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Arizona Diamondbacks Put Their Stamp on UA Science of Baseball Camp

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Arizona Diamondbacks Put Their Stamp on UA Science of Baseball Camp

Aug. 27, 2013
College of Engineering Program for Middle Schoolers Drives Home STEM

The UA's Ricardo Valerdi, an associate professor in systems and industrial engineering, is already seeing his year-old Science of Baseball program hit the big leagues. Thanks to a partnership with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Valerdi and his team of University of Arizona student and alumni volunteers have taken the show on the road.

The Science of Baseball program may have scored a home run with the D-backs, but the game is far from over. The UA’s Ricardo Valerdi (right) recently traveled to Fenway Park and met with (from left) Andy Andres, a professor at Boston University and founder of the MIT Science of Baseball program; Bill James, the legendary Red Sox pioneer of sabermetrics, the premise behind the 2011 movie “Moneyball”; and Tim Zue (not shown), vice president of Fenway Sports Management and director of business development for the Boston Red Sox. Zue is preparing a proposal for Red Sox owner John Henry to set up a November 2013 train-the-trainer camp for 50 Boston middle-school teachers at Fenway Park.

“UA and the D-backs have overlapping interests in making Arizona a better place to live,” Valerdi said. “Having a Major League Baseball team put its brand behind the program has been a force multiplier.”

The middle school program, which Valerdi started in 2012, uses America’s favorite pastime to encourage kids to follow education and careers in the STEM subjects -- science, technology, engineering and math.  The program has grown from one school in Tucson, Ariz., to dozens of schools throughout the state, and Valerdi is in talks with other Major League Baseball teams to implement similar programs.

“The motivation for the Diamondbacks Science of Baseball program is to promote real-world applications of numeracy -- the ability to reason and apply simple numerical concepts,” Valerdi said. “Baseball provides a rich laboratory to apply fundamental math skills like measurement, geometry, probability and statistics.”

For the 40 girls and boys, assisted by Diamondbacks Academy coach Sean Payton, the first Arizona Diamondbacks Science of Baseball camp on July 20 at the team’s spring training facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., was an opportunity to test baseball’s math and science concepts on a major league field.

“Students got hands-on experience on what it must feel like when Paul’s Goldschmidt’s bat makes contact with a ball at a 35-degree angle -- the optimal homerun angle -- when they launched a major league ball from a protractor-guided, human-powered sling shot,” said Ann Wilkey, director of systems engineering research and continuing education development for the UA in Phoenix. Wilkey worked with Valerdi to develop the camp’s curriculum.

Some of the lessons were on the field; others were in the classroom. When the students gathered in groups to complete lessons and worksheets on topics such as statistics, ball trajectories, elasticity, and nutrition, Wilkey was not the least bit concerned that some of the topics might seem dry.

“These areas come to life when calculating Goldschmidt’s batting average improvement from 2011 to 2012, and predicting his RBI and batting average performance at the end of the 2013 regular season,” she enthused. 

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“We are excited to provide this opportunity to students in Arizona,” Heaton said. “By incorporating STEM with baseball we are able connect educational elements in an engaging and interactive way. We hope using the D-backs Science of Baseball curriculum will trigger students into thinking outside the box while providing these students with a fun experience at our spring training facility.”

Then Valerdi introduced the students to camp volunteers -- graduates of the UA College of Engineering -- all of whom were quick to make the connection between what happens in camp and what happens in school.

“The program participants are taught math and science concepts under the guise of baseball,” said volunteer Luiz Almanza, who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering and now works for US Airways in Phoenix. “Most of the time they are learning something new but don't realize it because they are drawn to the fun of baseball.”

Almanza and fellow volunteer Kenji Hernandez, a recent master’s graduate in industrial engineering who works for General Motors, encouraged students to take in all the skills they were learning. Systems engineering senior Sergio Ortiz helped the students with measurements and math, and mechanical engineering student Maurissa Wortham promoted women in engineering.

“Being a woman in engineering and having the opportunity to work with the Diamondbacks Science of Baseball is fantastic,” said Wortham, who is fond of math, science and sports. “I think that some of the girls who show up are unsure about whether or not this camp is for them. It is. Science and math are not gender-specific."

“I hope that I can be an example to these girls by showing them that they should always do what interests them. They should never pay attention to what other people’s opinions of their interests may be.”

Like all the volunteers, Wortham noted the direct link between her engineering classes at UA and the topics covered in the camp -- for example how UA engineering undergraduates learn to solve projectile motion problems with calculus while students at the camp launch baseballs as projectiles and study their trajectory and distance traveled.

“What we’re doing at the camps with the students is a really accurate representation of concepts that are extremely important at university education level,” she said.