Sparking Interest in Math and Science Among At-Risk Students, One Robot at a Time

Black Male Donor Collaborative Joins NYU-Poly to Expand Successful Brooklyn Schools Program

From left, BMDC Program Coordinator Anthony Simmons; NYU-Poly Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and CBRI Principal Investigator Vikram Kapila; Bedford Academy and CBRI graduate Khadir Punch, who has been accepted into a college computer science program; IS 383 (Bushwick) Robotics Teacher Lindrick Outerbridge, a three-year CBRI participant; and BMDC Director Nicole Sharpe.

The Black Male Donor Collaborative (BMDC) announced a pledge of $100,000 to Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) to expand the university’s Central Brooklyn Robotics Initiative (CBRI).

Founded in 2007, CBRI pairs teachers from economically disadvantaged Brooklyn schools with doctoral fellows from NYU-Poly’s engineering programs to design dynamic, hands-on classroom lessons that engage students’ fascination with robotics to boost their interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The BMDC aims to improve school performance and educational opportunities for young Black men, who have dramatically lower high school graduation rates than other student groups.

Beginning with the fall 2010 semester, CBRI will expand from 12 to 18 Brooklyn elementary, middle and high schools, with the effort slated to expand to 36 schools over the next three years. More than 80 percent of students served are minorities, who are often under-represented in the STEM disciplines and careers.

CBRI has a profound and measurable impact on students, according to the program’s external evaluation. For example, in spring 2010, teachers reported changes in letter grades for 810 students during or directly following the program: 74 percent of students saw their overall grades jump one-half or one full letter grade, and 80 percent saw their science and math grades improve one-half or one full letter grade.

Students reported both educational and emotional benefits from participating, ranging from increased interest in science and technology (77 percent) to improved listening skills (83 percent) and finding a role model in the NYU-Poly fellows (80 percent). The CBRI program is also helping to reduce isolation of minority students through robot design contests, in which they compete against students from unfamiliar communities as well as participate with them in informal learning experiences.

“The Black Male Donor Collaborative invested in the Central Brooklyn Robotics Initiative because it is an innovative school-based program that exposes students to creative, engaging and enjoyable lessons in science and mathematics,” said Nicole Sharpe, director of the BMDC. “I strongly believe that when children are presented with an engaging curriculum that makes learning fun, like the CBRI program, students will excel academically. The BMDC is a consortium of philanthropies and corporations that support research-based and scalable programs that improve the academic outcomes of Black boys, thus all students citywide.”

“NYU-Poly has a long history of commitment to STEM education and innovation at all academic levels,” said Jerry M. Hultin, president of NYU-Poly. “By introducing young students to the joys and challenges of STEM subjects, we encourage them to pursue higher education and rewarding technical careers. The CBRI program also allows NYU-Poly fellows to connect their academic and research skills with societal needs. Through the BMDC grant, we will expand our efforts to improve student achievement in local schools, further their teachers’ knowledge and widen our students’ educational experience.”

NYU-Poly fellows spend summer recess training in mechatronics and robotics, using LEGOs to develop grade-appropriate, hands-on science and math lessons. They then pair with Central Brooklyn teachers, who are often under-resourced and unprepared to create engaging, real-world projects in science and technology. Over the course of a summer, teachers work in tandem with fellows to research and design projects for the classroom. When school resumes, the fellows and teachers continue their partnership, bringing robotics projects to life with students and exposing them to tools and techniques used by scientists and engineers.

The Central Brooklyn Robotics Initiative is also supported by grants from the Brooklyn Community Foundation, Motorola Foundation, J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation, NY Space Grant Consortium and Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate. The program is synergistic with a five-year program at NYU-Poly funded by the GK-12 Fellows program of the National Science Foundation to broaden graduate engineering education and provide fellows with teaching, communication, pedagogical, management and team-building skills.


About Polytechnic Institute of New York University

Polytechnic Institute of New York University (formerly Polytechnic University), an affiliate of New York University, is a comprehensive school of engineering, applied sciences, technology and research, and is rooted in a 156-year tradition of invention, innovation and entrepreneurship: i2e. The institution, founded in 1854, is the nation’s second-oldest private engineering school. In addition to its main campus in New York City at MetroTech Center in downtown Brooklyn, it also offers programs at sites throughout the region and around the globe. Globally, NYU-Poly has programs in Israel, China and is an integral part of NYU's campus in Abu Dhabi.


About the Black Male Donor Collaborative

The Black Male Donor Collaborative (BMDC), officially launched fall 2009, seeks to improve the academic achievement of Black Males through strategic philanthropy aimed at transforming the academic trajectory and educational resources for Black Boys initially in New York City and then nationally.  The purpose of the Collaborative is to reduce the academic achievement gap and demonstrably raise the academic performance, graduation rates, and college and employment readiness of Black males.

The Black Male Donor Collaborative is a core component of the Pipeline Crisis/Winning Strategies Initiative–an effort initiated by Sullivan and Cromwell, LLP and Goldman Sachs to reverse the rising rates of school dropouts, joblessness and incarceration among young Black men, and to increase their representation in the pipeline to higher education and professional endeavors.  In collaboration with Winning Strategies, the BMDC seeks to leverage the talents, skills and resources of the foundation, legal, financial services and other private business communities to help in this effort.