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Science Week puts STEM in the spotlight

Burgard High School students demonstrating a wind tunnel

Burgard High School students demonstrate wind tunnel exercises, part of the hands-on learning emphasized during Science Week. Photo: Elena Cala

By SUE WUETCHER

Published April 17, 2014

Science, technology, engineering and math took the spotlight last week at the first city-wide Science Week, a series of activities designed to highlight the importance of the STEM fields to Western New York’s innovation economy, including the emerging life sciences and advanced manufacturing industries.

Science Week was presented by UB, SUNY Buffalo State and Erie Community College, along with the city of Buffalo and the Buffalo Public Schools (BPS).

The idea for Science Week was conceived by SUNY Trustee Eunice Lewin, who approached UB and the area’s other SUNY institutions, as well as the city, the schools and SUNY central administration, for help in bringing the initiative to life.

It featured national speakers, professional development workshops for teachers and hands-on science activities in BPS classrooms.

President Satish K. Tripathi and student discuss EKG testing.

President Satish K. Tripathi discusses the EKG testing process with an eighth-grader at the Native American Magnet School. Photo: Elena Cala.

Among those science activities were student-led wind tunnel and shake table demonstrations on Friday at Burgard High School, one of 12 Buffalo schools participating in the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership. ISEP, funded by a $10 million National Science Foundation grant, is a coalition of partners, led by UB, that aims to transform how science is taught. It helps fill classrooms with hands-on activities that make science exciting for kids, as well as providing professional development for teachers.

About 300 Burgard students joined guests and dignitaries, including scientist and City Honors senior Yankang Yang who served as master of ceremonies; BPS Superintendent Pamela Brown; Alexander N. Cartwright, UB vice president for research and economic engagement; Buffalo State Interim President Howard Cohen; ECC President Jack Quinn; Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown; Common Council Majority Leader and Burgard graduate Demone Smith; Assemblyman Sean Ryan; Rep. Brian Higgins; Life Technologies scientist Mwita Phelps; and guest speaker Shirley Malcom. Malcom, head of education and human resources programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is internationally known for her work on STEM education.

Another ISEP school, Native American Magnet School 19, opened Science Week on Monday with in-class science activities in three classrooms.

From left teacher Heather Gerber, Superintendent Pamela Brown, UB President Satish K. Tripathi

President Satish K. Tripathi and Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Pamela Brown address Heather Gerber’s eighth-grade science class at the Native American Magnet School during activities kicking off the district’s first annual Science Week. Photo: Elena Cala

Thursday was Nano Day and nearly 450 students from Buffalo’s public and charter schools heard presentations and interacted with polymer worms, computer hard drives and hydrophobicity exploration at sessions at Roswell Park Cancer Institute hosted by SUNY’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering

Wednesday was Teacher Development Day, with Buffalo State and SUNY hosting morning sessions on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Master Teacher Program and the TeachLive Lab. Nearly 50 BPS teachers joined other area teachers, SUNY, UB and Buffalo State leaders for the discussions and demonstrations. In the afternoon, about 175 BPS science teachers took part in four round-robin sessions at McKinley High School that focused on best practices in the classroom. It included a poster session by ISEP teachers.

Perhaps the best endorsement for STEM comes from UB students studying in the fields. The students, most of whom are graduates of the Buffalo Public Schools, produced videos for Science Week.

“Engineering is all around us; it’s from design to systems — from the watch you’re wearing to how your breakfast got on the table this morning,” said Lauren Martinek, a mechanical engineering major and City Honors graduate. “It’s everywhere, and with advances in technology it’s going further and further in helping and shaping people’s lives.

“I grew up watching science fiction shows,” Martinek said, “so the idea I can help put something in space is really, really cool to me.”

Julia Morrissey, another City Honors graduate studying chemical engineering, said she’s always been interested in how things work and how things are made. Her mother is a nutritionist, so she’s also been interested in food from an early age.

“When I went into engineering, I had this idea it would be really cool if I could combine what I spent my childhood doing with a career,” Morrissey said. An internship with General Mills after her junior year at UB “made me realize that’s what I want to do.” She’ll start a job with General Mills after graduation.

“My passion is food and I realized how I could use science and engineering to make food better,” she said. “I think if you find your passion, there’s a way you can relate science and engineering to that.”