Professor Alec Gates and Geoscience Summer Scholars stand around large-scale model

Summer STEM Programs Provide Learning and Research Opportunities to Area Students


Rutgers University–Newark has long been a leader in building programs to increase participation of underrepresented minority college students in STEM fields. It also has been strongly dedicated to forging high school–to–college pathways for Newark and Essex County secondary-school students. This summer, there are five programs at RU-N that combine these two goals, bringing nearly 130 area students to campus for dynamic academic enrichment.

Read more about some of these initiatives in the first installment of our two-part series below. (read part two)


Geoscience Summer Scholars Institute

Now in its 10th year, the Geoscience Summer Scholars Institute brings up to 90 Newark high school students to RU-N for a four-week program in July and August to introduce them to careers in earth and environmental sciences, including energy, environmental science, mining and mineral resources, and surface engineering.

RU-N Distinguished Service Professor Alec Gates, chair of the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences (EES), runs the program with four Newark public-school teachers and 7–10 undergraduates from RU-N and Essex Community College, all of whom are part of the Garden State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (GS-LSAMP) program, which draws underrepresented and minority students into STEM fields and which Gates also leads.

Over the four weeks, the 63 high school students participating this year are doing hands-on classroom and lab activities that teach them how pollution flows in ground water, and how rivers work and flooding occurs.  They’re also learning about a “carnival of disasters,” as Gates calls them, including tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanoes, along with oil drilling and other related applied geological topics.

Geoscience Summer Scholars gathered in the woodsThe students take two field trips per week (eight total) to local sites where they can experience what they’re learning: This includes a zinc mine in northern NJ; an iron mine in Sterling Forest, NY, that Gates describes as “the fluorescent mineral capital of the world”; the NJ coastline to see how oceans work; a Meadowlands boat tour; a cavern and cave on the Pennsylvania border; and the Great Falls Hydroelectric Co. plant in Paterson, NJ. They also do an environmental study of nearby parks, testing water and soil, followed by lab analysis with professional equipment.

Gates brings in recent RU-N graduates who are working in related fields to talk with the students as well.

“The goal of this program is to expose the kids to applied earth sciences, not just theory, to show them how things actually work and how they can go out in the world and get jobs,” says Gates. “We also want them talking to recent alums from Newark who are just like them so they can visualize a career path and see themselves in these roles.”

The students receive an $850 stipend for participating in the institute, made possible by a variety of funding streams. The program started with a six-year National Science Foundation grant and is now funded by the City of Newark Youth Employment Program, Newark Public Schools, Garden State LSAMP, and private foundations.

It is one of Gates’ longest-running summer programs.


A collaboration of RU-N’s Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP) and Jersey City’s Liberty Science Center, t-STEM recently brought 21 rising seniors from high schools in Newark, Jersey City, East Orange and Parlin, NJ, to campus for a two-week program in July. The goal: to expose students to STEM fields and teaching, to facilitate collaboration and hands-on problem-solving, and to raise awareness of social-justice issues affecting the community and show the students how to use STEM in the classroom to address those issues.

“We want the kids to be able to see connections between the teaching of STEM and real-world issues,” says UTEP Project Coordinator Ivette Rosario, who oversaw t-STEM along with instructors Leslie Hayes and Elizabeth Carletta, of Liberty Science Center, and was aided by a handful of undergraduate student-teachers from UTEP and NCAS who served as mentors for the high-schoolers.

The students were put through the paces of STEM-related classroom activities each day, participated in a STEM carnival that tested their skills, took field trips to the Liberty Science Center and Maker Depot in Totowa, NJ, learned about educational equity from a NYC theater company, and spoke with a panel of local teachers about their experiences in the profession.

t-STEM students in class with instructorThey also read about social justice issues and how they relate to STEM, whether it be lead-contaminated water currently afflicting certain sections of Newark or female factory workers in Orange, NJ, who were exposed to radiation and its after-effects in the early 20th century. The instructors showed the students how these and similar issues can be incorporated into STEM lesson plans.

“We stressed that we don’t need to choose STEM or social justice in our teaching. In fact, it’s better to explore how they’re interconnected,” says Rosario.

The t-STEM program, now in its third year, was funded by a Next Generation Learning Challenges grant secured by UTEP from the U.S. Department of Education.

For their final presentation, the kids chose one social-justice issue from the case-study literature and demonstrated to their peers how they would weave that issue into an actual STEM class as teachers.
“They had to synthesize what they had learned about STEM, social justice and teaching,” says Hayes. “It was great to see them bring it all together.”

RUN IMAGE STEM Immersion Program

Supported by RU-N’s Office of the Chancellor and the NASA-Rutgers NJ Space Consortium, this eight-week STEM research training experience introduces rising 11th and 12th graders to state-of-the-art instrumentation and experimental methods in cell biology.

The program, which bolsters underrepresented minorities in the sciences, has eight participants this summer—six female and two male—who hail from four Newark high schools, along with schools in Wayne and North Bergen, NJ. They were accepted on the basis of their grades in biology and chemistry, and on strong recommendations from teachers.

From early July to the end of August, they’re spending their days in the lab of RU-N Professor of Cell Biology Ed Bonder, who directs the initiative, doing a variety of experiments using advanced microscopes to learn about changes that take place in cells.

Microscope images of cellsBonder and his staff of graduate students take the participants through a number of steps to accomplish this, teaching them first how to grow cells in culture, then treat these with various substances called reagents, which prompt chemical reactions in the cells. The students then learn how to examine the cells’ responses using fluorescence microscopy.

“With powerful microscopes, they’re essentially spying on cells that are making genetically engineered fluorescent proteins,” says Bonder. “This is not an experience they’ll typically get in high school.”

Finally, Bonder and his staff will teach the students how to use research imaging software to analyze and quantify the dynamic movements and changes in the physical properties of the cells.  

For the students, this invaluable experience is free, with the cost of transportation to and from campus, along with meals, included. They also take field trips, including to Zeiss Microscopy to learn more about advanced microscope technology.

The Chancellor’s Office has funded the program for three years through established partnerships with local schools, and Bonder sought NASA’s additional support for the first time this year.

The space agency has a long track record partnering with colleges via its state NASA Space Grant Consortiums, says Bonder, funding undergraduate fellowships and research focused not only on conventional areas such as rocket design but also on sustaining life in space, which is where RUN IMAGE comes in.

“NASA wants to know things like the how well plants can grow and be fertilized in space, along with the physics of microscopy and changes happening real-time inside cells at zero-gravity,” he says. “So, RUN IMAGE falls into NASA’s interests perfectly.”


(read part two)