Tackling the Science Education Challenge

Tackling the Science Education Challenge

The Academy's Afterschool STEM Mentoring Program builds on its early success.

On a deeply moving evening on Dec. 10, the Girl Scouts of the USA joined your Academy in a celebration on "Nobel Night." In Stockholm, it was the 100th anniversary of Marie Curie's second Nobel Prize. In New York, the audience included leading women scientists, presidents of universities and women's colleges, and luminaries such as Dupont CEO Ellen Kullman, Nobel Prize laureate Paul Greengard, and—representing the nation of Sweden—Princess Madeleine!

Everyone applauded the dramatic announcement that the Girl Scouts had signed an MOU with the Academy. The objective: to identify and train young women scientists to serve as role models and mentors, working in collaboration with Girl Scouts volunteers to bring high-quality, hands-on, informal science education opportunities to middle school-age Girl Scouts.

Flashback: Eighteen months ago, Dr. Meghan Groome kicked off a pilot project meant to address the frustrations we all have that our schools—especially in underserved areas—are not providing children with a sense of the excitement, much less value, of math and science. While so many worthy organizations are tackling the inadequacies of the formal system, your Academy chose to try what footballers call an end-around.

It's not unusual for the education department to field calls from young scientist mentors thanking the Academy for the opportunity to teach middle schoolers. One NYU Poly student wrote, "My math students often cheer when I walk in the room—as an engineer that never happens to me!"

Working with the City's Department of Youth and Community Development, whose goal is to provide New York's most underserved neighborhoods with high-quality youth and family programming, Meghan donated a cadre of carefully trained volunteers from New York's universities and academic medical centers. All were graduate students and postdocs who had volunteered to spend a minimum of one hour a week for a semester inspiring kids with hands-on science and math projects.

Meghan paired these graduate student and postdoc volunteers with professionals who know how to handle lively middle schoolers, but who do not necessarily have training in STEM fields. Together, they administered projects in genetics, astronomy, earth science, biodiversity, robotics, and math, giving these children the captivating experience of hands-on science and the thrill of interacting with a young scientist.

The results were heartwarming and profound for the kids, the staff, and the volunteer mentors. It's not unusual for the education department to field calls from young scientist mentors thanking the Academy for the opportunity to teach middle schoolers. One NYU Poly student wrote, "My math students often cheer when I walk in the room—as an engineer that never happens to me!" Within a matter of weeks, children who previously drew an Einstein-looking character when asked to draw a scientist started drawing images of young women or young men who looked a lot more like themselves. Indeed, they were drawing the images of their new heroes.

Flash-forward: In the last issue of this magazine, Meghan announced that she was expanding the Afterschool STEM Mentoring Program to reach children in the city of Newark, N.J. By the end of this semester, more than 3,300 children will have interacted with 300 young scientists from 12 different universities. The State University of New York has been so impressed, they co-submitted a grant application to the National Science Foundation so that Meghan might adapt this program throughout the entire state of New York: to Albany, Utica, Buffalo, and beyond.

But that is just a start. In partnership with the Girl Scouts, we are developing mechanisms to expand the program on a national scale. Imagine the possibility that in the major cities and towns across America, young scientists will work with scout leaders to imbue our kids with not only the importance, but also the excitement, of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Ellis Rubinstein
President & CEO