Students 2 Science Gets Students Excited about STEM Education

Their motto is “Inspire — Motivate — Educate,” and the numbers are astounding: about 66,000 students and 1,000 teachers served in 10 years.

Students 2 Science (S2S), based in East Hanover, is the brainchild of President Paul Winslow and his cofounders: Richard Meyer, Donald Truss and Larry Fox. The organization has one primary purpose: to educate students in underserved areas in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

The organization does this through an on-site laboratory program, run by volunteer mentors (scientists from the surrounding area, courtesy of various corporations). This on-site program is called “Improving Student Affinity and Aptitude for Careers in STEM” (ISAAC). There is also the Virtual Laboratory program, called “V-Lab” for short. Under this program, veteran biochemists and other scientists prepare experiments to be broadcast to classrooms throughout New Jersey and beyond. (Think “global.” They do.)

Gary Sarkis, director of operations, S2S Newark Technology Center and Alejandra Ceja, executive director, Panasonic Foundation at an ISAAC session at the S2S Newark Technology Center. | Courtesy S2S

The ISAAC program serves middle and high school students, while the V-Lab program serves the same demographic in addition to elementary schools.

According to Catherine “Kit” Nugent, vice president of external engagement, things have progressed nonstop since the 10,000-square-foot S2S Newark Technology Center was inaugurated, in May 2018. “From the day that we opened the site, Gary Sarkis [director of operations] had to hire his staff and start training his staff, so it was our first year of implementation; and now we’re refining things and aligning the work of S2S to the district schools for STEM career pathways.”

“S2S is a convener,” Winslow stated. “We are here to serve as a bridge between the public and private sector.  Our corporate partners are unanimously seeking a ready workforce connected to the skills and high-demand careers throughout the state of New Jersey and across the country. We understand the skills needed and teach students through modern technologies, role models and experiences that bring STEM to life. Also, our corporate partners are committed to Newark students and the community through nurturing their passion for science from the first experiment to a thriving career in one of New Jersey’s many STEM companies.”

Cory Booker spoke at the inauguration of the Newark Technology Center | Esther Surden

The East Hanover location, opened in 2009 at 66 Deforest Avenue, is home to one ISAAC laboratory and one V-Lab.  This facility is the former location of Teva Pharmaceutical  Industries. The Newark location, which has six ISAAC labs and two V-Labs, is funded through a partnership among S2S, the Newark Board of Education and the City of Newark, along with corporate supporters.

Panasonic Corporation of North America (Newark), understanding the value of STEM education and of the Newark Technology Center, awarded the organization a $1.5 million grant when the Center opened.

The Newark facility is on the lower level of 765 Broad Street, the same building as the central office of the Newark Board of Education. “That in itself is very telling about the kind of commitment they’ve given,” said Winslow.

An intern at the S2S Newark Technology Center with Dr. Paul Winslow
An intern at the S2S Newark Technology Center with Dr. Paul Winslow | Esther Surden

Nugent said that the Newark Board of Education had made a huge commitment to the organization, including payment for the construction and outfitting of the laboratories, as well as some of the employees’ salaries. “They are more than 100% in on this project, and want everything to continue in this positive direction. So, we thank Superintendent Roger León for his commitment to the project.”

S2S sees itself and the Newark Technology Center as a national model for authentic STEM education and urban community development. In addition to recognizing the hard work done by S2S, authoritative observers credit the organization with creating an ecosystem that brings together not only the school district and the mayor’s office, but also corporate partners, higher education partners and community leaders, who are all encouraging the organization to reach its full potential.

Sarkis sang the Center’s praises. “It’s the newness of the facility,” he said. “You see it in the students, you see it every day. And it’s not only what you see in the laboratory, but what they are getting taught. Biotechnology is served to the students [as a way] to look at the consequences of overpopulation, and the solution will come from science and their generation.”

According to Sarkis, if there is any hesitance on a student’s part to getting involved, that changes immediately — with one simple step. “You know what seems to do wonders? It is putting on the uniform!  When they don the lab coat, safety goggles and gloves, it really makes them feel like a scientist. It is sometimes called the superhero effect.” He added, “We want to basically bring the students into these labs and show them that they can be scientists, that they shouldn’t be afraid to do science, that this is reachable by them, that science is exciting and being in a lab is a lot of fun, and it opens your mind to things you might not have thought about before.”

Nugent summarizes the need for the Students 2 Science vehicle. “I think it comes at a crucial time in the state where we have hundreds of thousands of jobs that are open in STEM-related fields, and some would even argue that we go beyond hundreds of thousands into a half million or million when you specify things such as coding or computer literacy. We would say at Students 2 Science that there are no jobs anymore that don’t have STEM as an integral part.”

She added, “We think it’s time, we’re getting a great reception, we’re excited and we’ve got a lot to do.”

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