Highlands University Hosts Annual STEM Showdown for Northern New Mexico Youth 

Students wearing backpacks walk through a forested area as a part of the STEM Showdown

STEM Showdown participants

September 29, 2021

Students from middle schools and high schools across Northern New Mexico are participating in the annual STEM Showdown, hosted by the New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute at Highlands University.  

The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM, Showdown is run by Shantini Ramakrishnan, conservation and restoration education program manager at the Conservation Science Center @HU. The program is offered over multiple days for high school students during September. Programming for middle school students and one high school is planned for October. 

This year’s STEM Showdown coincides with New Mexico’s first Outdoor Learning Week. New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Outdoor Learning Week following the Senate Memorial 1 proclamation, which states that “students who learn outdoors develop a sense of self, independence, confidence, creativity and decision-making skills.” Due to the ongoing concerns related to the pandemic, outdoor learning is also safer and more conducive to hands-on activities. The Outdoor Learning Week will be held annually.  

“Outdoor place-based science education is a way to bring classroom science education to life,” said Ramakrishnan. “Science is not random abstract stuff, it actually has importance to the individual student, to families, and to their communities. Taking classroom knowledge and demonstrating it outside in ways that address the natural resource issues and challenges that these students’ families are facing, is really important in making those connections.” 

The STEM Showdown is run in partnership with Math, Engineering, Science Achievement, or MESA, and includes lessons in soil science, water quality, restoration, and geology, among many other subjects. Lessons take place at Storrie Lake State Park.  

Ramakrishnan said STEM Showdown was created in part to support classroom teachers and reinvigorate student learning after more than a year of virtual classrooms. She said students learn in different ways and respond strongly to a more hands-on approach.  

According to Ramakrishnan, STEM Showdown is designed to increase interest in STEM careers, introduce students to community members with shared cultural backgrounds who are working in the sciences, and showcase Highlands University as an option for pursuing STEM majors.  

The STEM Showdown includes community partners such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, US Forest Service, Tierra y Montes soil and water conservation district, Riversource, Hermits Peak Watershed Alliance, New Mexico Environmental Department, New Mexico Game & Fish, and Luna Community College. 

This year, students participating in the programming come from Las Vegas, Española, Santa Fe, Ribera, Santa Rosa and Mora. Ramakrishnan said many students participate in the STEM Showdown every year.  

“Students get to meet New Mexicans who are already in the sciences and practicing science in their communities—these are public agency land managers and state a HUgency folks,” said Ramakrishan. “People working for counties show up to meet the students as well. So, they get to see people from their own community working in the sciences and what that means for them for a future career.”