In a brightly lit classroom, a diverse group of children recently learned about gravity and motion while seated at a table. Though full of energy, they diligently worked to prepare their science experiments.
They watched intently as their instructor, 16-year-old Elizabeth Sierzego, climbed to the top of a stepladder. In her hand was an experiment – a small, white plastic foam cup containing an egg surrounded by cotton and held in place by straws and popsicle sticks.
Elizabeth held the cup to the ceiling before releasing it. The child who prepared the experiment rushed over to see if the egg was still intact.
“It’s not broken!” he exclaimed, beaming proudly. He then ran into the hallway to tell his mother, who was waiting just outside the door.
“It didn’t break!” he told her with glee.
The egg drop experiment was repeated several times over the course of an hour. It was the brainchild of Elizabeth, a junior at Huntsville High School. She was assisted by her mother, Katie Sierzego, and sister, Jenna-Claire Sierzego, an eighth-grader at Hampton Cove Middle School.
“She’s really done this all on her own,” Katie Sierzego said of Elizabeth’s efforts. “I’m not a science-type person, but she really has an affinity for this.”
Passion for STEM
The experiment at the Dr. Richard Showers, Sr. Recreation Center on Blue Spring Road was just one of many planned visits to City of Huntsville recreation centers, where Elizabeth will conduct interactive programs and experiments for children. Experiments will include chemistry, physics, biology, anatomy and engineering.
I saw there were fewer kids signing up for AP science classes, and I wanted to nip that in the bud. I really love science and want to share my passion with the community.”
The egg drop experiment was a success. Other experiments include making a battery out of a potato, a capillary action project and sugar’s effects on teeth.
There are a couple of driving forces behind Elizabeth’s “Huntsville Youth in Action” program. She wants to share her love for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with children while combating what she views as a waning interest in the subjects.
“I saw there were fewer kids signing up for AP science classes, and I wanted to nip that in the bud,” she said. “I really love science and want to share my passion with the community.”
Learning as an ‘equalizer’
Though young, Elizabeth is well-traveled. She’s attended nine schools over the course of her academic career, including a stint in Germany. The experience has broadened her horizons and made her realize not all students have the same opportunities to learn advanced concepts.
“I really wanted Huntsville Youth in Action to be an equalizer,” she said.
So why bring her program to rec centers? Because it’s her target demographic – Huntsville Parks & Recreation offers after-school programs at nine of its recreation centers for kindergarten through sixth-grade students who attend Huntsville City Schools.
Elizabeth will conduct future experiments at the Showers and Fern Bell recreation centers.
“When I first started going to the rec centers and talking to the kids, every boy said he wanted to be a football or basketball player, and the girls didn’t know what they wanted to do,” Elizabeth said. “I thought if maybe I exposed some of them to science, I could inspire a couple of kids to pursue a career in STEM.”
Dorianne Johnson, recreation superintendent for Huntsville Parks & Recreation, said she was excited when Elizabeth contacted the department.
“She had a proposal and plan to share her passion for science with our after-school program students,” Johnson said. “So far, it has been a great learning experience.”
It’s fair to say Elizabeth has an advanced interest in learning, but she wants to inspire others to dig deeper. She discovered lower statewide math and science scores while conducting research for her Eagle Scout project.
That’s right, Elizabeth is a Life Scout with the Boy Scouts of America.
“She’s always been so academically focused,” Katie said. “She is developing math packets to combat summer learning loss. She’s trying to get more kids to volunteer.”
In lieu of being able to make Huntsville Youth in Action an officially recognized Huntsville City Schools club, it was established as a nonprofit organization. Elizabeth is still trying to get the club into schools, however.
“The process is ongoing,” she said. “I just really need more volunteers.”
It’s not lost on her that Huntsville is a great place to pursue her STEM dreams. Huntsville has grown by 20% over the past decade, and many new residents are drawn to the City’s high-tech jobs.
Still, she doesn’t yet know where her path will take her.
“I’m undecided,” she said. “I really love science, and I plan on pursuing a career in scientific research or medicine.”
No matter what Elizabeth decides, Katie has no doubt her daughter will go far.
“She wants to be successful and do good things, but she also cares tremendously about the community,” Katie said. “I’m beyond proud of her. She’s a go-getter.”