Elementary school students clustered around a display of an Enigma machine, German encrypting hardware used by Britain’s codebreakers to decipher German messages in World War II. In another room, students were busy with hands-on activities creating museum exhibits about the history, current use, and future of computing.
SASTEMIC, a nonprofit science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education advocacy organization, collaborates with local schools to provide STEM-focused educational programs like this one provided to Forester and Northwest Crossing Elementary schools at the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology (SAMSAT) Monday morning.
The nonprofit museum, founded in 2016 by David Monroe, explores the past, present, and future of technology in San Antonio. The collection was temporarily housed in a showroom at the locally based security company e-Watch Corp. on I-10 West but moved to Port San Antonio in 2017. SAMSAT’s preview center is now located in the Port’s 14,000 sq. ft. Mabry Conference Center at 102 Mabry Dr., delivering STEM education programs in partnership with area educators and other stakeholders such as SASTEMIC.
SASTEMIC moved its office to SAMSAT in January and has had had a partnership with the science and technology museum over the past two years, SASTEMIC board member Cliff Zintgraff said. Ever since Monroe made the decision to move the museum to the Port, the two have been discussing SASTEMIC’s role in SAMSAT’s future. SASTEMIC executive director Jake Lopez and two full-time staff members now office at the science and technology museum, providing STEM programs to students visiting SAMSAT.
The two nonprofit organizations are working together to teach and inspire students to pursue education paths and future careers in the region’s important and growing industries, including cybersecurity, engineering, aerospace, and cloud computing.
Jake Lopez, who has been SASTEMIC’s executive director since 2016, emphasizes the need for the services they provide so teachers can find ways to deliver STEM content in their classrooms. SASTEMIC services Title 1 schools, mainly those in south San Antonio. They also use the Geekbus, a mobile makerspace that may be booked to travel to schools and other organizations to provide STEM educational experiences in their classrooms, Lopez said.
SAMSAT’s founder David Monroe amassed the large collection of technological displays dating from the 1800s to the modern era, which includes hundreds of items ranging from early computing machines to first-generation ground-breaking inventions such as GPS technology, camera phones, and cybersecurity hardware. The museum has a portion of its collection curated for display and programming at the Mabry preview center focused on three themes: early communication, the development of the personal computer, and cybersecurity.
The curriculum SASTEMIC offers during the school year leverages the museum’s collection to engage students about the past, present, and future of these essential technologies.
“Students get the historical perspective from the exhibits to learn about the history of communications, computers, and cybersecurity,” Lopez said. “Then we help them understand the technologies’ applications in the present so students realize that there is something interesting to pursue as a possible career path. If we can motivate them to do that, then we’re doing our job.”
As SASTEMIC and SAMSAT grow and work together, many more students throughout the area are expected to benefit from similar experiences. The students Monday were able to preview the new curriculum SASTEMIC is launching in April.
While SASTEMIC targets students in grades 3 through 12 in Title 1 schools, its program is available to all students in San Antonio. Of all students SASTEMIC serves, 82 percent are economically disadvantaged and 49 percent are female, with 55 percent of students coming from grades 4 to 7, according to Lopez.
Interested schools may contact www.SAMSAT.org to inquire about available spots in SASTEMIC’s new STEM education program. However, at time of publication, their program is already fully booked for the months of April and May.
“It costs $500 a day to provide programming for a maximum of 50 students each day,” Lopez said. “If we can secure more funding we can open more slots on new dates. We are always looking for more sponsors willing to help us expand our programming.”
Sponsors donate to help support SASTEMIC’s programs. If interested, contact SASTEMIC here for more information.
Leveraging SAMSAT as a platform for SASTEMIC’s advocacy is an important element to the strategic partnership between the two STEM-education based nonprofits now based at Port San Antonio.
“We wanted to relocate to the Port where all the cyber commands and companies are located,” Lopez said. “We wanted to be where the current and future STEM jobs are located.”
“What we’re doing is also in alignment with the City’s development priorities, especially in developing a local cyber workforce,” Zintgraff added.
SASTEMIC does not provide summer programming. Monroe is planning summer STEM activities to be held at the museum, to be announced in April once finalized.
As for Monday’s visitors, the students were the youngest ever to visit SAMSAT, ranging from the first- to the third-graders. Monroe challenged the students to ask him a question he could not answer. It only took minutes before they stumped him with not one, but several questions for which Monroe did not have an answer.
“SAMSAT is here to help fulfill that mission and inspire more students to consider STEM careers,” Monroe said. “This partnership with SASTEMIC is an excellent opportunity to provide local students with a meaningful curriculum that will help get them excited about STEM.”
Featured image shows a demonstration of Tesla coils and how they can power fluorescent light bulbs, part of the SASTEMIC program for students when they visit the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology. Photo credit: Iris Gonzalez