Recognizing the need to encourage STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) education, Duquesne University, and Urban Innovation21 have come together to combine hands-on learning, community outreach and economic development in the Pittsburgh region, a leader in biomedical research and medical innovation.
They have launched Citizen Science Lab, which is a project aimed at kids to help bring them into the scientific loop, figuratively speaking, and gauge their interests to help cultivate their ideas and watch them come to life.
I got a chance to sit down with Dr. Andre Samuel, one of the leading founders of the project. He also serves as its director. He opens up to me about the how and why this program was started, and especially in Pittsburgh, how something like this was so desperately needed.
#WhatsYourTwist on making learning science fun?
We don’t do a lot of lectures. We spend a brief 10-15 minutes doing a brief introduction/background learning of the procedure and then we spend the rest of the time doing the hands-on experience. We work closely with the students to make sure they follow the steps properly. We teach them how to use the tools and equipment. We also make sure the experiments are relevant and that they fit as far as society is concerned. We try to incorporate art components into it.
For example, we teach the process of crystallization, by allowing students to make crystal art with pipe cleaning and a borax solution. At the August Wilson Block Party we taught dry ice rockets, which teaches about the expansion of gas but at the same time they get to launch rockets that are powered by this gas that they are making through these chemical reactions.
What’s the story behind the Citizen Science Lab?
The story behind the name is what we wanted to do and what we wanted to name the laboratory.
It’s a lab where we carry out hands-on science, but it’s also available for all the citizens of the Pittsburgh region. At times, some may think when they heard the term laboratory the site is going to be well restricted, only obtainable if you are a university/college student or someone in the medical profession industry. So we wanted our name to make sure people understand that it is something that all the people of Pittsburgh have access to and with the help of our hired marketing team we created and came up with a name that conveys that message.
So is the Citizen Science Lab a local only organization? Any plans to go global?
We plan on going global. We have big dreams for the Citizen Science Lab.
Please explain the details of your Drug Design Intensive Workshop.
The program starts July 5th and runs through August 3rd. It’s a program where students can earn up to a $125 weekly stipend.
Hill District residents in grades 10-12 can work in a real laboratory to gain experience with molecular modeling. The program’s hours are weekdays at 12:30pm- 3:30pm. For further questions and concerns, folks can drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The $125 stipend is earned on a weekly basis by participation and completion of all the sessions that are required.
It’s pro-rated on a daily basis. So if you come in and do all the programming for the day then yes, you will get a $125 for that week, if you miss a day, then that day is pro-rated and not only do you miss out on the knowledge and experience, but you also miss out on pay for that day. Once you complete the course you get paid via check.
Are all of your workshops free?
Some of our workshops are free. Some of our programs are free. But there are tuition fees attached to all our weekend workshops.
There is a scholarship available that is on our web page. Criteria include income, minority, and certain neighborhoods. We also take into consideration whether or not they are being raised by a single parent or not. Depending on how many of these criteria you meet, it can get you anywhere from 50-100% off the cost of our programming.
Now in addition to that, our programming is completely free for any Hill District residents! So scholarship application is not even required if you are a Hill District resident. All we need is proof of residency.
Occasionally we open up our lab and do free programming for everyone, just because we can. We have done it in the past because of the donations we received it has allowed us to do a free 4-week intro to Python, which is a computer coding class.
What ages does your workshop range?
Our workshops are really great for kids in 3rd – 12th grade, but we do have adult programming as well.
What is your most recent success story dealing with the participants of the programming?
When kids come into the lab and use it for their own personal projects that they enter into competitions, such as the PJAS (Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science).
Once you come in here and continue to visit, not only do you generally get a sparked interest in the scientist, picking up crucial skills that are universally required at a 2-4 year college/university. It also gives you an advantage, for example if you are applying for a job as a veterinary assistant or a research technician, while these employments don’t necessarily require college degrees, they are looking for certain skills one of many could include the knowing of how to run electrophoresis, bacterial culture, and cell culture. Even 4-year university students don’t necessarily get the experience to do.
Is the Citizen Science Lab planning on any field trips? If so, where?
Yes, one being the Seaperch national competition that we have planned. And we are also looking to try to organize trips to the Nature Biology Observatory further out by Ohio Pile. Then Duquesne University has an old mining field site next to a lake which we plan to do some survey’s of the wildlife and catalog the wildlife too, this is not something planned for the immediate future, this is something we are looking into for the 2017 schedule.
Dr. Samuel was personally inspired by the plays and writings of Pittsburgh native August Wilson, that he now makes it his mission to help Pittsburgh’s youth, by making a difference with each and every individual who applies for his workshops over on his website.
Co-Founded by Urban Innovation21 and Duquesne University, the Citizen Science Lab is a program every parent and child should be enrolling in.
Images used in article courtesy of their Facebook page.