Southeast Kansas high school students offered unique opportunity to launch their careers in STEM field

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A select group of students in Southeast Kansas are getting a chance to learn more about the science, technology, engineering and math worlds. They’ve been chosen for a unique experience that could catapult them into their future careers.

“It was like almost too good to be true,” explained Labette County High School senior Mattaya Gibbs.

“It feels amazing because I never really thought that I would have actually been chosen,”added Columbus senior Jaron Sheko.

Sheko and Gibbs have something to celebrate..

“I feel really honored,” said Gibbs. “I almost didn’t think that I would get in. But, I mean, it’s just a great opportunity and I’m really excited to get started.”

“Excited, happy. Those are the words that really come to mind,” Sheko added. “I can’t really explain any further, just thrilled.”

They’ve been chosen to participate in a STEM Academy — part of the Labette Community College Trio Talent Search program.

“A government-funded program to identify marginalized students,” explained program director Daneen Landis.

It recognizes students like Sheko and Gibbs — who excel at STEM — and provides them with an opportunity of a lifetime.

“You get to meet students who share similar interests with you, and you get to do it all at no cost to you,” Gibbs explained. So, it was just kind of like a no-brainer. Of course, I’m going to go apply.”

That’s right — the program is entirely free for students, thanks to a more than $35,000 from the US Department of Education.

“We specifically wrote for this grant to be used towards a STEM Academy,” Landis continued. :Allowing for students to come together from our different high schools and to be highly involved in STEM majors and also careers.”

20 students from five different schools in Southeast Kansas were chosen for the STEM Academy this year.

“We truly believe in the students of Southeast Kansas. We believe in their drive, their determination. They’re truly talented,” Landis added. “And, so we wanted to form a program that will allow these students to really turn those gifts into excellences.”

The academy features projects to help students like Sheko and Gibbs with their future endeavors.

“I’m thinking of computer and systems engineering, and so that combines every aspect of STEM because it is software and hardware as well as applied mathematics,” said Gibbs.

“It will allow me to understand more of what an accountant does as well as knowing more of what goes on with the business world,” Sheko added.

Plus, a funded trip to Kansas City and maybe even New York isn’t too bad either.

“We’re going to go on a big trip in the spring and I’m really excited about that,” Gibbs explained.

“We’re looking at exploring colleges, university science labs, business, careers, cultural experiences that are grounded in STEM.,” said Landis. “So these students have an opportunity to see what it outside the four corners.”

“I’m excited and ready to just explore and venture out,” Sheko explained.

The academy will conclude with a STEM showcase at the end of the school year. Each student will give a presentation about what they learned through this experience.

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