Campus News

Buffalo science education initiative a winner in national STEM competition

A young students pours liquid into a beaker as he conducts an experiment,

A student at the Native American Magnet School performs an experiment during a Science Fun Night at the school, a demonstration of how ISEP is making science more exciting for students and teachers in the Buffalo Public Schools Photo: Buffalo Public Schools

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published May 23, 2018

headshot of Joe Gardella
“Our success in this competition will help us enrich science education for students in Buffalo.”
Joseph A. Gardella Jr., ISEP project lead, SUNY Distinguished Professor and the John and Frances Larkin Professor of Chemistry

Buffalo’s Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership (ISEP) is one of eight groups from across the country named by US2020 as a winner of the 2018 STEM Coalition Challenge, a competition for communities nationwide to bring hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) mentoring and maker-centered learning to underrepresented students.

The prize was made possible by Schmidt Futures and the Arconic Foundation, as well as Discovery Communications, Genentech, Fidelity Investments, Tata Consultancy Services and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

ISEP will receive a share of the contest’s $1 million prize in cash and in-kind donations to support further STEM-based learning. For two years, the program will benefit from technical assistance and membership in US2020’s national community of practice. The competition will also support two paid positions for ISEP through AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), a national service program, for 18 months.

“The Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership represents the very best of organizations dedicated to bringing STEM to students who might otherwise not have access and insight into how STEM can positively shape their futures,” said Esra Ozer, president of Arconic Foundation, a sponsor of the STEM Coalition Challenge. “We look forward to seeing the positive impact winning the STEM Coalition Challenge will have on Buffalo over the next several years.”

ISEP, which is active in middle and high schools across the Buffalo Public Schools (BPS), is led by UB, BPS, SUNY Buffalo State and the Buffalo Museum of Science. The program and its partners work to enhance STEM learning in the Buffalo Public Schools. In addition to helping bolster teachers’ knowledge in STEM subjects, ISEP brings hands-on learning to the classroom including maker-based activities, robotics and aquaponics.

“Our success in this competition will help us enrich science education for students in Buffalo,” said Joseph A. Gardella Jr., ISEP project lead, SUNY Distinguished Professor and the John and Frances Larkin Professor of Chemistry at UB. “The importance of membership in the US2020 community of practice is to broaden our connections nationwide with other leading communities focused on STEM education and building better STEM mentoring opportunities and maker spaces. These two areas have long been a key focus for ISEP.”

“The STEM Coalition Challenge recognizes some of the most innovative programs across the country that are working to make STEM learning exciting and meaningful for students. We are proud to be a part of this group,” said BPS Director of Science Education Kelly Baudo.

ISEP was selected from 92 applications from 82 communities across 35 states, representing more than 1,900 nonprofits, companies, school districts and local government partners.

“The strong response to the US2020 STEM Coalition Challenge is a testament to the pent-up demand for this approach,” notes Tom Kalil, chief innovation officer for Schmidt Futures. “Schmidt Futures is proud to provide initial support for this effort. We need an all-hands-on-deck effort to provide these opportunities for more young people — the 21st century equivalent of barn-raisings in every community in America.”

The seven other winners in the US2020 STEM Coalition Challenge are:

  • Allendale, South Carolina ­—  The Promise Zone Coalition/SRS Community Reuse Region
  • Chicago, Illinois — Project Exploration
  • Cincinnati, Ohio — Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative
  • The Dalles, Oregon — Columbia Gorge STEM Hub
  • Idaho — Idaho STEM Action Center
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ­— Remake Learning
  • Washington, D.C. ­— DC STEM

Winners were selected based on a number of factors, including their potential for impact, approach to partnership building, creative engagement strategies and sustainability planning. All will share the $1 million prize.

ISEP engages middle and high school science students in hands-on activities, including many that emphasize the use of science and engineering to solve real-world problems. Students in ISEP classrooms have completed projects such as testing water quality, building model racecars, designing robots and documenting the stages of chick development inside eggs to learn chemistry, physics, engineering and biology.

In 2017, the program expanded its work in geographic information science (GIS), partnering with the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis at UB and the Center for Educational Innovation at UB to develop a novel summer camp that helps students and teachers gain cutting-edge GIS knowledge through activities involving smartphones, drones and computers.

ISEP engages the broader community in improving science education. Through the program, UB graduate and undergraduate students in the sciences assist BPS teachers in the classroom. Corporate partners engage teachers in summer research projects that act as unique professional development experiences. Parents take part in events. In addition, ISEP is working to forge new partnerships with Buffalo-area tech, manufacturing and health care companies and organizations that are interested in workforce development through STEM education.

“ISEP’s partnership with the Buffalo Public Schools focuses on the middle school experiences of students in science and engineering as they transition to high school,” Baudo said. “The project utilizes an innovative approach to teacher professional development that started in 12 of our schools and expanded over the years.

“Teachers participated in courses and interdisciplinary research experiences. They developed science and technology classroom materials that are aligned with state science learning standards and inquiry-based curricula,” Baudo said. “ISEP has also provided summer experiences for students including, but not limited to, robotics and GIS. ISEP-funded teams have registered in multiple science and engineering competitions, and the program has held a yearly ISEP Science Summit where teachers and students showcased their learning experiences. ISEP has provided mentoring opportunities and expanded professional learning communities to build leadership and resources for improving science education in the Buffalo Public Schools.”