Westmont Magazine A Quantum Leap for Science Education at Westmont
At a time when younger Americans are losing interest in the sciences, Westmont’s flourishing science program is attracting an increasing number of students.
Over the past two years, Westmont has received $1,150,000 in grants to acquire new science equipment, which has transformed the programs and sparked new interest, enthusiasm and momentum.
The Fletcher Jones Foundation invested the lead grant of $500,000, which helped Westmont approach the John Stauffer Trust for $400,000 for chemistry equipment and the Ahmanson Foundation for $250,000 for equipment for chemistry, computer science and psychology.
According to Warren Rogers, who chairs the physics department, “These grants have given us a wonderful and much-needed boost. The new equipment allows students to conduct experiments that are straight-forward to run and bring great clarity to the concepts discussed in class.”
Visitors to a science department on any campus may well judge the program by the instruments available to students. Instead of owning outdated equipment pushing the limits of its life-expectancy, Westmont now provides students with research-grade instrumentation.
New acquisitions range from experimental kits and lab equipment to specific instruments such as a diode array detector. Students especially like the robot kits and the laptop computers, loaned out for group projects, research and use in class.
“I appreciate the sophistication and power involved in using the computer for data acquisition,” Lance Elliot ’05 said. “It streamlines the process of taking and analyzing data, and it limits the amount of errors. I’m glad to be among the first group of students using this new equipment. I’m sure future classes will love it just as much.”
“The robot kits were very cool,” research assistant Kyle Watters ’06 said. “We built some great designs starting with small tasks, like a remote-controlled robot that turned left or right when you pressed a button. Eventually, we had to construct a robot that could trace a black line using infrared sensors and push soda cans outside of a given boundary.”
Initially used in Assistant Professor Kim Kihlstrom’s computer organization and architecture class, the Lego robot parts and programmable controllers were so successful that professors expanded their usage to other classes.
“The assembly language that the students used to program the robots is a difficult topic to teach,” Kihlstrom said. “The robots provided the motivation and real-world experience that made learning the difficult topic fun and enjoyable.”
Professors report that students are more engaged in learning and more excited about doing research.
“The contrast between before and after the grant purchases is incredible,” chemistry Professor Allan Nishimura said. “Students spent many hours trouble-shooting and making certain that the old instruments were working. Now they can better focus on the principles of the experiment rather than the tedious adjustment of the equipment and cumbersome data taking.”
The state-of-the-art equipment will allow students to be even better prepared for graduate school and careers in science. The acquistions will also serve to attract and retain the brightest science students at Westmont.