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2022-23 Virtual Science Club

Read below for updates on upcoming Virtual Science Club sessions and recordings/archives of past sessions. If you have questions contact prep@utk.edu.

What is the VSC?

It is a club that meets twice per month. It provides free programming to assist students and teachers in the development of STEM skills and to motivate students to enter the upcoming Southern Appalachian Science & Engineering Fair (SASEF) which will be held in-person on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville campus on March 2023.

Who is eligible to attend VSC sessions?

The club is available to grade 6-12 students, grade 6-12 teachers, and other sponsors of STEM programs (e.g., 4-H leaders) in the 23-county East Tennessee SASEF region. Students and teachers from Central and West Tennessee are also welcome.


Upcoming Club Schedule

Time: 7:00 – 8:00pm EST
Session Description: Go into breakout rooms by research area to discuss your plans for your 2022 SASEF STEM project. Bring any and all questions you may have! The four research areas to choose from are:
  1. Human Sciences
    • Behavioral & Social Sciences
    • Medicine & Health Sciences
  2. Natural Sciences
    • Animal Sciences
    • Biochemistry
    • Cellular & Molecular Biology
    • Environmental Sciences
    • Microbiology
    • Plant Sciences
  3. Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
    • Earth & Planetary Science
    • Environmental Management
    • Physics & Astronomy
  4. Engineering & Math
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering: Electrical & Mechanical
    • Engineering: Materials & Bioengineering
    • Energy & Transportation
    • Mathematical Sciences

Time: 7:00 – 8:00pm EST
**Registered attendees will receive a Zoom link by email on the day of the event.
Session Description: Dr. Robert Compton, Fred Peretz, and Herbert Krause

Time: 7:00 – 8:00pm EST
**Registered attendees will receive a Zoom link by email on the day of the event.
Session Description: Go into breakout rooms by research area to discuss your plans for your 2022 SASEF STEM project. Bring any and all questions you may have! The four research areas to choose from are:
  1. Human Sciences
    • Behavioral & Social Sciences
    • Medicine & Health Sciences
  2. Natural Sciences
    • Animal Sciences
    • Biochemistry
    • Cellular & Molecular Biology
    • Environmental Sciences
    • Microbiology
    • Plant Sciences
  3. Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
    • Earth & Planetary Science
    • Environmental Management
    • Physics & Astronomy
  4. Engineering & Math
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering: Electrical & Mechanical
    • Engineering: Materials & Bioengineering
    • Energy & Transportation
    • Mathematical Sciences

Time: 7:00 – 8:00pm EST
**Registered attendees will receive a Zoom link by email on the day of the event.
Session Description: Coming Soon!

Time: 7:00 – 8:00pm EST

**Registered attendees will receive a Zoom link by email on the day of the event.

Session Description: No formal presentation or session. Stop by any time for 5 minutes or for the full hour, or anywhere in between! We will be on Zoom to answer any and all questions you may have about the Southern Appalachian Science & Engineering Fair (SASEF). Students are welcome to come by and ask about their project or abstract, their poster, their optional video, etc. Teachers are welcome to stop by to check in on their students’ registrations, ask questions about event day in March, etc. If you can’t make office hours contact us any time at prep@utk.edu or call 865-974-9493.

Time: 7:00 – 8:00pm EST

**Registered attendees will receive a Zoom link by email on the day of the event.

Session Description: Coming soon!

