HIBBING — Mateo Garcia smiled, flipping through a book describing how to build an mBot robot and investigate a venomous snake bite. The 9-year-old from Lincoln Elementary in Hibbing was excited to share what he learned last month during the National Youth Leadership Forum: Pathways to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Mateo was nominated by his third-grade teacher at Lincoln named Britni Koschak, and was one of several locals who participated in hands-on experiments with students from across the state and nation.
During an interview this week at the Hibbing Daily Tribune, Mateo said his favorite part of the forum was “the CSI investigation where we had to figure out who stole the missing pieces of the map.” Garcia was referring to a crime-solving portion of the forum in which the students were presented with a case and taught how to fingerprint individuals and measure blood drops.
“We put the blood in an eye-dropper and dropped it from a height to see how it splattered,” Mateo explained. “And we learned that fingerprints come in different shapes and sizes to tell whose hands it could be.”
Mateo’s interest in crime-solving partly comes from time spent with his mother, Alyssa, who holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and said that the two of them have watched nearly all of the episodes from The First 48 TV series. The mother and son described the forum’s experiments with enthusiasm and often finished one another’s sentences.
“They learned about snake bites,” Alyssa began. “Yeah, we mixed milk and lemon juice and the milk turned chunky,” Mateo continued, before his mother asked, “So what did that show you?” He answered: “Because that’s what snake venom does to blood.”
The team’s bond is strong, a sign that they have made it through difficult times together. Mateo’s father, Charlie, was murdered when he was 18 months old.
“Mateo has overcome a lot and I want to see the best for him,” Alyssa said, adding that he now has a “great step-father” named Lucas Peterson who helps raise Mateo and their two children ages 4 and 2.
Mateo is growing up into a polite and funny kid who enjoys playing baseball and basketball like many boys his age. And he is also someone who really enjoys learning about fractions and multiplication and reading chapter books about Dog Man and Captain Underpants. So, his mother was happy when she learned he was nominated by Koschak to participate in the STEM forum.
“Only the brightest, most motivated students are singled out by their teachers for nomination to NYLF Pathways to STEM. You should be very proud of this achievement. Mateo was selected because Ms. Koschak recognizes him as a student who already demonstrates exceptional maturity, scholastic merit, and leadership potential even at his young age,” wrote Jan. A Sikorsky, the vice president of NYLF Pathways in a letter to the family dated Jan. 4. “ Your son will join other young students from around the region in intensive, engaging, hands-on workshops focused on five skills that are essential to success: self management, time management, communication, collaboration, and goal setting.”
Alyssa shared that she felt proud that her son had the opportunity to participate in the forum and he benefited from meeting new friends and furthering his education.
“I’ve definitely seen a growth in him and he seems more confident in the things he does,” Alyssa said. “He was nervous to go to Minneapolis and stay in the dorms without us, but he did it and says it was incredible. We’d like him to do this every summer.”
Beginning in 1985, Envision programs have served more than 800,000 students in over 145 countries, with programs designed to help students develop leadership, scholarship and career skills.