Promoting STEM education to Baltimore’s young people

Beyond acquiring data and publishing results, the graduate school experience should be more focused on being able to learn and understand new things from our daily experiments. It is also our responsibility as scientists to be able to share this knowledge to the public.

STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

For the last few years at Johns Hopkins University, I am very happy to have had the chance to be a part of volunteer programs geared towards helping  young people in Baltimore’s schools. Two of those are specifically for promoting STEM (that is, science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in elementary and high school students: STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools (SABES) and Women in Science and Engineering Program (WISE). I think both are really good programs.

I’ve met mentors and staff that are very dedicated to running these programs, and I highly recommend that graduate students participate in these mentoring opportunities. Seeing the students’ output at the end of the program and how they developed their skills within a short time is very fulfilling. It’s also surprising how I learned so much from teaching them, because it somehow requires me to be able to explain my research to these kids.

SABES, a five-year project that involves nine Baltimore City elementary and elementary/middle schools, is aimed at improving the city’s STEM curriculum and delivery in third through fifth graders. Mentors come to afterschool programs, and help students in their inquiry-based projects. The goal is to help the kids think in both a scientific and engineering way in the projects.

It’s so nice to see that the kids are very excited, and it’s very easy to get them involved in all the activities. I was surprised at first as to how competitive they are with each other, which I think drives them to be more interested and perform better in the assigned activities. I like how the program provides hands-on experience to the mentors in teaching the kids and how the structure of the program lets the kids think on their own rather than dictating what they should do.

Spring 2015 STEM Showcase organized by SABES.

Spring 2015 STEM Showcase organized by SABES (Used with permission)

The WISE program started in 2005 as a collaboration between Garrison Forrest School and Johns Hopkins University. The goal is to encourage female high school students from Baltimore to pursue their interest in science and engineering. The program allows these students to work in a research lab in Hopkins with their graduate student mentors. At the end, they were asked to give a presentation about their work in front of the other students, graduate student mentors and professors. I had a chance to mentor one student last Spring, and she is now accepting admission offers from colleges and universities and is planning to major in biology.

Overall, I think these programs are helpful to both the students and the mentors—students get more exposure to STEM activities while the mentors get to take a break from research by talking to the kids and sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm in science with these students. Usually, grad students would have a couple of coffee breaks within a day; why not be a mentor for a few hours per week and spend time with young kids to talk about science? Who knows, you might be helping a child become a future scientist or engineer from these simple things. It’s definitely, worth your time.

Herdeline Ann Ardoña is a fourth year INBT graduate student in the Johns Hopkins Department of Chemistry working in Professor J. D. Tovar’s lab. She is co-advised by Professor Hai-Quan Mao.

Media inquiries should be directed to INBT science writer Mary Spiro at mspiroATjhuDOTcom. 

Getting WISE about science and engineering

As a graduate student, outreach is an instrumental part of our educational experience, whether we are presenting our recent work at a conference or mentoring a new student who joins the lab. Here at Hopkins, we are presented with ample opportunities that would fall under each of these categories. One of the rewarding activities in which I have participated is the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program in partnership with Garrison Forest Schoo (GFS)l, an all-girls school located in Owings Mills, Maryland.

labwarestockThe WISE program is a partnership between GFS and Johns Hopkins University, and each year, around 14 interested juniors and seniors take part in a four-month research program. Students in the WISE program are matched with a graduate student research mentor who could be from a number of Hopkins programs, including the Schools of Engineering, Medicine, Arts and Sciences, and Public Health. The WISE students come to Hopkins for six hours each week, where they are able to participate in laboratory activities, department seminars, group meetings, classes, and even try their hand at a few experiments.

During my second year, I was able to serve as a mentor to two WISE students, and I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to mentor them. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to be able to explain my project on nanoparticle-based drug delivery systems for cancer treatment so that they could understand the research and also be able to explain it to their fellow students and teachers. I wasn’t sure how much they would be able to do, but throughout the course of the program, they were able to learn how to use pipettes, prepare the nanoparticle solutions and even try to culture cells and view them under a microscope. At the conclusion of the program, they both gave ten-minute presentations on all that they learned. Both said that without this program, they might not have strongly considered a future major in a science field but would certainly do that as a result of their experiences.

