New STEM program coming to Long Island Science Center

A new STEM program coming to the Long Island Science Center will address gender and poverty barriers. 

The five-session program, which will begin October 28 and 29, will welcome fifth- and sixth-grade students from Pulaski Street School, Aquebogue Elementary School, Riverhead Middle School, and students in grades 3-8, to focus on printing and engineering design.

Spearheaded by Pulaski Street School media specialist Amelia Estevez-Creedon and the Center’s executive director Cailin Kaller, the program was made possible through a $20,000 grant from the Long Island Community Foundation.

The grant allowed the center to purchase equipment for the class and to pay educators to deliver the course, Ms. Kaller said.

Students will get a tutorial on what 3D design is, how it’s created and then will be guided how to use Tinkercad, a 3D design program, and Polar Cloud, a 3D printing program. Kids can print a design every week.

Ms. Kaller said the Science Center was motivated to create a program that would bring young people into STEM who may not have been involved in or had access to it.

“We are far enough out on the East End that there are not as many opportunities for programs like this for children who live in this area,” Ms. Kaller said. “So that became our focus: how can we introduce some of these programs, do it for a community that may not have the ability to sign up for some of these expensive online courses, but still bring to kids the idea that STEM really is for everybody.”

After speaking to Ms. Estevez-Creedon about potential programs and the needs of her students last spring, Ms. Kaller said she applied for the grant.

“Her feedback helped us solidify the grant, really let the Long Island Community Foundation know we had a need for this, we had a way we would fulfill this and there was interest from the community,” Ms. Kaller said.

Students in the program. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

A big part of engineering design, Ms. Kaller said, is collaborating with others. For that reason, the Center is partnering with several local groups to offer bilingual programs and communication “in the hope to break that barrier to STEM.”

The Center will work with SEPA Mujer, an organization which helps Latina immigrant women and girls; Riverside Rediscovered, a community-driven initiative to bring economic and social activity to Riverside; the Butterfly Effect, a nonprofit designed to empower young girls; and Girls Inc., an organization that advocates for gender equity for all girls in all areas of their lives.

Ms. Estevez-Creedon said the after-school program is a “step up” from the four projects Pulaski students pursue in the library throughout the year.

“The kids in the fifth grade [at Pulaski] are getting exposure to technology in a way they never have before,” Ms. Estevez-Creedon said. “Once they go into this after-school program, they can take that foundation and problem-solve what they’ve learned from basics to conceptualize and produce something that is real and tangible.”

Ms. Kaller said many girls and minorities are not entering STEM fields as frequently as their male counterparts, and many future careers focus in on technology.

Female students’ achievement in mathematics and science is on par with their male peers and female students participate in high-level mathematics and science courses at similar rates as their male peers, with the exception of computer science and engineering, according to 2018 data from the National Science Foundation.

“If we can introduce technology at a younger age, we may have a better chance of them getting interested and involved when they are at the high school-age,” Ms. Kaller said. “… we thought this would be a really great way to try to bring those ideas and break some of those barriers. Because it really is for everybody.”

The Science Center is still accepting applications for the after-school program. It is available to all children, but underserved children will be prioritized. Tuition assistance is available. Parents interested in signing up are encouraged to contact the Science Center directly.

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