Summer STEM Programs Provide Learning and Research Opportunities to Area Students (Part 2)

Part 2 of a Two-Part Series

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 these initiatives in Part 2 of our two-part series below. (See Part 1 here.)


DEUSS: Dynamic Urban Environmental Science and Sustainability

Supported by a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation, DUESS invites 12 college undergraduates to RU-N for an eight-week, STEM-focused program in June and July, where they do high-level lab and field research with professors in geochemistry, urban ecology and geophysics.

This year’s participants were from a mix of four-year and community colleges, including Hudson, Passaic, Bergen, Middlesex and Union Community Colleges, along with RU-N and schools as far away as Wisconsin. The majority are active in either the Garden State-LSAMP or NJ Bridges to Baccalaureate program, and three-quarters are underrepresented minority students.

The program, which received nearly 150 applications for the 12 slots, is run by RU-N Distinguished Service Professor Alec Gates, chair of the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences (EES), along with eight RU-N faculty he recruited from EES and the Department of Biology who take students into their lab, assign them a portion of a pre-existing research project, and oversee their work.

“These undergrads are given a piece of a project that is 100 percent their responsibility,” says Gates, “and they’re doing advanced work, in many cases cutting-edge research.”

Examples include examining the lead content of soil from public gardens in Newark; investigating greenhouse gas emissions from high marsh, low marsh and mudflats in the Hackensack Meadowlands; and exploring the use of biochar as an environmental friendly agent to remediate pollution.

These undergrads are given a piece of a project that is 100 percent their responsibility, and they’re doing advanced work, in many cases cutting-edge research.

At the end, the students prepare a professional-grade poster explaining their project and create a video of themselves presenting it. They also write an abstract and can use their posters at conferences for Garden State–LSAMP and the student chapter of the Association of Engineering and Geoscience, says Gates, who is also having them present their research to Newark high-schoolers participating in his Geoscience Summer Scholars Institute to give them extra practice.

In addition, Gates runs academic-enrichment sessions throughout the eight-week program, teaching the students about research-intensive careers in the sciences, how to apply for graduate school and grants, and the ins-and-out of writing and reading professional papers.

DEUSS is part of NSF’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program, which brings students to host institutions throughout the country to engage in theme-specific research opportunities. Students are paid a stipend and have their living, meal and transportation expenses covered. In the case of DEUSS, students receive $4K for their participation.

“It’s a tremendous experience for these students,” says Gates, “and a lot better than working a summer job at McDonalds.”

Fraser’s Fractions STEAM Summer Camp

A partnership between RU-N’s Express Newark and Fraser’s Mathematics Solutions, the Fractions STEAM camp is serving about 30 students, ages 9–14, from Newark, Orange, Irvington, South Orange, and Maplewood, NJ, for five weeks in July and August.

The camp gives them hands-on experience with coding, stencil screen-printing, laser etching and music production, along with 3D modeling and printing, cryptography, bridge engineering, and other great activities.

Fraser’s Fractions is the brainchild of Jaliyla Fraser, Supervisor of Mathematics for grades 6–12 in the East Orange, NJ, School District and a mathematics content specialist with RU-N’s Urban Teachers Education Program (UTEP). She believes mathematics can be accessible to all students if there is a clear and meaningful connection to their previous learning and the real-world.

“Exposure to mathematics should be rich and grounded in concrete experiences that bridge to the abstract,” she says. “The idea is to give the kids a chance to build, design, create, and learn to persevere through roadblocks to get the desired result.”

Computer image of 3D prosthetic handTo that end, she’s partnering with a number of local entities to broaden the campers’ experiences, including the Newark Print Shop, the 3D Form Design Studio, and Kite + Key, all of whom are part of Express Newark or located at the historic Hahne’s building. She’s also running field trips to makers spaces at NJIT and NYU, the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) in New York City, and the Grammy Museum here in Newark, and is bringing in a music producer to work with the students on producing songs, engineers from Newark’s Pennoni Associates to teach bridge design, and Apple Computer consultants to show them the coding that powers mini-robots.

RU-N Professor of Professional Practice Keary Rosen, who teaches 3D Modeling and Printing for the Department of Arts, Culture and Media (ACM) and runs Express Newark’s 3D Form Design Studio, starts his camp sessions each week introducing 3D modeling to the students and explaining how the technology is being used today. He then has them do simple projects, making patterns and building forms from sketches using standard 3D modeling software.

By week three, he launches into more advanced assignments, such as having the kids build action figures, taking into account how the body moves, the joint systems and material tolerances, and then has them make prosthetics. For both projects, Rosen exposes them to digital scanning technology and talks about current research and design in digital design and production.

“We’re trying to expose as many kids as possible to this new and important technology to fill the gaps in local schools,” says Rosen. “It’s amazing to see these kids take to this advanced work with such energy. They’re really proficient by the end. It’s been really nice to see.”