Issue Date: June 13, 2011
Chemists In Training
It’s a scene typical of an industrial chemistry lab. Roughly 50 people dressed in white lab coats are concentrating on experimental procedures: setting up titrations, checking pH meters, analyzing spectra. They may look like experts, but these experimenters don’t have a degree in chemistry. They’re eighth-grade students from Robert Treat Academy, an inner-city charter school in Newark, N.J., and they’re getting real-world lab experience, thanks to Students 2 Science.
Students 2 Science is a new nonprofit corporation in East Hanover, N.J., that is providing laboratory experiences to middle school and high school students, with a particular emphasis on minority, underrepresented, inner-city, and female students. Students work alongside professional chemists who are volunteering to serve as mentors.
“As scientists, we love sharing our work,” says Paul A. Winslow, who founded Students 2 Science in 2007 with the help of fellow chemists Richard F. Meyer and Donald V. Truss. “Our mission is to inspire and motivate children to pursue science-related careers.”
Students 2 Science gives students the opportunity to experience working in an industrial lab. “By the very nature of the dangers and the liabilities that are associated with laboratory operations, kids never really get to see what a laboratory experience is,” Winslow continues. “We’ve created a safe environment without taking away the commercial setting, the complexity, and the sophisticated nature of chemistry.”
At the heart of Students 2 Science’s facilities is a 10,000-sq-ft analytical chemistry lab equipped with high-tech instrumentation donated by local chemical and pharmaceutical companies. These companies, along with private foundations and individuals, also provide funding to sponsor students from disadvantaged backgrounds so they can attend the program for free. For example, a grant from BASF sponsored the students from Robert Treat Academy.
These students “exemplify the academic and personal achievements that are possible for students who are given the opportunity to thrive,” says Donna Jakubowski, community relations specialist at BASF. “Not only do these students get to experience advanced science in a professional laboratory setting, they also interact with scientists and mentors to learn about what they do and explore potential career paths.”
“The exposure to real scientists doing everyday work is invaluable,” says Christine Kelley-Kemple, a science teacher at Robert Treat Academy. “Many of our students don’t have that example at home.”
In Students 2 Science’s core science program, middle school students visit the lab three times during the year and conduct experiments that reinforce state and national core curriculum standards. Truss says that they focus on middle school students because studies have shown middle school is the time when students in the U.S. are most likely to be interested in science. Students 2 Science also offers programs for high school students and continuing education workshops for teachers.
For Winslow, Students 2 Science is his way of giving back to the chemistry community. Winslow received a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and worked in industry for many years before cofounding Quantitative Technologies Inc., an independent contract analytical testing laboratory. Winslow retired in 2007 when he sold QTI to Intertek. “I came from a very modest background,” Winslow says. “My brother and I were the first generation in our family to graduate high school. I really believe that education, and specifically science education, created all the opportunities and the success that I’ve enjoyed over my professional career.”
Students 2 Science’s volunteers share Winslow’s vision for improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. “I like looking at their faces and seeing that lightbulb turn on,” says medicinal chemist Fran Nelson, who has volunteered roughly two days per week for the past year as a mentor. “You have to remember that they’re middle school students, so the concepts in this lab are way beyond their years, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take something away from what they’re doing—the ability to analyze data, to look at results, to interpret data based on the information they’ve had, and to have some real-life experiences here,” says Nelson.
Winslow hopes to expand Students 2 Science into a franchise with facilities around the country. In the near-term, he and his partners are working to integrate distance-learning capabilities so that more schools can participate. “I think our true value is in facilitating the relationship between the private business sector and public education,” he says. “Our goal is to reach as many kids as we possibly can.”
The nonprofit analytical chemistry lab Students 2 Science is run entirely by volunteers. Dozens of chemists from around New Jersey have put in countless hours guiding students through their experimental procedures and advising them on career opportunities in the sciences. Many of these chemists have spent decades working in industry and are now giving back to their community. Others are in transition and looking for ways to stay active and connected. They share a passion for outreach and for improving science education among today's youth. In the next few slides, you'll meet some of these volunteers and see them at work.
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