The STEM Accelerator Program received the “2016 Programs that Work” award from Gov. Terry McAuliffe at the Library of Virginia in Richmond on Jan. 20.
Directed by Dr. Padmanabhan (Padhu) Seshaiyer at George Mason University, this is the second time the program has been recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia since it has continued to show evidence of its positive impact on student and teacher learning from across the state in both rural and urban areas, and statewide.
This year, the STEM Accelerator was recognized for two of its summer programs which included FOCUS (Females of Color Underrepresented in STEM), designed to engage and pique the interest of middle school girls by offering exciting hands-on STEM activities, and the STEM Bootcamp, a residential pre-intervention summer program that helps incoming freshmen in STEM get prepared for college.
WashingtonExec spoke with Dr. Seshaiyer about winning the award for the second year in a row, the numerous STEM-related programs he’s started at GMU and upcoming local STEM events.
WashingtonExec: What was your response when you heard that you received the award again?
Dr. Seshaiyer: I was very excited and happy to learn that we were recognized for being an exemplary STEM program in the Commonwealth. This was the second time in a row for the STEM Accelerator to be recognized for this award, and this one was more special to be receiving the award directly from the Governor!
WashingtonExec: What do you think it is about the STEM Accelerator that makes it stand out from other programs?
Dr. Seshaiyer: The diversity in the programs that impacts students, teachers, educators, parents and members of the community at all levels!
As the director of the STEM Accelerator Program, I have been fortunate to work with outstanding faculty and students to initiate in a short time numerous new STEM programs at all levels including:
- STEM Mania — Summer camp for grades 3-5
- Regional STEM fair — A K-8 Science and Engineering Fair for elementary and middle school students
- FOCUS (Females of Color Underrepresented in STEM) — Summer camp for middle school girls
- High School Mentored Research through partnership with school districts in Northern Virginia
- STEM Boot camp — a pre-interventional program for incoming freshmen to get them ready for four-years of college in STEM
- Undergraduate Learning Assistants Program that offers peer-to-peer mentoring opportunities both within the university, as well as partnering community colleges
- Research experience for undergraduate and graduate students through mentorship and experiential learning
- Discipline-Based Education Research — A platform for sharing best teaching practices among faculty
- STEM Teacher Professional Development (PD) Programs for engaging teachers in effective pedagogical practices through problem solving and lesson study
WashingtonExec: What advice do you have for parents/students looking to get involved in STEM activities?
Dr. Seshaiyer: It is important to start children early and engage them often in STEM. This will not only give them the ability to have a strong foundation, but also helps them to become better critical thinkers and creative problem solvers. Children like to ask “why” things work, and this gives a great chance for parents to engage with them in a STEM exploration.
There are many free opportunities in the Northern Virginia and the Greater D.C. area — including the STEM Symposium that will be held at Nysmith [on]March 12 [and] the USA Science and Engineering Festival that will happen in the Washington, D.C. Convention Center in April. Such events not only help the children to learn about STEM in a fun, exciting and meaningful way, but also helps to leave a long-lasting effect on the children to keep coming back for more.
WashingtonExec: How can students get involved with the STEM Accelerator?
Dr. Seshaiyer: The K-8 Science Fair that will be hosted in May 2016 and the FOCUS middle school girls camp that will be hosted in July 2016 are great events for elementary and middle school students to take advantage of. Send emails to GMUSTEM@gmail.com to find out more information. Undergraduate students attending Mason can contact the STEM Accelerator to possibly apply for Learning Assistant scholarships and also possibly apply to become counselor for the summer STEM Activities.