Mars Rover Day Features Special STEM Project for Middle Schoolers in Michigan 

By the time the middle school students gathered in the library at East Hills, they were already excited.

Not only was it Mars Rover Day throughout the school, their class was also expecting some special outside visitors to assist with a space-inspired, hands-on STEM program.

Instead of typical introductions, students had to match each of the seven classroom volunteers from Ascend Performance Materials to their individual bios.

Beyond getting to know the industry experts who would be assisting them with the SAE A World In Motion® (AWIM®) JetToy Challenge, the introductions served another very important purpose. By sending volunteers representing a broad cross section of the company including their global team—from executive management to applications development and marketing—they also demonstrated how team diversity can fuel innovation.

With roughly half of the students coming from families with ties to Michigan’s automotive sector, volunteers also looked for opportunities to tie what their company does back to practical applications the students could see or touch in a car. The students were surprised by how many components were actually made of plastic.

Once the students broke into teams, they had to work together to determine who would take the lead, be the idea person, or focus on implementation and execution. Throughout the challenge, the teacher would also bring the class back to specific teaching moments tied to their existing curriculum.

Volunteering at East Hills Middle School is just one of the many ways Ascend has supported AWIM’s PreK-12 STEM education programs over the past three years. Through the Ascend Cares Foundation, which focuses on making a difference in the lives of others through hands-on projects, the organization also sponsors the SAE Foundation Annual Celebration and has worked with kindergarten classes at Royal Oaks Schools. 

“When we come back from volunteering with the kids, we’re even more energized than they are. Interacting with and working with kids in the classroom enriches our lives. It’s one thing to donate money, but when you can work hands-on with the people you’re trying to help, that’s truly special because you see the direct impact,” said Phil Jeszke, Global Director Corporate Strategic Accounts – Engineering Plastics at Ascend Performance Materials.

The one thing the Ascend volunteers were most impressed by was how the students approached the JetToy challenge. Of course, they wanted to compete against the other teams, but they were more focused on wanting to improve their own vehicle. “The teams were asking questions. If they had a problem, they wanted to know if other teams were having the same problem. They were focused on improving their performance the next time,” added Kai Becker, Global Application Leader at Ascend.

Thanks to AWIM’s flexible hands-on STEM curriculum, experiences can be modified to coincide with events like Mars Rover Day or can also be delivered over a series of weeks—benefiting both schools and organizations like Ascend looking to provide vital classroom support.

Through the continued support of the Ascend Cares Foundation, young learners at East Hills Middle School and Royal Oak Schools were able to participate in fun, hands-on AWIM programs and receive invaluable mentorship from industry volunteer

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