Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred… STEM supplies? – A look behind the STEM Education Programs’ summer curtains! 

By Kathrin Rising

Jess standing in front of over 15 big boxes

Four gallons of vinegar, ten big boxes of Twizzlers, and 316 Oreo cookies… those are not the ingredients for some absurd Halloween inspired dish. Instead, these items are just a fraction of the thousands of supplies that were on our STEM Education Programs’ shopping list for this summer.

“It is fun and wonderful to place an order every semester for mostly things that you could find in a grocery store, and know that it is actually a semester’s worth of hands-on science experiences and learning,” shared Jessica (“Jess”) Stellmann, JEP’s Assistant Director of STEM Education Programs.

Before these orders are placed, Jessica and STEM Education Programs Director, Dr. DJ Kast, evaluate and update the lesson plans for the upcoming semester, based on teacher and student feedback from the prior semester. Sometimes that means changing quantities of supplies, like making sure every student has their own kit when it was a group kit activity before, and sometimes the lesson plan is changed entirely. For example, a second grade lesson on land formations once had children creating playdough mountains and rivers; based on feedback from the instructors, the lesson was updated to use 3D printed structures and mountains made out of durable resin to ensure that supplies could be re-used easily.

Once all the lesson plans are set for the new semester, Jessica and DJ must calculate how many supplies are needed for all grade levels that participate in the JEP STEM Education programs.  This involves strategizing about how to combine orders or purchase in bulk to limit expenses for a program that has to adhere to a strict budget. With a few years of experience under her belt, Jess has become quite skilled in this task, and once her order forms are submitted, the packages start coming in.

Make a guess: How many packages does it take to supply our three STEM Programs with supplies for the experiments and hands-on lessons they bring to our seven partner schools?

  1. a) 23
  2. b) 52
  3. c) 64

The answer is “C”!  Yep, that’s right, not even considering re-used materials from prior semesters, a semester’s worth of supplies, generously funded by USC’s Good Neighbors Campaign, arrive in 64 boxes. And once the packages start rolling in, the sorting and assembly begins – including the breaking down of boxes to reuse the cardboard in several lesson plans, with an eye towards sustainability.

As there is little to no funding during the summer for student workers to be a part of this vital weeks-long process, the sorting of materials and supplies into different grade levels and classroom bins is a big task on the summer to-do list for our two superhero STEM program directors. It’s hard to estimate just how many hours Jess in particular has spent at the JEP House and how many paper cuts she has sustained; both are a marker of her dedication to the success of our STEM programs.

“Jessica Stellmann is our supply queen. Her meticulous attention to detail when it comes to all of our STEM materials is unmatched. It’s how she knows we will need 416 Ziplocks this fall semester. Our STEM programs couldn’t function without her,” Dr. Kast said.

Last year, we had the great support of USC and JEP alumni who helped assemble and sort material bins during the USC Day of SCervice. And there are opportunities for volunteers to serve throughout the year. “If there are ever any alumni who have an interest in becoming part of this fundamental process, though, we rarely say no to an extra pair of hands,” Jess said with a wink.

To read more articles that were featured in the Summer 2023 Edition of “What’s new at the JEP House?” please click here: What’s new at the JEP House? – 2023 Summer Edition