BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Inside Buffalo's Native American Magnet School
on a chilly April afternoon, 17 middle-school students are making
"slime" in their choice of colors, blue being the most popular,
during an after-school program made possible by a group of
University at Buffalo professors and students.
Their excited voices grow to a loud buzz as their guest
instructor -- UB chemistry professor Joseph A. Gardella -- shouts
over the noise "Nobody wants to make green slime?" His assistants,
two UB graduate students, pour clear liquids and drops of food
coloring into each child's plastic cup for mixing.
Many of the students don't know Gardella is a well-known
environmental activist and recent recipient of a 2005 Presidential
Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering
Mentoring, presented to him at the White House in November. A group
of girls in the second row have a question, and, uncertain of how
to address him, call out "Mister Science Person!"
Several times, School 19 science teacher Heather Maciejewski has
to call for quiet, not because the students are misbehaving, but
because their excited talking makes it hard to hear the next steps
of the experiment. Even with her admonishments, the classroom is
never quiet for long. Maciejewski is in good spirits, however,
because four sets of parents or relatives have come for this
afternoon's "parents day" class.
"That's a lot for this school," Maciejewski said. "We have PTO
meetings and only one parent attends."
Maciejewski has taught at the school -- officially known as
Buffalo's School 19 and located at the intersection of West Delavan
and West avenues -- for seven years, the last two housed at another
city school while 19 was completely renovated in a city public
schools reconstruction project. Now, the seventh and eighth graders
have a state-of-the-art science laboratory, in addition to other
The K-8 school has 600 students in all; 90 percent of its
students are minorities and live at or below the poverty level.
UB "adopted" the school last year after Gardella met Maciejewski
when she participated last summer in his Research Institute for
Biomedical Materials, Science and Engineering for undergraduates,
which focused on how drug delivery can assist in tissue engineering
Rachael D. Brust, a UB junior biochemistry and biophysics major,
and one of a dozen or so university students who volunteer at
School 19, remembers Maciejewski wanted to transfer what she was
learning at the summer program to her students.
"Heather really cares about her students and makes a difference
in their education," Brust said. "Many of her students come from
troubled backgrounds and don't have the support from home that they
need. Many of them have no plans to continue their education after
high school, if they graduate from high school at all. Also, middle
school is an age when many poor minority students lose interest in
science. Our connection with Heather provided a great opportunity
to try this outreach."
School 19 agreed to devote some of its federal funding from the
21st Century Community Learning Centers Program to the after-school
program and Gardella foots the rest of the bill, with financial
commitments and student support from fellow UB professors.
Alexander N. Cartwright, professor of electrical engineering,
said initially he had to perform "a bit of arm-twisting" to
convince his students to volunteer in the School 19 program -- for
which they receive no pay and no academic credit -- but now they
"just do this on their own.
"I requested my students to become involved, partly because
students in middle school will identify better with people who are
closer to their age," he said. "They seem to be sincerely
interested in introducing science and engineering to the students
and really enjoy the time spent there."
Cartwright said he supports the program in part because he
identifies with the School 19 students.
"I became involved because I believe that knowledge of science
and engineering careers and the people that pursue these fields is
essential to bringing kids into science. I grew up in a poor
country, the Bahamas, and went to a public school where there were
very limited resources -- no science was taught. When I was a kid,
it was a math teacher, who inspired me and made me realize that a
math-related career would be possible," he said. "This personal
experience makes me very sensitive to the fact that there are many
future scientists and engineers in this country – we just
need to find them."
The after-school program is the first step in giving the School
19 students confidence that they can pursue these fields,
"The program provides the middle-schoolers with the opportunity
to realize that scientists and engineers are real people -- just
like them. I think this is much more important than any science
that they learn. They see graduate and undergraduate students that
are not the 'geeks' that scientist and smart
people are portrayed as in movies. I think that they then can go
to bed at night and dream that they can be scientists."
Brust said that having college students as program assistants
brings the middle-schools closer to the idea that they too can
pursue careers in science.
"In middle school and high school you learn a lot about the
facts and ideas of scientific principles and systems, but you never
learn anything about what it would be like to have a career in
science. Your science teacher might be a very intelligent, great
person, but they still are seen as a teacher, not a scientist."
Gardella doesn't want to lose the School 19 students either, and
hopes to continue the program, despite its lack of formal funding.
He said UB "missed the cut by one" on a National Science Foundation
grant he applied for last year to fund the program. While he
continues to seek other funding sources, he uses his presidential
award money to pay for supplies.
Today, these include pizza and pop in honor of parents day, as
well as the materials for making the "slime," which Gardella,
nearly shouting, tries to tell the students -- now talking again --
they will use next month for planting seeds to observe how slime's
components assist plants as they grow.
But many of the students don't hear him because they are too
busy watching another "experiment" by one of the boys, Zachariah
Thornton, who is stretching and flattening his slime into an eye
mask, which he shows off proudly to his brother, Ernest, and the
others. Gardella, smiling, goes off to grab a piece of pizza before
it is gone.