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Rockets, wine and 3-D printers all had something in common to offer teenagers in Calistoga last week. They were all part of Calistoga High School’s College and Career Day.

At the school’s Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) College and Career Day students got a chance to meet adults who work in STEM fields, watch and participate in demonstrations and ask questions of experts in their field. More than a dozen adults in a variety of fields – some not traditionally thought of as STEM fields – provided short demonstrations or talks about their jobs or companies, and how STEM fits in.

An art degree that took Robert Swarmer more than two decades to complete is what helps him design and create custom-made tools for aviation and engineering clients, a side-job to his day-job as a helicopter pilot for REACH air medical services.

Showing off a 3-D printer that was working its way to turn strings of orange plastic into a wavy waterproof vase, Swarmer, a former paramedic, explained that his helicopter pilot job’s schedule requires him to work seven straight days of 12-hour shifts, but then gives him seven straight days off. During his time off he creates, builds and transforms, he said.

From his art degree and math classes he has taught himself how to design and construct unique items that clients can’t find anywhere else. He solves problems for people and businesses through complex thinking and analysis. He built the 3-D printer himself for about $1,000 in materials, and from that he built the parts for a smaller 3-D machine he made for his child’s elementary school, the materials of which cost him about $40.

Holding up a two-foot-long mock-up rocket, Antonio Castro, an instructor at Napa Valley College, pulled out a wad of metal from inside and asked the small group of students if they knew why metal would be placed inside a rocket. As he explained that metal is good at absorbing heat, which protects the rocket, some of the students scribbled notes.

Castro asked a student to place her fingers on a sensor to show how the heat of her hand, or anything that emits heat, can activate a program designed to read temperatures. A small electronic starter kit – an Arduino that Castro said could be purchased for about $80 – could be used to program all sorts of things, including rockets and robots, and the programmer could be any of those students standing before him.

Nearby Jamie Eggers of Chateau Montelena demonstrated how to test acid levels in liquid, which at the winery testing would be done on wine. She talked about how different chemicals translate into different taste profiles in our mouths and how knowledge of these scientific measurements help produce quality wine.

At the Bald Mountain Development table where Robert Neves, development manager, was showing how STEM education translates into all areas of a resort development that Bald Mountain is building – the new Silver Rose on Silverado Trail – Calistoga High School junior Naomi Ramirez quizzed Neves on the resort’s value.

“How is this going to better our community?” she asked.

Through hotel taxes and impact fees, he replied, revenue the city uses for things such as roads and emergency services.

The college and career day was organized and put on by the Career Technical Education (CTE) Biotechnology and CTE Alternative Energy Physics/Chemistry teachers at Calistoga High School. The Calistoga High School students enrolled in these classes were given the opportunity to hear from industry leaders in the field of STEM.


The Weekly Calistogan Editor