Again this year, we have another WISE student working in our lab with a first-year Biomedical Engineering graduate student. Between reading some background information on the project, learning how to use the equipment, and even trying a few simple experiments, it has been a busy, but enjoyable, first few weeks in the program.

If you are interested in more information about the WISE program, please visit I would encourage everyone to strongly think about becoming a mentor for a WISE student in the future. It was a rewarding experience for me, and I hope it will continue to push new students into STEM fields for their future careers.

John-Michael Williford is a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering working in the laboratory of Hai-Quan Mao.


Sharing knowledge through ChemBE’s STEM education initiative

While being in the world of science, I have discovered I am most fulfilled when I am able to share my knowledge and experiences with others. What could be more rewarding than sharing our scientific knowledge to inspire the people who could potentially be the next generation of educators to get involved in science and engineering? Since I have been part of an awesome outreach opportunity within the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChemBe), I wanted to share with you about this experience.

Angela Jimenez, left, with some of the kids in the STEM program.

Angela Jimenez, left, with some of the kids in the STEM program.

The Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) education initiative in the ChemBe department was started by graduate students to foster and encourage science and engineering in kids of a wide range of ages at different Baltimore city recreation centers. ChemBe former PhD students Dr. Stephanie Fraley and Dr. Jeannine Coburn in collaboration with center directors Joshua Fissell (South Baltimore) and William Sullivan (Ella Bailey) launched STEM during the fall semester of 2009. I personally joined STEM since then, and I actually participated in the initial meetings to bring this initiative live.

STEM meetings are organized at the beginning of every semester by the service chairs from the Graduate Student Liaison Committee (GSLC) of the ChemBE department. Service chairs along with the interested graduate students meet to plan and decide the general topic and subtopics that will be cover during that particular semester. As we started visiting recreation centers back in 2009, we realized that the kids followed and enjoyed more the interaction with graduate students if we had a general theme and built on that theme during the different meetings. Deciding on a theme and subtopics is the primary goal of the first general meeting.

Once the theme and the subtopics are decided, we divide into groups of three to four graduate students to distribute the subtopics. After that first meeting, the individual groups are responsible for preparing hands-on experiments to teach kids about the basic science of that particular topic before traveling to the Baltimore City Recreation Center. We usually meet one week before going to the center to plan out the experiments, and we spend about two hours with the kids on site. We organize the meetings this way so that each graduate student goes once per semester to the recreation center; therefore, the time commitment is minimal.

Building the bed garden.

Building the bed garden.

During one semester we built a bed garden at the South Baltimore Recreation Center and taught kids the science behind plant growth and cooking. They also had the opportunity to visit the White House kitchen garden. Although I did not get the chance to visit the White House garden, I have pleasant memories about crafting the garden with the kids. I remember the kids really enjoying planting basil, tomatoes and other plants while getting messy with the dirt as they learned about scientific principles. For instance, this semester the general theme is great scientific discoveries and among the subtopics to be covered are light and gravity, telecommunications, evolution, medicine, and astronomy.

We are currently working with the Roosevelt Recreation Center in Hampden, but we have also worked with the Ella Bailey and South Baltimore recreation centers. Every semester we mentor about 14 kids of various ages, typically ranging from 8 to 14 year olds.

Besides this being an unparalleled opportunity to share our knowledge and improve our communication and teaching skills, we also get to interact and meet other graduate students in the department. By making education accessible to kids in our community we are providing a platform for understanding and potential contributions to science and engineering in the years to follow. Our ultimate goal is to awake and instill in the youths a passion for discovery and innovation, the passion that is constantly shaping our future.

Angela Jimenez is fifth year pre-doctoral candidate in the Denis Wirtz lab in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.