Monthly Archives: August 2016

Women of STEM: Samantha Grathoff

The College of Arts & Sciences at UM-Flint is proud to recognize some of the exceptional women of our STEM disciplines. As leaders, mentors, and educators, these women bring passion and talent to our students, classrooms, and the world of science, technology, engineering, and math.

A Leader in the Curiosity Academy

Samantha Grathoff is a lab coordinator, community engagement liaison, and adjunct lecturer for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in UM-Flint’s College of Arts & Sciences. She’s also one of the directors of the Curiosity Academy: a community club that engages middle school girls, mostly 6th to 8th graders, who have an interest in STEM subjects.

The Academy aims to reignite the girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and math at an age when they may be moving away from such disciplines. Through fun projects and activities, the students are connected to educators and professionals in various STEM fields. Noted one recent student, “Curiosity Academy has been an amazing experience and I love that I got to do cool science projects with my friends. My favorite activities were sending the remote controlled cars down a zipline, doing the plant scavenger hunt, and, of course, going on cool field trips!”

Sam Grathoff works with students in a Curiosity Academy session at UM-Flint

Samantha Grathoff works with students in a Curiosity Academy session at UM-Flint

Grathoff works “in all aspects of the program, from writing grant applications, developing lesson plans, advertising, and recruiting students, to recruiting speakers, coordinating field trips, developing a peer mentorship program, and, of course, working with the girls during their time with us.” She shares duties with fellow program directors Monique Wilhelm and Essence Wilson.

The Curiosity Academy’s mission closely aligns with Grathoff’s personal interests. Said Grathoff, “I believe that far too many people are intimidated by science, think that it’s only for ‘nerds’, or think that it’s a secluded community. I love to break those stereotypes by providing fun and interactive activities that explain scientific concepts and engage people.”

Grathoff’s desire for an inclusive community and increased confidence for her students is already being realized. Fifteen-year-old Alexis was asked what she likes about Curiosity Academy. She replied, “The sense of community it provides for all those in the program.” Her mother echoed the sentiment, saying, “It’s not about the exclusion of boys, that has not been an issuse for Alexis, she can and does speak out in class. It’s more about my daughter learning a sense of community with other females. . . I found a program that embodies that.”

Added Grathoff, “Curiosity Academy has transformed girls from being reserved and quiet to outspoken and confident. It’s incredible that a program that meets only two hours per week can so strongly influence the participants.”

Curiosity Academy students conduct an experiment in the UM-Flint lab

Curiosity Academy students conduct an experiment in the UM-Flint lab

A Love of Learning

When asked how she knew a career in STEM was right for her, Grathoff replied, “I was interested in math and science by elementary school. I recall doing workbooks for fun during the summers and having my parents quiz me on math at stores. It wasn’t until high school, however, that my true passion developed. I enrolled in physics, honors chemistry, and almost every biology class my high school offered. The material didn’t come naturally to me, but I loved learning it.”

Grathoff credits both her high school teachers and her parents for fostering her love of the STEM disciplines: “My high school science teachers shared their passion and enthusiasm with me and developed wonderful projects that really engaged me. I loved to see how much they enjoyed their careers, and how much fun STEM could be. My parents also inspired me. They helped me pursue my interests and gain experiences that would help advance my education.”

Grathoff’s role in the Curiosity Academy as a mentor is one that’s appreciated by both her students and their parents. Angie, one of the Academy parents, noted, “I think that the time and energy that these women put into our young women is remarkable and ‘grateful’ is really the best word to describe my feelings. The role models and examples they are [is] truly a blessing for my daughter and all of the girls.”

Sam Grathoff with one of her Curiosity Academy students.

Samantha Grathoff with one of her Curiosity Academy students.

Connecting with the Future

The Curiosity Academy is open to its participants for a small but important window of time in their lives. “My hope is that after Curiosity Academy, the girls’ perseverance, passion, and enthusiasm for STEM continues, regardless of roadblocks that they may encounter,” said Gratthoff. “Even if they decide that STEM isn’t the career for them, I hope that they can take what they’ve learned from Curiosity Academy and apply it to their personal and professional lives.”

For some of the girls, the Academy has already made a difference in their plans. Seventh grader Madison said, “Curiosity Academy has really changed my ideas on what I would like to major in college or what I would like to do for my career. I now would like to possibly go for a chemistry major or maybe even math!” She’s also found that it’s had a positive effect on her time in school: “Curiosity Academy really expanded my knowledge of science. I learned a lot more about plants, fossils, robotics, and so much more… Because of it, I learned a lot before it was even discussed at school, which helped me understand the topic a lot more.”

Madison has also absorbed the example of mentorship that Grathoff shows every day: “I love being a girl who loves STEM! it helps other girls at school see that girls can love topics like science and math, too!”

Whether they are interested in STEM disciplines or not, Grathoff believes “young girls should do what they enjoy doing, not what others think they should do.” She advises students to “try activities that you’ve never tried before. Put effort into every subject in school, even if you don’t think you like it. You never know what you’ll end up liking. Finally, don’t stop exploring. Ask questions, foster new friendships, and stay busy! It’s never too late to explore a new interest, whether it’s academic or for fun.”

2015-16 Curiosity Academy students at UM-Flint

2015-16 Curiosity Academy students at UM-Flint

Join the 2016-17 Curiosity Academy

Applications are now being accepted for this year’s Curiosity Academy class. The deadline is October 10, 2016. Admission is based solely on program interest and is limited to 24 participants. Partial and full tuition assistance is available.

To learn more about the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UM-Flint, and their opportunities for students of all ages, visit their website at To connect with Samantha Grathoff, email

UM-Flint English Major Shares Study Abroad Experience

Each year, the Education Abroad Office in UM-Flint’s International Center offers students a chance to travel the world through faculty- and staff-led programs. In the summer of 2016, student groups embarked on journeys through Kenya, South Africa, Cambodia, England. Their programs focused on a variety of themes, including art,  theatre, community health, language, and social justice.

