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Schoolbound scientists bring STEM to life

“Scientists make great role models,” said Dr. Erika Ebbel Angle, CEO and co-founder of  Ixcela, a biotechnology company in Boston. “There is nothing better than a true role model—someone who has the experience and background to be able to speak about what it is like to be a scientist.”

Participating in science fairs and the Society for Science & the Public’s 1999 Science Talent Search kindled Erika’s passion and pursuit of science and medicine. She wanted to ensure all students have the opportunities she had to participate in authentic science experiences. Looking to share her love of science with others and address the STEM workforce gap in the United States, she founded Science from Scientists in 2002. Lessons include a variety of exciting activities, such as learning to construct a cell model, creating basic circuits, examining the causes of beach erosion and much more.

“I used to think science was green bubble juice that turned you into the Hulk. Now I think science is about observation, teamwork, and discovering new things.”

“Thank you for teaching me a lot of science. Before it was kind of boring, but now you made me think it was better. The quizzes were really fun.”

These are just a few of the quotes from students after experiencing trainings from Science from Scientists, a nonprofit that sends career scientists to teach hands-on STEM lessons to elementary and middle school students. A STEM Action Grant from the Society for Science & the Public helped Science from Scientists bring their STEM enrichment program to over 5,000 students in nearly 50 schools across Massachusetts, California and Minnesota.

Scientists make great role models.

For a young student, a classroom visit from a career scientist can make all the difference in sparking a genuine interest in STEM. Science from Scientists focuses on elementary and middle school students in grades 3-8, sending scientists to classrooms to teach relevant content related to subjects such as biology, chemistry, technology, engineering, and earth sciences. Lessons covering topics such as oil spills, plate tectonics, photosynthesis, and electromagnetism help get students enthusiastic and attracted to STEM. In this age range, students tend to be most open-minded about the type of career they want to pursue and it’s clear that students who develop a curiosity in STEM fields at an early age will be the ones to stick it out. 

Students enjoy a hands-on STEM lesson from a scientist through Science from Scientists.
Students enjoy a hands-on STEM lesson from a scientist through Science from Scientists. Photo Courtesy of Arturo Martinez.

“You have a chance of really inspiring them and getting them fired up,” Erika said. “By the time a student is in high school, it’s a lot more difficult.”

In today’s classroom, time constraints and a lack of resources can make it difficult to dive deeply into hands-on STEM experiences and activities. Science from Scientists looks to address this gap with its programming in areas such as anatomy, physiology, chemistry, engineering, earth science, life science, physics and technology.

At the end of the 2016-2017 academic year, Science from Scientists reported a 14 percent improvement in pre-lesson and post-lesson quiz scores across the states where the programs took place. In surveys filled out by the teachers, 89 percent of respondents reported that students had an increased interest towards STEM because of the Science from Scientists program.

“Their knowledge about the scientific method has improved. They actually understand what different types of scientists do for a career,” Erika said.

Science from Scientists hopes to inspire students to pursue STEM by sending scientists to teach lessons in the classroom.
Science from Scientists hopes to inspire students to pursue STEM by sending scientists to teach lessons in the classroom. Photo Courtesy of Arturo Martinez.

Science from Scientists, which aims to expand to more regions across the United States, currently has 50 schools that want to participate in the program on its waiting list.

“Every dollar counts. There is tremendous need out there. It’s great that the Society for Science & the Public is participating and helping to fund programs,” Erika said.

Through the In-School Module Based STEM enrichment program, two career scientists are sent into the same classrooms every other week to teach engaging science lessons with the goal of improving students’ interest in STEM. The program takes place during the school day so that every student can have the opportunity to learn, not just those that attend afterschool programs. Science from Scientists is all about “getting people to appreciate how cool science is and helping to improve the competitiveness of STEM in this country,” Erika said.

“The students are exposed to people who have a wide-range of interests. They get to learn and have fun. They get to learn about what it is like to be a scientist,” Erika said.

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