OTC’s MoSTEMWINs program gets students out of the classroom

If the words “Chemical Laboratory Technology” bring to mind images of white lab coats, Bunsen burners, and mad scientists, think again!  OTC’s new MoSTEMWINs CLT program is designed to provide real-life, hands-on, industry-relevant experience for our Certificate and A.A.S students. To that end, our Core Grant Team is continually working with our local community to find, create, or encourage new partnerships that will give our students a unique learning experience.

During program curriculum development and refinement, the most common lament of industry was students’ lack of soft skills as well as real-life, hands-on experience upon graduation.  In today’s ever-competitive workplace, these skills may well be the determining factor for potential employers.  In an effort to fully equip students with these skills, OTC decided the first thing to do was get them out of the traditional lab setting and put them to work!

During the recent summer semester, the Applied Environmental Science class (ATS-112) had a “Lab on the Lake” at Missouri State University’s Bull Shoals Field Station.  The Station’s mission is to provide a location for visiting scientists to conduct research and educational programs.  Operated by MSU since 1999, it is the result of a cooperative agreement between MSU, the Missouri Department of Conservation, and the US Army Corps of Engineers.  Students had the chance to compare chemical and biological water quality indicators as measured at the shoreline and in deep water. Temperature and clarity of the water were measured and discussed. Water samples were tested on site for dissolved oxygen content, nitrates, phosphates, and ammonia, while samples were taken for subsequent metal ion analysis back at the lab. Plankton and algae were also observed in samples, and implications of these were discussed.

The Director of Bull Shoals Field Station, Dr. Janice Greene, and Manager Ms. Celeste Prussia proved invaluable in this effort. They arranged to take the students out in groups on a boat for deep water testing, gave a fascinating history of the lake and of the field station, and filled students in on research opportunities available at the station.

Our ATS -112 class was the first group from OTC to ever utilize the Bull Shoals Field Station as part of classroom instruction. Removing the students from a controlled lab environment and thrusting them into a real-world setting was an eye-opener.  Students quickly realized that certain skills critical for success in the workplace do not necessarily appear on a class syllabus or final exam:  the ability to adapt to a changing work environment or utilize problem-solving skills when technology is suddenly unavailable (no cell service!) are invaluable lessons that simply can’t be replicated in a standard lab setting.

In the same semester, students also visited the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ ambient air quality monitoring site at Hillcrest High School.  At the air quality monitoring site, Mr. Robert Nigles and Mr. Doug Thompson from MDNR talked to students about the instrumentation used to monitor ozone and particulate matter at the Hillcrest site. They informed students about statewide monitoring and how stations were set up for either remote access of data or for in-person monitoring. Students had the chance to see real-time data collection and inspect the particle collectors (on the roof of the building!) up close.

These two innovative opportunities to teach outside the normal classroom setting are proving to be an invaluable resource for OTC’s Chemical Laboratory Technology program, and the response from students has been overwhelmingly positive.

This article was 100% funded by the MoSTEMWINs $19.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (TAACCCT). The product was created by the grantee and does not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Labor. The Department of Labor makes no guarantees, warranties or assurances of any kind, express or implied, with respect to such information, including any information on linked sites and including, but not limited to, accuracy of the information or its completeness, timeliness, usefulness, adequacy, continued availability, or ownership.

MoWINS Project Website by MCCA Grant Staff licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported License.