Rutgers Science Explorer celebrates program's 10th anniversary

<p>The Rutgers Science Explorer is turning 10 this year. While it was originally funded by a National Science Foundation grant, three different University schools now keep it operating.</p>

The Rutgers Science Explorer is turning 10 this year. While it was originally funded by a National Science Foundation grant, three different University schools now keep it operating.

The Rutgers Science Explorer, a modified bus with a fully-functional mobile laboratory inside, is about to celebrate its 10th birthday.

The program is taught by graduate students who are pursuing science degrees, said Patricia Irizarry, coordinator for the RSE. It is designed for middle school students to get engaged with STEM — or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. 

The RSE bus program started in January 2006 and was originally funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

Since then the bus has visited more than 125 middle schools within a 50 mile radius of New Brunswick, and taught approximately 42,000 kids. 

“We were funded by that for the first few years, and then the School of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of New Brunswick supported it for an extra five years,” she said. 

The Edison Venture Fund donated the bus and the bus itself was designed in Ohio by the OBS Company. The bus is currently being sponsored by the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, the School of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the Graduate School of New Brunswick, Irizarry said. 

The schools are members of the Mobile Lab Coalition, a group of organizations interested in STEM, and once a year they hold a conference. 

At this year’s conference, the RSE program was awarded the Outstanding Program Award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. 

Th won the award because of their system of graduate students who serve as role models for middle school students and the relationships they developed with those schools, she said. 

“Every year we get new schools requesting to be in the program, because they have heard from someone else or they learned from it in the local newspaper, but we also have schools we go to every year,” Irizarry said. “We build relationships with these schools and we work with them on a yearly basis.”

The RSE program is an extension of Rutgers interacting with the community, she said. 

“For us, it’s important to promote the outreach for science education and also combine all possible disciplines, so if you want to be a scientist in any field you are interested in, they will have to know biology and engineering and need to go to grad school for that," Irizarry said. 

The goal is to present the kids with a realistic scenario and provide specific steps they need to follow, she said. 

The RSE is also connected to the Rutgers Geology Museum as part of their outreach commitment, Irizarry said.

The geology museum and the RSE program have been working together for seven years, said Lauren Adamo, a director at the Rutgers Geology Museum. 

The museum and the RSE program work together to develop new programs at the museum, which will then be used as programs on the bus, Adamo said. 

Adamo participated in the RSE program for a year during graduate school, she said. She taught activities about volcanoes, DNA and a forensic anthropology activity called Skeleton Detectives.

Each day two graduate students will teach a 90 minute program, with each session compromised of 20 kids maximum. The sessions are approved by educational specialists who make sure the activities go hand-in-hand with New Jersey’s Next Generation Standards, Irizarry said. 

“It could be tiring because it was a whole day of teaching, but it was fun because you’re seeing somewhere around 60 to 80 students a day, and you have them on the bus for about 90 minutes to teach them these hands-on experiments," Adamo said. "So it was a lot of fun to see them go from not understanding the subject, to completing these activities." 

Adamo helped design one of the activities called Drilling Into Science, an activity that teaches how geologists look for and locate oil, she said. The RSE program was great for her professional development and taught her teaching skills.

Graduate students in STEM disciplines can apply to be in the RSE program. Students commit a full day to teach middle school kids on the RSE.

The RSE expects to continue visiting schools, she said, and are emptying a room on the third floor of the Allison Road Classroom Building on Busch campus, which will eventually turn into an outreach center.

This program offers graduate students teaching experience and the opportunity to design activities for the middle school students, Irizarry said, adding, “It’s good for their resume and their professional development." 

Nick Huber is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. He can be found on Twitter @njhuber95Huber.

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