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To the Labs!

Attendees Left the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering’s Summer of STEM Launch Fired Up and Ready to Learn

Women observing something

It would be easy to picture New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña making an inspiring call to arms during the American Revolution or bravely manning the battlements in some other military campaign. But while Fariña is, in fact, engaged in a battle, it isn’t a military one.

Her mission—as she told the crowd at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering’s “Summer of STEM” kickoff—is to ensure that each and every schoolchild in the city has a solid background in Science, Math, Technology, and Engineering (STEM).

“New York City will be the best in the country,” she confidently asserted during her rousing address. “Starting from the time they enter kindergarten until the time they complete high school, New York’s students will be immersed in the STEM learning necessary to become valuable, skilled members of our increasingly technological society.”

Fariña praised the NYU School of Engineering for its many Summer of STEM programs, which include NYCitySTEM, which brings 31 specially trained public-school teachers together with more than 50 graduate and undergraduate helpers to conduct exciting summer courses for 600 middle and high school students from every borough, and Science of Smart Cities, in which middle school students are introduced to the engineering, science, and technology that make cities more livable, efficient, sustainable, and safer through hands-on activities, demonstrations, and experiments.

Much of the focus of this summer’s programming is on teacher education—an important part of helping the School of Engineering fulfill its pledge to the White House to educate 500 teachers and positively impact 50,000 public school students throughout the city in the coming decade. NYU School of Engineering Dean and President Katepalli R. Sreenivasan had made the pledge in December 2014 during the White House College Opportunity Day of Action, when hundreds of higher education leaders joined to support President Obama’s goal of making the United States the world leader in college attainment.

“This year’s Summer of STEM reflects an important enhancement to the School of Engineering’s longstanding leadership in providing access to high-quality STEM education to students—particularly those from diverse and economically challenged communities,” Sreenivasan has said. “We are greatly expanding our outreach to teachers because we know that each and every one of them has the potential to inspire and educate hundreds of young people during the course of a career. With their help, we will prepare a new generation of students capable of meeting the vast technical challenges of New York and society as a whole.”

The NYU School of Engineering’s Center for K12 STEM Education has long run one of New York City’s most in-depth teacher professional development programs, and with its new focus on “teaching the teachers,” it promises to make an even greater mark on the educational landscape of the city—and the entire country.

Susan Singer, the director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Undergraduate Education, was also at the kickoff event, and she told the excited crowd that the School of Engineering and its Center for K12 STEM Education were taking an all-too-rare approach. “The biggest challenge in STEM education isn’t coming up with great ideas; it’s coming up with a way to share them and move them forward,” she said. “Having seen today how NYU’s professors, undergraduates, and graduate students are joining forces with K12 students, teachers, and other college faculty members, I’d say the future of STEM education is in good hands. You’ve catalyzed the support the NSF has given you into something great.”

Although they patiently sat through the speeches and sampled the lunches provided, some of the K12 students to whom Singer referred were clearly bursting to get to their assigned classrooms and labs. Vicente Gomez, who attends the Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design, and Ayinde Eustache, a student at the Bard High School Early College in Queens, were both taking part in the Summer of STEM program known as ARISE (Applied Research Innovations in Science and Engineering), which promised them college-level workshops and seminars, mentoring, and a high-level research experience in an actual faculty lab. They had requested and been assigned to Professor Magued Iskander’s Soil Mechanics Lab. While they may not have fully understood what a rare opportunity it was to work with the inventor of groundbreaking transparent soils now used in research labs around the world, they knew, as they said, that it was going to be “very, very cool.”

Dr. Vikram Kapila, who hosts ARISE students in his Mechatronics Lab and also helps administer the Center’s programs, has pointed out, “It’s wonderful to realize that when we discuss the NYU School of Engineering’s robust commitment to STEM education, we do not have just a professor or two engaged in these activities. Fully one-third of all our faculty members take part in K12 STEM education projects.”

Jamie Weiner, who attends the Summit School in Queens, was one of the 75 young women taking part in a two-week “GenCyber” cyber security program led by Professor Nasir Memon, who has helped make the School of Engineering an acknowledged national leader in cyber security education. The program will provide the young women with an immersive and supportive introduction to the field through lectures, hands-on training, and day trips to New York City technology firms. Weiner had, she admitted, never really considered cyber security as a career, despite her stellar grades in math and science. “I’m excited to learn more about it,” she said. “And maybe I’ll end up back here at NYU studying with Professor Memon after I finish high school.”

No matter where she ends up, she’ll undoubtedly be well-prepared. That’s thanks in large part to Fariña, Singer, countless generous corporate and individual sponsors, and the more than 130 NYU School of Engineering students and faculty members (among them the top names in their fields) who are working to make this year’s Summer of STEM a rousing success. Because when you make a promise to the White House, that’s a promise that has to be kept.