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National Award Lets More UB Students Engage with Buffalo Community

Sophomores will provide hands-on assistance to the Buffalo Public Schools while reflecting on and sharing their experiences

Release Date: January 31, 2011

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A unique program under the direction of Joseph Gardella is giving UB sophomores a chance to work with the Buffalo Public Schools to increase student interest in the sciences.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Forget town versus gown: students at the University at Buffalo are not only interested in the community outside of UB, but through the university's innovative living/learning program called the Undergraduate Academies, more of them are now connecting with it.

Thanks to a new grant, "Bringing Theory to Practice," from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, UB's Undergraduate Academies will be offering sophomores, in addition to freshmen, the chance to participate in civic engagement projects in the Buffalo Public Schools.

Starting next fall, interested sophomores moving into William R. Greiner Hall, the new residence hall on UB's North Campus, will have the opportunity to work with students at Buffalo's Native American Magnet School 19 and the Seneca Math Science and Technology Preparatory School (Seneca MST), helping students in fifth through 12th grades do more science and become more interested in it.

The grant provides additional resources for the UB/BPS Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership (ISEP), which has been existence at the two middle schools since 2007 under the direction of Joseph A. Gardella, PhD, the John and Frances Larkin Professor of Chemistry in UB's College of Arts and Sciences.

The goal of ISEP is to increase dramatically the number of Buffalo public school students who graduate from high school interested in -- and ready for -- attending college with an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

At the same time, the academies are committed to enhancing fully the UB undergraduate experience by enriching students' personal and intellectual development.

"It is difficult to put into words how this program has tremendously enhanced my teaching and the students' learning," says Heather Maciejewski, a science teacher in Buffalo's Native American Magnet School 19, "whether it's a UB professor giving a talk or the UB undergrads who help my students do more labs and more difficult labs than I would be able to without them."

With the help of the UB students and ISEP, Maciejewski has been able to establish and maintain a successful after-school science program, where students do experiments that include everything from programming robots to designing bridges.

The grant from the American Association of Colleges and Universities will allow 24 more UB students to provide assistance to both NAMS and Seneca Math and Science students.

It also will allow for the development of a new, year-long, three-credit seminar, "Continuing Undergraduate Academies Experience Seminar -- Community Linked Interdisciplinary Research," to further enhance the experience and allow sophomores to reflect more broadly on their experience in the Buffalo Public Schools.

"This grant will allow UB students who have so enthusiastically embraced the Undergraduate Academies in their freshman year to continue to think more critically about topics that they encounter in the world in the sophomore year," says Hadar Borden, administrative director of UB's Undergraduate Academies. "The combination of working in the schools and participating in the seminar will allow them to see how they can take their academic experience and apply it to achieve positive goals in the community."

Jenny Marie Wong, a senior chemistry major at UB, remembers her experience fondly. While she was a freshman and sophomore in UB's Honors College, she worked with inner-city students in the NAMS, facilitating experiments and encouraging students to think independently as they carried out their work.

"It was definitely a unique experience that I would recommend to any student," she says. "Working with the students allowed me to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the different perspectives of others. Before I worked there, I had had no experience working with students, nor did I have any understanding of the challenges in inner-city schools."

Gardella, who has made a career out of mentoring, is a winner of the 2005 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, administered by the National Science Foundation. The awards honors individuals and organizations that have demonstrated a commitment to mentoring students and boosting the participation of minorities, women and disabled students in science, mathematics and engineering. He applied some of his National Science Foundation grant money from that award directly to the Buffalo middle school programs.

In schools where students struggle with family, neighborhood and financial difficulties, the changes that Gardella's programs have made possible are dramatic.

"With this grant, we will be expanding the time that the UB students are in the classroom with the teachers," he says. "I think we are unusual in approaching service learning in schools for support of science education in that we are looking to provide mentoring and intensive hands-on science support. We are committed to the longer term."

Maciejewski adds: "With there being no money for classroom supplies, the partnership with UB has allowed for opportunities that otherwise would not occur, such as labs and field trips. My students now are afforded opportunities that other students, urban or suburban, do not get to experience, such as UB professors bringing their current research into our classroom and taking my students to try out UB's equipment or see science demonstrations. One UB professor actually brings us a human heart, brain and a pair of lungs for the students to see and study close up."

In addition to Gardella, A. Scott Weber, PhD, UB vice provost and dean for undergraduate education, and Dennis Black, UB vice president for university life and services, also participated in the successful grant proposal to the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

More information on UB's Undergraduate Academies is available at http://academy.buffalo.edu.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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Ellen Goldbaum
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