Past Sessions & Recordings

Time: 7:00 – 8:00pm EST
Session Description:
Learn more about:
  • The Virtual Science Club
  • The Southern Appalachian Science & Engineering Fair
  • How to structure a STEM project
  • Go into breakout rooms by research area to meet your UTK graduate student mentor that will be hosting sessions monthly through January. The four research areas to choose from are:
  1. Human Sciences
    • Behavioral & Social Sciences
    • Medicine & Health Sciences
  2. Natural Sciences
    • Animal Sciences
    • Biochemistry
    • Cellular & Molecular Biology
    • Environmental Sciences
    • Microbiology
    • Plant Sciences
  3. Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
    • Earth & Planetary Science
    • Environmental Management
    • Physics & Astronomy
  4. Engineering & Math
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering: Electrical & Mechanical
    • Engineering: Materials & Bioengineering
    • Energy & Transportation
    • Mathematical Sciences

Recorded Meeting: 09.13.2022: VSC Introductory Meeting

Recorded Meeting: 09.13.2022: Natural Sciences Breakout Room

Recorded Meeting: 09.13.22: Engineering and Math Breakout Room

Time: 7:00 – 8:00pm EST
Session Description:

Dr. Robert Hirsch – Assistant Professor & the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Agricultural & Medical Biotechnology and Agriculture Individualized Programs, University of Kentucky 

Session Description: From mariner to mold food expert: my path from the scuba diving industry to science! – Dr. Hirsch

Speaker Biography: 

Dr. Lou Hirsch was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where he hunted, fished, and hiked throughout the deserts and forests of the American Southwest.  After going to college at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana for English and Religious Studies, he started a career as a scuba instructor and boat captain.  He managed scuba diving charter companies in the Florida Keys and San Diego, California before moving to Arkansas with his future spouse who was starting graduate school. In Arkansas, he accidently discovered the field of plant pathology (the study of plant diseases), and through a series of happy accidents and some hard work he ended up returning to school to earn a Master’s degree in Plant Pathology and a Ph.D. in Plant Science.

After teaching at a small liberal arts college in South Carolina and working for the Veterans Administration system on a human genomics project, he started a teaching- and outreach-focused position in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.  At the University of Kentucky, Dr. Hirsch is an Assistant Professor and serves as the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Agricultural & Medical Biotechnology and Agriculture Individualized Programs in addition to teaching numerous classes in multiple disciplines across campus.  When he is not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, playing on a moderately competitive adult kickball team, and teaching scuba classes.

Recorded Meeting: 09.27.233: VSC Guest Speaker – Dr. Robert Hirsch 

Time: 7:00 – 8:00pm EST
**Registered attendees will receive a Zoom link by email on the day of the event.
Session Description: Go into breakout rooms by research area to discuss your plans for your 2022 SASEF STEM project. Bring any and all questions you may have!
Recording: 10.04.22: Breakout Session by Research Area: 

Recording: 10.04.22: Natural Sciences Breakout Room: 

Recording: 10.04.22: Engineering & Math Breakout Room: 

Time: 7:00 – 8:00pm EST

**Registered attendees will receive a Zoom link by email on the day of the event.

Dan Hurst, Founder and former CEO of Strata-G, LLC

Session Description: How the SASEF Launched My Career as an Engineer and Entrepreneur and How It Can Help You – Dan Hurst 

Speaker Biography:

Dan Hurst is a past winner of both the Tennessee Junior Science and Humanities Symposium and the Southern Appalachian Science and Engineering Fair.  He has M.S. and B.S. Degrees in Environmental and Agricultural Engineering from UT Knoxville, and an Executive Certificate in Management and Leadership from the MIT Sloan School. He has served and chaired numerous nonprofit Boards including the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council, Fairview Technology Center, East TN Historical Society, Knox Area Rescue Ministries, UTK Civil and Environmental Engineering Board of Advisers, and King University.  Dan received the 2020 TN Advanced Energy Business Council Leadership Award, the 2019 TN Veterans Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and the 2015 ETEC Muddy Boot Award for contributions to East Tennessee.

He is a veteran officer of the U.S. Naval Nuclear Power Program, in which he instructed hundreds of future nuclear plant operators.  Dan is the Founder and former CEO of Strata-G, LLC; a team of more than 270 technical professionals who provide engineering, safety, environmental, and project management services to federal, commercial, and utility clients in a manner that earned their selection as the 2019 US Chamber of Commerce National Small Business of the Year.  Dan is an 8th generation East Tennessean who enjoys hiking the Smoky Mountains and seeing the world with his family and friends.

