by Arlene Minkiewicz
| December 29, 2015
While there was a time in my life when I was not a huge baseball fan – it was fun for a few innings but once I had my fill of hot dogs, peanuts and soda – I was ready to go home. This changed the day my husband informed me that it was time to sign our four year old up for T-ball. At least the transformation started that day. As a mother of two up and coming little leaguers, I spent a lot of time watching baseball games. And rather than be one of those mothers that sits in the stands chatting with other parents, I decided that if I was going to be a baseball Mom, I was going to pay attention, learn the rules (and there are quite a few) and really understand what was going on. And in the process, I began to love baseball. It appealed to the geek in me; it’s a game all about all the things I learned in high school and college – numbers, statistics, physics, aerodynamics, etc.
Clearly I’m not the only math geek who has stumbled onto this. Ricardo Valerdi, Associate Professor of Systems and Industrial Engineering at the University of Arizona, in 2012 started a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program focused on the Science of Baseball in hopes of encouraging kids from K-18 to embrace STEM in a fun and interactive way. The program, supported by the Arizona Diamondbacks, has reached over 10,000 students since its inception with support from over 250 schools teaching 22 STEM lessons. The lessons include topics such as Trajectory of Ball Flight, Physiology, Seat Pricing and Revenue, Baseball Statistics, Aerodynamics, Dollars per Pitch and Probability of becoming a Pro Ballplayer. A typical lesson might include the study of the trajectory of a baseball through launching it with a water balloon launcher – forcing the students to think about not only angles and velocity, but also environmental factors, spin and altitude.
“What baseball provides is a laboratory for experimentation and learning physiology, biomechanics, statistics, geometry”, says Valerdi. “Our goal is to make the math and science so simple even Yankees fans will understand it”, jokes Valerdi (a Mets fan).
And to use a sports metaphor, it appears the Mr. Valerdi along with the colleagues, students and ball clubs that support him, has really hit one out of the park. The children are asked a series of STEM related questions before entering the program and after they have completed it. According to Valerdi, before the program about 40% of the children could successfully answer the questions while upon completion that number rose to 90%. Interesting to note is that while one might think that a program focused on baseball would be a larger draw for boys than for girls, it appears that many girls and young women are also participating and are able to envision themselves on a STEM career path. Learn more about the Science of Baseball and the science of sports at this link… http://sie.arizona.edu/arizona-science-baseball-hits-home-run
Valerdi is no stranger to the world of cost estimation. He began his career as a doctoral candidate with Barry Boehm of the University of Southern California’s Center for Software Excellence. He was responsible for the development of the Constructive Systems Engineering Cost Model (CoSysmo) which estimates systems engineering costs for large scale systems of hardware and software. Since that time he has found ways to combine his passion for technology with his passion for baseball; helping share both this passions with the up and coming scientists of tomorrow.