes: Chemistry, Computer Programming & Game Development, and Technology.

“This year’s PacificQuest group was fantastic,” says Aimee Wyrick, chair of the department of biology. “One of the biggest values of this experience is that students get to know people from other schools and expand their horizons. They get a chance to learn beyond the typical topics covered in the classroom, and get to work with like-minded students on fun projects.”

Chemistry, taught by Kent Davis, chair of the department of chemistry, explored the idea that properties of matter are a consequence of the three-dimensional shapes of molecules.

Computer Programming & Game Development, taught by Chantel Blackburn, associate professor of mathematics, gave students the opportunity to learn about coding through an introduction to the computer language C#. Students created their own versions of the popular 1990s computer game, Minesweeper, brainstorming elements of the game and writing scripts to set it up.

“I was really impressed by how quickly the students picked up strategies for playing Minesweeper,” Blackburn says. “They very swiftly identified what elements we had to program in order to complete a working game.”

Technology, taught by David Bell, chair of the department of business, delved into the world of artificial intelligence (AI), including training a computer program to respond to typed questions, and to recognize images of specific items.

“We also explored the ethical consequences of increased use of AI,” Bell explains, “thinking and discussing in terms of job displacement and having computers make life-or-death decisions for humans.”

Regardless of their experience or knowledge level, each student took something new away from PacificQuest. Sabrina, from Napa, said she liked learning how to read the periodic table.

“I learned that something called quantum numbers exist,” pointed out Nathan, from Modesto, California.

PacificQuest welcomed students from all over the West Coast, including Canada, and one student came from as far away as France! Outside of classes, there was a talent show and a quiz bowl, with plenty of free time at the gym where students played basketball and volleyball.

Students appreciated the down time to get to know each other, as many may never have crossed paths otherwise. Reagan, from Arroyo Grande, California, mentioned how happy she was to meet new people and learn in a Christian environment.

Cambria, from Angwin, added, “I liked the opportunity to connect with friends and counselors and finding who I am supposed to be.”

For information on how your school can be part of next year’s PacificQuest, or to schedule a personalized campus visit, email or call (800) 862-7080.