(Left to right) Jon Karthaka, Ansh Bhatt, Aaryan Sharma and Nusheen Immen lead the Catalyst Club at King High, where they are all juniors in the school’s IB program.

While many students recognize the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) concepts and some join robotics or science clubs, it is likely that there are some kids who haven’t been exposed to STEM in a way that is fun and engaging.

Aaryan Sharma, a 16-year-old International Baccalaureate (IB) student at King High on N. 56th St. in Tampa wants to change that.

“We want to reach out to kids who are not already interested in STEM,” the Arbor Green resident explains.

Last year, Aaryan started the “Catalyst Club” at King with a goal to teach STEM to middle school students.

Middle schoolers, says Aaryan, are the perfect age — not too young to comprehend the subjects, and not too old that it is too late for them to become interested.

“Middle school kids are mature enough to grasp advanced concepts,” explains Aaryan. “High school students might be apathetic,” especially if they’ve already determined their path, and aren’t really open to being introduced to a new passion.”

So, Aaryan and fellow club members and officers worked last year to get the Catalyst Club up and running. This summer, their efforts took off.

Catalyst Club members reached middle school students, mostly through the HOST (Hillsborough Out of School Time) program, which provides care for students after school and during the summer.

They visited Liberty Middle School once a week, and Turner/Bartels K-8 School twice a week this summer.

Using presentations, hands-on activities and friendly competitions, Catalyst Club members teach STEM concepts to middle school students at Turner/Bartels K-8 school.

Each visit included a new lesson, first taught via a PowerPoint presentation, which was then followed up with a hands-on activity.

Jon Karthaka, the club’s director of information and content, explains a recent lesson last month.

“We’re teaching about non-Newtonian fluids, using oobleck,” he says. Oobleck is a mixture of cornstarch and water that has properties unlike a typical liquid. “We put oobleck in a Ziploc bag, then put an egg in. The kids can drop it and throw it, and the egg won’t break.”

He explains that the hands-on activities piqued the students’ curiosity and gave them the opportunity to learn in a fun way.

“We always have a demonstration and try to have competitions,” Jon explains. “They love it.”

He says the competition aspect of the club captures the middle school students’ attention. For example, at one lesson, club members gave the students popsicle sticks and tape to make a boat and see which one could hold the most quarters without sinking. This helped teach engineering, buoyancy and other principles.

“If we just teach the theory behind it, kids might be confused,” says Aaryan. “Having hands on activities, it clicks. The concept makes more sense.”

Along with Aaryan, Ansh Bhatt is the club’s vice president, and Nusheen Immen, who lives in Tampa Palms, is the club’s director of outreach and communications.

All are 16 years old and juniors in King High’s IB program.

They’re doing the typical things other high school students do, too, but are making time in their schedules to teach younger kids STEM concepts.

“We’re busy studying for SATs, too, but this is a way for us to give back,” says Aaryan. “That’s our core motivation.”

Not only do they want to volunteer and help those around them, they also are hoping to plant seeds that will lead to more students pursuing STEM careers.

They call it their “macro goal” — not just to impact some students here in New Tampa and surrounding areas, but to “bolster innovation and scientific progress in society,” Aaryan says.

“We hope to ignite a spark to create a beautiful chain reaction,” Nusheen adds.

Working with the HOST program has been a great match so far, and that is expected to continue, now that the students have returned to school. The lessons from the Catalyst Club members don’t conflict with the school day, where teachers might not have time to incorporate them.

Catalyst Club members also can attend their full day of school and go to HOST to teach after their school day ends.

“Another thing we love is it gives us opportunities to reach all kinds of students,” says Aaryan, not just students who are already gathered together because they’ve joined a STEM-related club. Catalyst Club officers say they hope to expand their lessons to more schools — and students – via the HOST program or other means.

They also emphasize that they’re not limited to just schools. So far, in addition to schools, they have also presented to Girl Scouts and are open to working with other organizations.

They hope more high school students will start their own Catalyst Club chapters at their schools, too, to increase their impact.

Aaryan says the middle school students he met this summer asked them to come back, and look forward to their visits.

“It’s so good to see the kids and develop a relationship with them,” he says.

Catalyst Club officers emphasize that they do all the work and don’t charge for their services. When they work with a school or organization, they agree on dates and times, then club members plan everything.
To learn more about the Catalyst Club, to request a presentation for a middle school group, or for high school students to find out more about starting their own chapter of the club, visit CatalystClub.TK.

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