In 1948, the Academy launched the Science and Technology Exposition in New York City—the city’s famous high school science fair. It was our first effort to reach out to, recognize, and encourage young scientists even before their college training.
Since then, educational programming at the Academy has grown into a major effort that supports science from kindergarten through graduate school and beyond, and reaches educational institutions around the world. Yet New York City is still the Academy’s home, and the city has long been our laboratory for testing and expanding innovative approaches to science education.
Beginning with the annual science fair, the Academy not only engaged students, but also worked to connect schools, teachers, and the scientific community. In fact, by the 1990s, the Science and Technology Exposition had become one of our biggest events for convening scientists—several hundred Academy Members and others gathered there as volunteer judges. (The Exposition has since been taken over by the New York City Education Department and the City University of New York.)
By working with these talented high school students, the Academy gained insight into how the sciences were being taught in city schools. This led to new initiatives to bolster science education for New York City middle and high schools, particularly those serving demographic groups that are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In the 1990s, we provided training for high school teachers, recruited scientists to volunteer in middle schools, and paired up students with scientists for summer research projects.
More recently, since 2010, the Academy’s Afterschool STEM Mentoring Program has recruited graduate and postdoctoral students as volunteer mentors in 4th through 8th grade afterschool programs in NYC and beyond. Volunteers come from universities in New York City, Newark, and Upstate New York, and they teach a broad curriculum at locations such as the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs.
The Academy’s education programs also help connect science teachers with the scientific community to promote understanding of current scientific discoveries and trends, and to forge links between students, their teachers, and practicing scientists. These efforts include events and publications for science educators on such topics as classroom best practices, innovative education programs, and developments in science education policy.
All of this work originates in the Academy’s conviction that the world needs a workforce of skilled science and technology innovators to address the most pressing global challenges of the coming century—climate change, food shortages, exponential increases in non-communicable diseases, energy shortages, and more—yet, this demand is going unmet. Not only in the U.S., but around the world, there is a shortage of STEM professionals. And in many places access to STEM education is limited.
The Academy’s Global STEM Alliance, launched in 2014, addresses these issues. Through this international initiative, we partner with more than 100 government agencies, corporations, educational institutions, and nongovernmental organizations in some 50 countries. Overall, our goal is to build STEM literacy. Individual programs include the 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures initiative, which pairs high school girls around the world with female mentors to carry out activities that foster college readiness. We’ve also launched international collaborations such as a pilot program with the government of Malaysia aimed at guiding gifted students toward STEM careers.
Since the Academy was founded in 1817, our strength has been in convening experts to advance science. In the Academy’s third century, more than ever, global challenges require scientific solutions. We take it as part of our mission to help prepare a new generation of scientists to meet these challenges by bringing together students, educators, and professional scientists at all levels in our educational programs.