Full STEM Ahead

The NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering’s Center for K-12 STEM Education Is Devising New Ways to Give Students a Leg Up in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)

Brooklyn is home to the latest tech boom in the country, a newly located NBA franchise, and, of course, brownstones and cheesecake. Thanks in large part to Ben Esner, a lifelong resident of the borough, K-12 STEM education is on that list too. Esner, the director of the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering’s Center for K-12 STEM Education, says, “We’re coming up with ideas and formulating new programs that are making an impact right here in Brooklyn and spreading throughout the world.”

Esner can attest first hand just how far some of the Center’s home-grown ideas have traveled: along with several graduate students from the School of Engineering, he spent part of last year in the Malaysian state of Selangor, where the Science of SmartCities (SoSC) curriculum—which employs hands-on explorative activities in the fields of urban infrastructure, transportation, energy, and wireless communications and teaches middle-schoolers technologies that allow the building of livable, efficient, sustainable and resilient cities—was adopted and modified by the Education Faculty at the National University of Malaysia.

“We’re coming up with ideas and formulating new programs that are making an impact right here in Brooklyn and spreading throughout the world.”

No less exciting, however, is the learning going on in the Brooklyn public schools that take part in another of the Center’s programs: the Applying Mechatronics to Promote Science (AMPS)/Central Brooklyn STEM Initiative (CBSI), which are funded by the National Science Foundation and philanthropic donors, and which pair teachers with graduate student fellows to design dynamic, hands-on classroom lessons in a variety of STEM disciplines.

Read More about STEM at the NYU School of Engineering

Russell Holstein, a veteran tech teacher at the Eugenio Maria De Hostos Intermediate School 318, in Williamsburg, calls having a fellow helping in his classroom and coaching the school’s robotics team a win-win situation for all. “By working with middle school students, the graduate fellows hone their presentation skills and learn to convey complex information to a lay audience without using jargon,” he says. “And my kids—from the highly motivated members of the robotics team, who take part in the FIRST Lego League competition, to those who purport to not even like science or math—get a lot out of their interactions with the fellows, who are wonderful role models for them.”

Holstein’s assertion that his students are benefiting is borne out by hard data: In a three-year study that tracked some 3,000 young participants, 70% of them increased by at least a half of a letter grade (or more) in not only math and science but other subjects as well. (Like Holstein’s fellow, many of the School of Engineering’s other graduate mentors pitch in to help with the FIRST Lego League; the Center for K-12 STEM Education is a strategic partner with New York City FIRST, the organization that runs that and other robotics competitions for students from across the country and whose acronym stands for the phrase “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology." Additionally, NYU has long been the site of the Brooklyn qualifier, which determines which local teams will advance to the citywide competition.)

“I got the experience of a lifetime,” one participant wrote at its conclusion. “[During my time here] I was not just a high school student; I was a real researcher, attending symposia, preparing posters and presentations, and working independently in the lab.”

AMPS/CBSI is far from the only project at the Center for K-12 STEM Education making a mark on the educational landscape of the city. The Applied Research Innovations in Science and Engineering (ARISE) program, funded by the Pinkerton Foundation, brings dedicated high-schoolers here for a rigorous seven-week program of high-level research in either Dr. Magued Iskander’s Soil Mechanics Lab, Dr. Vikram Kapila’s Mechatronics Lab, Dr. Nasir Memon’s Information Systems & Internet Security Lab, Dr. Jin Montclare’s Protein Engineering Lab, or any of a host of other well-equipped facilities.

“I got the experience of a lifetime,” one participant wrote at its conclusion. “[During my time here] I was not just a high school student; I was a real researcher, attending symposia, preparing posters and presentations, and working independently in the lab.” Another concurred, writing, “How many people can say they started working in a university lab at age 15? Now that’s impressive.” And in a sentiment that any engineering professor would be thrilled to hear, a third asserted, “I now know that I am made for engineering and research.”