By Ehlayna Napolitano NEWS EDITOR Hofstra’s Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Research will be a part of a new five-year STEM outreach program, as a result of a $2.5 million grant awarded to the facility by the National Science Foundation. The project, spearheaded by engineering professor Dr. David Burghardt, will aim to spread STEM-based educational opportunities to middle school-aged children. Across metropolitan New York and Long Island, the project and its leaders will work with Boys and Girls Clubs as outlets for these opportunities, according to a University news release. Burghardt worked to create a proposal to the National Science Foundation that would be acceptable in terms of both having a novel idea to research, as well as having the credibility to establish a basis for funding. “Writing a proposal is like creating a new course… to do a good proposal takes at least six months of effort,” Burghardt said. “…It’s, in part, hard work and you have to be a little lucky as well.” The plans for the educational project include creating a curriculum during the first year that involves projects that incorporate both an online element and a physical element. According to Burghardt, he and his colleagues use the online environment, called WISEngineering to provide students with guidelines, accessibility and feedback. An important aspect of this online environment is providing a basis for applicability for the lessons being learned. “There’s a piece of social engagement that for some becomes an important key… we’re trying to create a ‘who cares’ piece to this [project],” Burghardt said. According to Burghardt, student involvement in the project is currently limited and in its fledgling stages because the project is just getting underway. However, in a few months, he anticipates more student involvement. Jelyssa Fuertes, a senior electrical engineering major, has worked to create design projects for students in 3rd–6th grade. Her goals include creating fun programs that use math and science lessons students have been learning in school, with a special focus on women in science. “Being a female engineering student, it is so discouraging seeing how few female students are in my classes. I am hoping to spark more interest in the female genre so that hopefully they can continue to follow in my footsteps,” Fuertes said. Currently, Burghardt said he is working with three students to create activities for students – including one that involves making a solar cooker out of a pizza box that can be used to bake s’mores. This project received positive feedback from the pilot program students and worked well as an aspect of Burghardt’s program. “I have very talented people working on this with me,” Burghardt said.
Burghardt noted that several other faculty members would be collaborating with him closely on the project. Dr. Xiang Fu, a computer science professor, will be working as the co-principal investigator. He will lead the online learning environment, while Dr. Margaret Hunter, also an engineering professor, will head the professional development aspects of the project. The STEM learning opportunities will target middle school students. Through a partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs, the participating children will work on design projects in both hands-on and computer-based platforms, according to the news release. The partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs will provide a unique opportunity for both the researchers and the students. “This experience will allow our members to obtain the skills, knowledge and cognitive behavior needed to be globally competitive in the 21st century, and also fulfills our priority to provide strong, evidence-based programs that focus on academic success,” Melissa A. Rhodes, executive director of the Glen Cove Boys and Girls Club, said in the news release. The Center for STEM Research will be working with the Brookhaven Lab, a facility that has often been a part of the joint research efforts the Center has worked on in the past 20 years. The research will focus on how kids learn in an informal setting–a topic that Burghardt said has been the subject of very little research. The online aspects of the program will also allow researchers to study the interactions, time spent on tasks and changes over time that the students present. “It ends up being a big data project,” Burghardt said. The grant program, which will span over five years, is another in a long string of awards that the facility has received in support of its research efforts. According to the news release, the grant is the 13th that the research center has been awarded, all of which have totaled about $35 million in 20 years. The project began implementation on Sept. 1. “If it works, it becomes infinitely scalable,” Burghardt said. “That’s my goal.”