Learning goes mobile

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The University unveiled a unique research laboratory during a ceremony in the Ryder Center on Wednesday, Jan. 27.

The mobile laboratory is a large recreational vehicle outfitted with scientific equipment that will travel to K-12 schools in Michigan’s Great Lakes Bay Region to introduce students to hands-on learning opportunities and to create interest in STEM fields.

SVSU’s Dow Science and Sustainability Education Center, established with support from The Dow Chemical Company Foundation, has worked since 2014 to fund, organize and create the laboratory, which arrived on campus a few weeks ago.

Those present at the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony included Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Deborah Huntley, Vice President of Operations, Canada and USA North and Site Director of Michigan Operations at The Dow Chemical Company Rich Wells, H.H. Dow Endowed Chair David Karpovich, and Craig Coopersmith, a science teacher at White Pine Middle School whose class attended the event. His students were the first to work on the mobile laboratory.

STEM Program Manager Adrianne Cole was largely responsible for coordinating ceremony.

“I do a lot of communication with The Dow Chemical Company (the sponsor of the mobile lab),” Cole said. “I worked with (Karpovich) and other folks here at SVSU and University Communications to … get The Dow Chemical Company folks here, making sure we had Rich Wells here as a speaker, along with other representatives from Dow.”

The mobile laboratory, sponsored by The Dow Chemical Company, began as an idea Karpovich and Huntley had. After receiving a grant in 2014, Karpovich, Huntley and others began to make plans to secure the lab. Because the vehicle is unique, it was difficult to find a partner to build it.

“It turned out that nobody makes one of these things,” Karpovich said. “There’s all sorts of specialty vehicle companies, but none of them make something like this. It’s one of a kind.”

They eventually decided to work with Farber Specialty Vehicles, a company based in Ohio, to build the lab.

“It arrived at their factory as a motor home,” Karpovich said. “It was completely white with bare sides. They built everything that’s in (the lab), including the slide-out walls, fabricated it, made all these stainless steel parts in the shop. It’s a cool company. They were excited because this is the first one they’ve made like this.”

The lab is equipped with scientific instruments that will allow K-12 students to analyze soil and water samples collected in the Saginaw Bay Watershed. It will also provide for the study of alternative energy.

“The students that get to use this will be able to work on real projects that we’re working on, too,” Karpovich said. “They’ll be able to contribute and do more than just a lab activity. They’re going to collect data that I can take and use with other scientists.”

“(The topic of water quality) brings a lot of relevancy to the K-12 students,” Cole added. “These are things happening in their own backyard. They live in this region, so … we (should) investigate the water quality here.”

The lab will also travel to various locations as part of research activities for SVSU students and faculty and K-12 students and teachers involved in the Dow Science and Sustainability Education Center.

“We will also use it occasionally for our own research,” Karpovich said. “We have projects where we go out and take water samples, so when it’s available and the schools are not asking for it, we’ll take it out and use it. It will make our jobs easier.”

Additionally, the mobile lab will be used as a recruiting tool. The exterior of the bus is emblazoned with photos of SVSU students conducting real experiments on campus and in the community. These images will signal to potential students and their parents that the University is involved with innovative research that is making a real difference in the community.

“SVSU is the best kept secret,” Karpovich said. “The provost and the president have both said that they want to change that. We want everyone to know what’s happening at SVSU.”