UMMS teams up with elementary school STEM program

Faculty reach out to students in Marlborough and Worcester through Science for Shooting STARs

January 02, 2014

As part of a commitment to nurturing the future generation of scientists, UMass Medical School has partnered with Science for Shooting STARs, a statewide science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education program, to reach out to elementary school students in local communities.

Science for Shooting STARs is a network of high school student volunteers across the state who are sharing their love of science through accessible, hands-on learning. The program started two years ago by Amol and Rahi Punjabi, students at the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School, who created an after school STEM enrichment program at their local Boys and Girls Club that successfully engaged elementary school students in cutting-edge science and engineering topics. Through the integration of thought-provoking demonstrations, inquiry-driven activities and group research projects, the Science for Shooting STARs group organized the first elementary school science fair in the state, which allowed the students’ outstanding work to be recognized by parents, teachers and local media.

This year, Science for Shooting STARs has expanded to Worcester and other Greater Boston communities and now reaches out to 16 Boys and Girls Clubs, federally funded childcare centers and inner-city elementary schools every month.

In addition to discussing various science topics, Science for Shooting Stars creates opportunities for students to interact directly with science professionals, as a means of fostering an interest in science careers. Two UMMS faculty members recently volunteered to speak about their career paths and their work to elementary school students.

On Oct. 23, Rachel McColl Vuolo, MD, a pediatrician and assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics, was a guest speaker at the Southern Middlesex Opportunity Council Marlborough Resource Center. She discussed the importance of nutrition and macromolecules with a group of second through sixth graders to complement a lesson on food science. On Nov. 22, Sanjay Ram, MD, associate professor of medicine and an infectious disease specialist, was a guest speaker at the City View Discovery School in Worcester. He discussed the prevention of disease by vaccines with a group of fifth graders to complement a lesson on cell biology.

Dr. Vuolo and Dr. Ram exposed the students to a realm of science usually left unexplored until middle or even high school, and the students were eager to answer questions and ask many of their own.

"The synergy between Dr. Vuolo's presentation and our activities on food science immersed our Shooting STARs in a STEM career conversation and deepened their understanding of the topic," said Amol Punjabi, Science for Shooting STARs Metro West branch coordinator.

Annabel Consilvio, Science for Shooting STARs Worcester branch assistant, said, “I think it was great for the kids to learn from someone like Dr. Ram. He didn’t scare them with big words, and you could tell that they really knew how lucky they were to be listening to him.”

By the end of the presentations, many kids were heard saying they had learned something new. Several said that when they grew up, they wanted to be scientists themselves.

For more information about Science for Shooting STARs, visit the organization’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/scienceforshootingstars; follow @ScienceforSTARs on Twitter; or visit http://scienceshootingstars.wix.com/home.

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