Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., said he was a fan of math. Makes sense, his father Cal Sr., his brother, Billy and he, each had nice careers in a sport that thrives on statistics.
“But science bored me to tears,” Ripken Jr., told the News-Sun with a laugh on Wednesday. “I think a lot of it had to do with how the subject was presented to me. I never got into it.”
It’s one of the reasons the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation is involved in providing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education to children throughout the nation.
Last year, the Ripken Foundation and Devon Energy presented a STEM center to College Lane and Broadmoor Elementary. On Wednesday, Devon Energy representatives helped deliver STEM equipment to the Hobbs Boys and Girls Club.
As part of the club’s after-school program, local third, fourth and fifth graders are available to receive a special STEM kit to keep at home. The kit, Snap Circuits, teaches the principles of electronics by helping kids build exciting projects like AM radios, burglar alarms, doorbells and more. The organizations donated around 220 kits.
The home kits are a temporary substitute for the STEM center the club was scheduled to receive earlier this month. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the proposed installation and dedication of the club’s STEM center has been postponed.
“It will happen, we just don’t know when,” said Mike Clampitt, club executive director.
Clampitt said Shannon Johnson, senior community relations specialist for Devon, felt really bad about the postponement and thought the home kits were a good, temporary replacement until the center can be built and open.
“She wanted to give to the kids,” Clampitt said of Johnson. “So they gathered up these kids from their other STEM sites all over the country. She said these kits are something the kids can do while they are at home during the quarantine. She has been more excited than anyone else about this. I just think it is cool to see her give the effort. She doesn’t have a dog in this fight, but it is what she does for Devon and she put a lot of work into this to make it happen.”
Johnson, a handful of other local Devon employees, and some club board members spent Wednesday under a canopy in 100-degree weather in front of the club handing out the kits.
“Devon is committed to providing educational opportunities for kids in our operating areas, even during a pandemic,” said Johnson. “These interactive STEM sets provide an exciting supplemental activity for students, and we hope it’s a great addition to their at-home learning.”
Clampitt said club personnel notified the after-school program members of the kit’s availability.
Including the two Hobbs school STEM centers, Devon and the Ripken Foundation have installed more than a dozen STEM centers in Oklahoma and New Mexico. Nationally, the Ripken Foundation installed 64 STEM centers as part of its STEM initiative, which aims to increase opportunities for at-risk youth pursuing higher education and careers in STEM-related fields.
Given his one-time lack of love for science, Ripken said he wasn’t too keen on creating a STEM initiative within the foundation. The foundation was created to implement youth development programs and create parks to directly address the problems facing at-risk youth. The foundation uses sports-themed activities to bring police officers, youth partners and underserved kids ages 9-14 together on a level playing field to learn invaluable life skills.
Once the foundation had the children’s attention, Ripken Jr. and its board of directors looked at other things they can do to enrich the children’s lives.
“We kept thinking how can we reach the kids in a deeper way,” Ripken Jr. said. “One of our board members had some experience in STEM centers a started a pilot center in Pennsylvania.”
Ripken Jr., went to that STEM center and was amazed at the children’s response. It was a completely different introduction into science he had received at their age.
“I watched how (the kids) just took it in,” Ripken Jr. said. “They are quick and fast. There is a logic. There is a sequence. There is a creativity in these kids where they just took off.”
Ripken Jr., admitted he was bit slower than the kids using the STEM equipment, but he eventually programmed a map to have a car turn left, right stop and go forward.
“I messed with it for about an hour,” Ripken said. “But to me, (the kids) were playing and having fun, but they were learning and getting exposed to things that would be positive to them.”
Ripken Jr. described the kids excitement in the STEM cen ter to a plethora of individual moments during his 21-year baseball career with the Baltimore Orioles.
“When a kid asks me for my autograph and you sign it and the kid is overjoyed. He’ running around and showing it to everyone. It makes you feel good that you were able to make someone feel happy In the simplest way, that’ how it felt in those STEM centers,” Ripken Jr. said. “When you experience that with a kid and you see the joy on their face, whether they are learn ing baseball or learning in the classroom with a STEM kit, can immediately bring up the face of the kid with the autograph. Even if you don’t get to experience it first-hand, you have had enough of those expe riences of signing your auto graph for a kid, and you see the honest enthusiasm. That honest enthusiasm is worth it right there and that’s what always think about.”