Eunice Lewin thinks there is a "national urgency to encourage more students to get involved in science."
So when she approached some of the leaders of the City of Buffalo to create the first annual Science Week (April 7-11), she was trying to help solve that issue.
Lewin, a SUNY trustee, teamed up with UB, Buffalo State College, Erie Community College, Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) and Mayor Byron Brown to create a weeklong celebration of science for BPS students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The goal of Science Week is to highlight the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for young students, Lewin said.
The event was created in conjunction with the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership (ISEP), a coalition headed by UB. Currently, 12 schools in Buffalo are part of this partnership. ISEP is funded primarily by a $10 million National Science Foundation grant.
Lewin saw the scientific and research resources in Buffalo and recognized an opportunity to use those resources to give back to the community.
"We have incredible intellectual capital, and this is the perfect time to collaborate higher education with the public schools to help strengthen our educational pipeline and also to excite students about science," Lewin said.
Lewin worked with Dr. Joseph Gardella, a distinguished professor of chemistry who heads ISEP, and Alexander Cartwright, the vice president for research and economic development, to create Science Week.
"These STEM fields could provide access to some future employment in the region's growing innovation economy, including emerging life sciences and advanced manufacturing industries," Cartwright said in an email. "By talking about science and engaging the students in hands-on activities, we get them thinking about the possibilities."
Monday, festivities kicked off at the Native American Magnet School (School No. 19), where UB President Satish Tripathi, Senator Tim Kennedy and Buffalo State College President Howard Cohen talked about the importance of STEM. Tripathi even gave the students a science lesson.
Science Week is also intended to change the way science is taught in public schools. About 45 BPS teachers met at Buffalo State College Wednesday to highlight teacher-preparation programs and new teaching techniques.
Lewin said the SUNY system graduates more than 5,000 teachers each year and preparing future teachers remains a top priority for SUNY.
Christopher Stiles, a Ph.D. candidate at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) and a volunteer at one of the Science Week events, said the week could help improve teaching methods.
"It not only furthers our understanding by explaining something to someone that isn't classically trained in science, you have to figure out ways to relate scientific knowledge that a ninth grader can understand," Stiles said. "It lets them approach science in a much more tangible way ... That's why all these have a hands-on component, so they can touch and feel what science is."
Thursday, hundreds of high school students from BPS and charter schools converged at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute's Hohn Auditorium. CNSE hosted a "Nano Day," in which students interacted with science experiments firsthand.
Juliana Evans, a biology teacher at Burgard Vocational High School, said her students understand the lab concepts, but finding a way to apply those concepts is difficult. She thinks Science Week could have a profound impact on Buffalo.
"It gets the students interested and aware of other opportunities which can encourage them to continue working hard and stay in the area, improving the culture of Buffalo," Evans said.
Ann Mychajliw, a biology and living environment teacher at South Park High School, said Science Week is also an opportunity for students to meet professionals in various fields of science. She said it brings real-life science to students, which is difficult to do in a classroom.
Friday, Dr. Shirley Malcolm, a nationally and internationally renowned educator in the fields of STEM, and Congressman Brian Higgins will speak at Burgard High School as part of Science Week.
Lewin said though Science Week is in its infancy, it is an important addition to the Buffalo community.
"This is not a one-time thing," Lewin said. "This is an integration of what I hope is a long-term collaboration between SUNY and K-12 in Buffalo."
Amanda Low contributed reporting to this story.