Image courtesy of Matthew Welker
Written by Camila Fernandez/BBC Managing Editor
Just less than two years since its grand opening in 2013 as the only four-year high school on a university campus in Miami-Dade County, MAST @ FIU has been nationally recognized.
Located in the University’s Biscayne Bay Campus, the high school centers its curriculum on science, technology, engineering and mathematics to provide students with a leading edge in the rigorous fields.
On Jan. 23, MAST @ FIU received the 2015 STEM Excellence Award at the 35th Annual Florida Education Technology Conference in Orlando, Florida. It was the only Florida school to be recognized.
The school was selected from hundreds of high school applicants across the nation that offer a curriculum in STEM. They were evaluated based on their use of interdisciplinary curriculum, collaboration, design, problem solving and overall STEM experiences offered.
“It came as a complete surprise,” said the school’s principal Matthew Welker. “I waited in with great interest regarding the announcement as to whether or not we were anywhere in the running,” he said.
Finalists in the high school division also included Chartiers Valley High School from Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, and Park City High School from Park City, Utah. According to Welker, the award was due to a successful partnership between M-DCPS and FIU.
The faculty involvement of the University’s School of Environment, Arts and Society enriches the academy’s academic experience, as well as student access to university resources such as internships, lectures and career exploration, said Welker.
“My vision as the principle of MAST @ FIU is to create the image that [the academy] is the absolute best high school in the nation,” Welker said. “What leverages that position and assumption is the ongoing relationship that we have with the University.”
According to Welker, the academy’s most exemplified work in the STEM fields was their partnership with the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and their Eyes on the Rise initiative. The project was led by journalism professor Robert ‘Ted’ Gutsche thanks to a $35,000 grant award.
According to Gutsche, Eyes on the Rise is to raise awareness and educate South Florida communities about the threats of sea level rise, as well as to create possible solutions for future sustainability. Students from environmental and technology professors Martin Roch and John Zoeller, as well as journalism professor Arleen Senas, were involved in the project.
“The minds that are over there in those classrooms — there’s just something that draws you in to want to work with these students and the faculty — there’s an energy in there,” Gutsche said.
“This award, at least to me, is an indication of the real passion of faculty and staff of MAST, as well as the pure brilliance of the students there,” he said.
Last year in October, over 50 hand-selected students from the school gathered at Miami Beach during King Tides Day when ocean tides are the highest around the world. This has led to massive floodings in South Florida.
Students built sensors called Coqui, that test water salinity. With the buzzing sensors, they participated in the public data collection of scientific information to investigate the effects of king tide.
“We had them all through Miami Beach — they were collecting samples, little water samples, to see what were the effects of the tides, of the water coming up on the streets,” Roch said.
“They were involved, their voices were being heard, they were able to build the sensors, go out in the field… They were responsible for a lot of parts of the whole process, and the kids enjoyed it,” he said.
Also, Roch said that MAST @ FIU and the University benefit from each other mutually, not just the academy.
“We always think that the students have the most to gain, but the professors also have access to our students and a potential student body,” Roch said .
“[These students] are going to be the future scientists or future leaders… So we want to work with FIU and hopefully it’s going to be a partnership that’s just going to get bigger and bigger,” he said.