VMS STEM lunches include boys for first time

Alumnus Stephen Mason, who now works with The Academy of Natural Sciences, came back to Voorhees Middle School to talk about his interest in science

Students at Voorhees Middle School meet with VMS alumnus Stephen Mason during the schools STEM Lunch program to discuss science. Pictured from left is Anna Cherian, Adrian Moreno, Zach Lawlor, Anita Raj, Stephen Mason, Alex Coco, Lilah Greenberg, Rachel Squire and Elise Espinosa.

STEM jobs continue to be ever-changing and evolving as the world moves forward. As Voorhees Middle School science teacher Cammy Bell likes to remind her students, many of the jobs the field will need by the time they graduate high school or college probably haven’t even been invented yet.

That’s why she, along with other science teachers at VMS, helped to start the STEM lunch program during the school year, particularly for girls, as girls represent a tiny fraction of the STEM field compared to men.

Over the past three years, girls at VMS have had the opportunity a few times a month to spend lunch in the classroom with other like-minded classmates and teachers, learning from STEM-driven women in various fields ranging from scientists to statisticians and more.

However, for the first time ever, earlier this month boys were invited to the STEM lunch after one science-interested eighth-grader reached out to a former alumnus.

Adrian Moreno was looking across the country for someone who would most spark his interest to come speak to him and other interested students, eventually reaching a former VMS student who now works in Philadelphia.

“I like seeing people interested in the world around us,” said Moreno. “So I wanted to set something like this up for everyone.”

Moreno reached Stephen Mason, a former student of Bell’s who graduated in 2001. Mason is now a PhD candidate at Drexel University and a graduate research associate at the Academy of Natural Sciences in the Entomology Department, studying the relationship between insects and forest fires.

Despite not doing his best in science classes throughout middle and high school in Voorhees, Mason says he remembers being genuinely interested in the field of science growing up, but being too lazy to do the reports or assignments. He enjoyed being outside doing sports and being around nature, while also learning about animals outside of the classroom and at home.

After having to take a freshman seminar during his sophomore year of college while at Stockton College, Mason identified a sparrow for class before his professor then quizzed him on what species of sparrow it was, opening up Mason’s mind to whole new world of thinking.

“Then I was mind-blown,” said Mason. “He brings me a field guide, opens it up and shows me dozens of species of sparrows.”

He was amazed to learn there could be multiple types of sparrows in one area, all with minor differences. Over the next few years, Mason would go from birds to plants and then, finally, to insects.

Currently, Mason helps log and collect all types of species of insects for the Academy of Natural Sciences and brought in numerous examples to show students at VMS during his visit while discussing the differences in certain insects.

He, along with many other alumni over the years, are a large part of the continued push to help girls, and now occasionally boys, gain early interest in STEM fields of all kinds.

Having been one of the three teachers who helped set up the STEM lunches over the years, Bell is thankful students have such an opportunity.

“Voorhees and the middle school are very family oriented, so it’s always nice when our alumni come back,” said Bell. “We’re so proud of them. This program is one of the best things that I do, because the community has definitely given back.”