For New Haven students, a pathway to science success

Talks, demonstrations, a tour of one of Yale's newest research facilities, and an expo by undergraduate and graduate science students highlighted this year's kick-off for the Science Pathways program on Feb. 26.

First launched in 2010, the Science Pathways initiative supports public school students' success in science throughout their academic career and aims to increase the number of New Haven students who go on to earn college degrees in science. Currently, there are over 400 students in grades 6-12 enrolled in the program.

The kick-off event brought together the newest cohort of Science Pathways participants — 119 local middle and high school students — along with their friends and families. It featured a keynote presentation by Brian Scassellati, associate professor of computer science, who offered an interactive demonstration of human-like robots. Kurt Zilm, professor of chemistry and chemical engineering, followed with a hands-on chemistry demonstration.

"Our public schools have so many challenges in front of them that it is hard to expect them to do everything needed to address science literacy on their own," says Zilm. "As a scientist, I think it is really important to give back to the community by making some part of what I do everyday accessible to local students and their parents."

The newest Science Pathways participants also had tours of a West Campus laboratory and had the chance to discuss a wide variety of scientific interests and disciplines at an expo featuring 29 Yale undergraduate and graduate students. Future Pathways events this semester will include programs led by Yale's chemistry and neurobiology departments and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

"Just as they encourage Yale students in campus labs and classrooms, Professors Scassellati, Zilm and other faculty volunteers are helping New Haven middle and high school students see how science can be a part of their future," says Claudia Merson, coordinator of public school partnerships in Yale's Office of New Haven and State Affairs. "It's great that so many Yale faculty, staff and students in the sciences give their time to inspire and excite the next generation of scientists from New Haven."

New Haven public school teachers, administrators and Yale community members active in science outreach nominate promising students in grades 6-12 for the Science Pathways program. The initiative links many of the dozens of science enrichment programs offered by Yale with the public schools. Science Pathways students are encouraged to participate in Yale educational enrichment programs throughout their middle and high school years, and are invited to special monthly events.

Yale's efforts complement New Haven's comprehensive school reform initiative that includes a strong focus on improved science, technology, engineering and math curricula (STEM). According to Richard Therrien, science supervisor of the New Haven Public Schools, "Providing cutting-edge programs and curriculum to prepare our students for success in these areas is a high priority, especially with so many future career opportunities relating to science and medicine. The Yale Pathways program is an important partnership for our overall STEM initiative."

The Yale campus will also host many local young scientists when the New Haven Science Fair returns to Yale Commons for final judging, public viewing and awards celebration May 10-12. Yale faculty, staff, and students interested in joining the University's science outreach programs with New Haven schools are encouraged to contact Claudia Merson at claudia.merson@yale.edu or 203-432-4098.

— By Michael Morand