STEM
STEM ZONE Volunteers Ramp Up Experience July 12, 2014 By Jonathan Wilhelm, USGA

The Chevron STEM Zone gave fans at Oak Tree National of all ages the opportunity to see how science affects the game. (USGA/Hunter Martin)

EDMOND, Okla. – A special group of volunteers is lending its time to the U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree National this week. These volunteers are taking time out of their summer to help shape the minds of people of all ages from the Oklahoma area – which is something they also do as a profession.

The volunteers in the Chevron STEM ZONE (with STEM standing for science, technology, engineering and math) are teachers from the Oklahoma City area, all of whom are alumni of Mid-America Christian University in Oklahoma City.

The Chevron STEM ZONE features seven stations designed to bring STEM principles to life, with hands-on exhibits and just enough of a wow factor to create buzz among participants. Visitors can test their reaction times and their knowledge of gravity, while also checking out the fan-favorite thermal image or replica news studio – complete with a green screen and teleprompter.

The passion and knowledge of the educators helps to enhance the fan experience. I’ve actually learned quite a bit more than I thought I would about what’s behind the game of golf, said Andrew Stoumbaugh, a mathematics teacher at Del City High School in Oklahoma City. We’ve had a lot of people come in here who don’t know about the dimples on the golf ball or what they do, and we’ve been able to explain it to them and how they affect the airflow around the ball.

Utilizing local educators in the STEM Zone began during the back-to-back U.S. Open Championships at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in June, and has proven to be an instant success. These volunteers lend their understanding of STEM principles and instructional expertise to help maximize interest and engagement among fans.

Since part of Chevron’s mission is to inspire the next generation of innovators, it’s great to have these STEM teachers bringing the science of golf to life for students of all ages, said Bianca Valjalo, manager of the Chevron STEM ZONE. Partnering with the USGA is a great way to not only help kids pick up the concepts of STEM, but also make it fun in the process.

The experience is rewarding for the volunteers as well. Being able to understand what’s going on makes people like things a lot more, said Kyle Skidmore, who earned a mathematics degree from Mid-American University. When you tutor someone or teach someone how to do something and they figure it out, that just makes me happy. When I found out I would be doing this, and it would be for kids, I thought, that’s right up my alley.

Of course, it’s not all about being a Chevron STEM ZONE volunteer. Both Stoumbaugh and Skidmore are avid golfers and fans of the game, and the allure of being a part of the U.S. Senior Open was a quick draw for both.

Being at a major golf championship is a big deal. I can say that I’ve been to the U.S. Senior Open Championship, said Stoumbaugh. Being able to be in the golf atmosphere was a real plus.

Jonathan Wilhelm is the USGA's social media specialist. Email him at jwilhelm@usga.org.