Recorded Meeting: 10.25.22: VSC Guest Speaker – Mr. Dan Hurst 

Time: 7:00 – 8:00pm EST
**Registered attendees will receive a Zoom link by email on the day of the event.
Session Description: Go into breakout rooms by research area to discuss your plans for your 2022 SASEF STEM project. Bring any and all questions you may have! The four research areas to choose from are:
  1. Human Sciences
    • Behavioral & Social Sciences
    • Medicine & Health Sciences
  2. Natural Sciences
    • Animal Sciences
    • Biochemistry
    • Cellular & Molecular Biology
    • Environmental Sciences
    • Microbiology
    • Plant Sciences
  3. Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
    • Earth & Planetary Science
    • Environmental Management
    • Physics & Astronomy
  4. Engineering & Math
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering: Electrical & Mechanical
    • Engineering: Materials & Bioengineering
    • Energy & Transportation
    • Mathematical Sciences

Recorded Meeting: 11.08.22: Engineering and Math Breakout Room

Recorded Meeting: 11.08.22: Human Sciences 

Time: 7:00 – 8:00pm EST

Recorded Meeting: 11.29.22: VSC Anthropology Panel


SASEF Categories – What breakout session to attend?

One meeting per month will feature smaller “breakout” sessions separated into the following four research areas. Each research area’s breakout room will have mentors including a UT graduate student, at least one science and engineering professional, and at least one SASEF board member. These mentors will assist students with questions about STEM activities particularly focusing on those activities that will support a SASEF project.

  1. Human Sciences
    • Behavioral & Social Sciences
    • Medicine & Health Sciences
  2. Natural Sciences
    • Animal Sciences
    • Biochemistry
    • Cellular & Molecular Biology
    • Environmental Sciences
    • Microbiology
    • Plant Sciences
  3. Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
    • Earth & Planetary Science
    • Environmental Management
    • Physics & Astronomy
  4. Engineering & Math
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering: Electrical & Mechanical
    • Engineering: Materials & Bioengineering
    • Energy & Transportation
    • Mathematical Sciences

Meet The Research Area Mentors

Sandra Peña, Human Sciences Mentor

Sandra Peña works full time in public health as an infectious disease epidemiologist, while also being a part-time MS student at UTK studying Entomology. Sandra plans on blending her current work interests with her growing knowledge in entomology with hopes to become a vectorborne epidemiologist. Sandra enjoys mentoring early career professionals, spending time in the lab, and studying emerging diseases.

Aaron Onufrak, Natural Sciences Mentor

Aaron is a 3rd year PhD student in the Entomology and Plant Pathology department at the University of Tennessee. He studies the fungi and bacteria that associate with eastern black walnut, a tree that is highly valued for its lumber. He is currently working to identify methods to control the fungal pathogen that causes Thousand Cankers Disease, which kills eastern black walnut trees throughout the United States.  His long term career goal is to be an instructor at a college or university sharing my passion for biology with undergraduate students.

Agustin Kriscautzky, Physical Sciences Mentor

Agustin earned his BS in geology in Argentina and his MS and PhD in geology in Knoxville, Tennessee. He studies ancient marine rocks from various places around the world, older than a billion years! He works on understanding the geochemistry of the ancient oceans and how these rocks have recorded information that may help us unwrapping the Earth’s history and evolution through geologic time. His future goals are to become a professor and a researcher and, if possible, to be a field geologist traveling around the world, finding information hidden in rocks. He is passionate about Natural Sciences.

Emily Proehl, Engineering & Math Mentor

Emily is a 3rd year graduate student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Her research focuses on structural materials for nuclear reactors, which must withstand extreme environments – high temperature, corrosive fluids, and intense radiation. The overarching objective is to make nuclear reactors more cost-competitive and safer to help power the globe. Emily’s career goals are to further nuclear materials development and the understanding of radiation effects in materials, while paying forward the invaluable mentorship she received throughout her educational pursuits.