An Udderly Amazing STEM Day at ON Semiconductor

by Billie Johnson
Aug 2, 2019 8:15 AM ET

How does a herd of tech professionals and engineers divide 290 students for an on-site field trip?

With a Cow-culator.

Or at ON Semiconductor in June, with five Cowculators. Three engineers, an operations manager and an administrative assistant donned cow suits to welcome an unprecedented number of students to the Pocatello, Idaho factory for an extensive day of STEM investigation and discovery.

Why the cows you may ask?

When I began coaching a middle school math club over a decade ago, I used an old cow costume from college to help motivate students and make our math practices more fun. I created the lesser known superhero, The Cowculator: Solver of problems, lover of STEM – Science Technology Engineering and Math. As the ON Semiconductor Pocatello facility began to offer field trips to student groups, I suggested we incorporate the Cowculator to help demystify the complicated concepts involved in semiconductors. Too many serious engineers, scientists or managers may not sustain the interest of kids with dry or intimidating content, so we set the tone with a light-hearted and delightful cow.

Before the day began, each Cowculator boarded a bus to educate the eighth graders on the three C’s: Careers, Capes and Courtesy.

The first C is Careers.

Students were encouraged to begin thinking about their career possibilities as they explored ON Semiconductor for the day. This group will be freshmen in high school next year, so now is the time for them to start thinking about their future and what classes they should take.

The second C is Capes.

Usually, we think of superheroes who wear capes. Superheroes solve problems. They have a fearless approach to problem-solving like the Cowculators at ON Semiconductor. Students were encouraged to tackle hard things with confidence just like professionals in a tech field - to envision their own capes if a topic seemed intimidating.

The third C is Courtesy

As the students were coming to our company corral today they were encouraged to be courteous to employees at work and respectful of peers who might be highly engaged and imagining their own cape.

Over the course of the day, led by Operations Manager Tammy Olney, forty employees helped students explore the world of STEM through various activities.

Product Engineers Brandy Werre and Micah Hill presented a tutorial on binary counting along with basic electrical concepts including resistance, current, and voltage. The students then assembled simple, colorful circuits with LEDs where they could calculate and also see how changing the resistance changed the operation of the circuit.

Application Engineer Charles Kerly presented an overview of what a semiconductor is, how integrated circuits (ICs) are designed and manufactured, and what kind of products feature ON Semiconductor’s technology.

I showed a silicon ingot and explained how long cylinders of silicon may be grown from a single crystal and then sliced into the wafers that provide the basic material for ICs. Students had the opportunity to hold the ingot, wafers, test hardware and packaged devices.

After a window tour of the fabrication facility, students tried on the bunny suits worn by manufacturing technicians and process engineers. Students learned about the career possibilities available at ON Semiconductor with varying degrees of education – from a high school diploma to a PhD.

Mixed signal engineer Brian LeFevre discussed waves including ocean waves, sound waves, and radio waves. Students learned about wave amplitude and frequency while looking at ocean waves. They saw and heard sound waves, and detected what radio waves were broadcasting nearby to find airplanes flying overhead.

Terry Keating, a Foundry Project Manager, described the construction of an infrared sensing microelectromechanical system (MEMS) in a customer’s circuit and how its resistance changes with its absorption of infrared radiation.

Business unit manager Thad Smith talked about ON Semiconductor’s image sensing technology with high-resolution videos to illustrate how innovation is born out of curiosity right along with necessity.

Students were also able to see how a focused ion beam and scanning electron microscope help the sleuths of the industry uncover defects in the Failure Analysis lab.

Amidst the investigation and discovery, some fun was had, too. The eighth graders were eager to showcase how “incredibull” and “amoosing” it was to hold some of the older silicon wafers that were manufactured right next door.

For the past year, the Pocatello facility has hosted field trips with a handful of presentations for smaller groups from rural high schools, robotics clubs, and private and charter schools. This was the first field trip of this magnitude for the 11-person Pocatello Corporate Giving Committee to organize and deliver with the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25. We love showing kids the opportunities available and attainable in their own back yard. From the careers to the capes, for the ON Semiconductor employees, teachers, chaperones and the 290 students from Hawthorne Middle School, it was an “udderly” amazing day in STEM education.

Watch the TEDxIdahoFalls talk to learn more about how the “Cow-culator” was created.

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