Christen Rachow on Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa

UM-Flint english major Christen Rachow on Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa

College of Arts & Sciences‘ student Christen Rachow joined the trip to South Africa. Her program took an interdisciplinary approach to studying social development. Program leader Dr. Otrude Moyo, Associate Professor of Social Work, utilized “literature, film, music, art, philosophy, political science, economics, women studies, African studies, and anthropology to understand social development.” The goal of those in the program was to “enhance understanding of how the these disciplines influence global perspectives.” Rachow is a UM-Flint english major with a specialization in writing, and a minor in Women & Gender Studies; a combination that gave her unique preparation and insight for the trip.

Study Abroad: A Student’s Perspective

Study abroad experiences are about so much more than landmarks and miles logged. They are life-changing learning experiences for our students. Read on as Rachow describes some of the ways in which she was touched by her journey, written as a blog post:

Cape Town, South Africa, The Second City of My African Experience and A Reminder

Immediately below me lies thousands of feet of steep rock, jagged from weathering, yet still standing stick-straight against the sunset sky. The top—where my feet rest—is the place where the world becomes level again, the basically flat terrain giving this gift of nature its name, Table Mountain. Across the way I see the crescent moon that is Cape Town wrapping itself intimately against the Atlantic Ocean, and, just slightly farther out, there’s a small, solitary landmass discernable that I know is Robben Island. The air is as icy as it is windy here, and my eyes sting, but I stand amidst a collection of boulders looking at every angle of my newfound city and its sync against the ocean tides with a sense of blessing only this moment can provide. And the sun is sinking lower and lower, a tale-tell sign for me to pay attention.

So, I do.

While I am amazed at everything my gaze comes to rest upon, there is a festering feeling of unease within me I will only come to recall with more depth after many more days beyond this one. With such beauty stretching out before me, with the buildings and sights of Cape Town standing variously tall and ever-abundant below me, no one would ever think peoples from just two hours by plane and one hour by car would never be able to make it to this same site – a destination in their own homeland of South Africa. And that fact is why, after Healdtown, after a young boy scrolled through my camera fascinated by the magic he didn’t know was Cape Town, after many days of looking back on this one, I know that subconscious feeling was loss. It was sadness and remorse and frustration all at once. How could I, a smalltown, white girl from America – a foreigner in all the sense of the word – have the privilege to stand here and take pictures of a wonder many native South Africans themselves would not? How did I even manage to make the journey here from America when those I’ve met of Xhosa and Zulu heritage may spend their whole lives in the same village? . . . Perhaps then, the setting sun is what set me up for this memory, what asked me to search the dualities and reciprocities of light and dark.

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

One of the very first questions I was asked prior to stepping foot in the plane for Africa was: Is travel political? Well, I remember the boy who loved my cheap, twenty-dollar camera, the boy who had nothing like it, and the boy who didn’t know his country is home to one the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. I remember standing on that Wonder, and I remember the systems that led to me being there, and I remember the systems that didn’t allow that boy the same joys. I remember my hidden distress as my mind blocked the area of District 6 from my so-called perfect view—and so I remember very well the American lot and the African apartheid history, as I’ve learned them. Watching the mountain turn its rusty-gold before night and recede as I take the cable car back down, I’ll know later that this is something paid attention to I’ll always remember.  

To learn more about the Education Abroad Office and the ways in which it prepares UM-Flint students for study abroad opportunities, visit their website. For more on the College of Arts & Sciences and their interdisciplinary approach to education, visit

UM-Flint Engineering’s Off-Road Racer Visits the “Bricks”

Downtown Flint during Back to the Bricks

Downtown Flint during Back to the Bricks

Each August, Back to the Bricks celebrates Flint’s legacy as part of the automotive industry and brings nearly half a million visitors to the downtown area. On the Friday of this famous weekend UM-Flint hosts Go Blue on the Bricks, its annual alumni gathering. This year visitors to both events can get up close and personal with UM-Flint engineering‘s most recent student project: an off-road racer created for a Baja SAE competition.

The racer’s presence will give those gathered a chance to see the level of work being done by current students—more notable, perhaps, as it was completed in their free time outside of class.

The vehicle is student-designed and built. They cut, shaped, and welded steel and aluminum into automotive parts, developed an electrical system, and repurposed brakes from mopeds in the university machine shop. It is a great example of UM-Flint engineering’s dedication to hands-on learning, but it was also fun for the students—especially driving it in competition. Said junior Hassan Freeman, “It was awesome. When you drive this car, nothing exists except you and the track, and maybe the guy you are passing.”

UM-Flint engineering students and faculty with their off-road racer

UM-Flint engineering students and faculty with their off-road racer

On Saturday, August 20, the racer and members of UM-Flint engineering will join other area educators at the Hot Rod High (HRH) display during Back to the Bricks. Noted HRH co-founder Robert Ayre, “This year’s exhibit will feature all of our local colleges, and some of our best high schoolers in the city. We try to give our area youth an opportunity to explore the mechanical side of the automobile. We are encouraging their active participation in our auto-related careers, education, and hobbies.”

The Hot Rod High display will be located on the south side of the flat lot along 1st street.

John O’Brien, UM-Flint engineering technician, hopes that over the two days he and his students will be able to meet individuals interested in pursuing a degree in engineering and community members who want to be involved with the UM-Flint engineering program. Said O’Brien, “The Baja Racer and projects like this show the outside world that we have an engineering program. . . This is a win for the university and a win for the students as well.”

For more information on UM-Flint Engineering, call 810.762.3131 or visit