SUNY Oswego graduate students to mentor middle-schoolers in STEM

OSWEGO — Graduate students at SUNY Oswego this spring will join those from five other SUNY colleges and universities to expand an afterschool program to mentor high-need middle school students in the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines.

The college will receive $139,500 over two years to pilot the program at Oswego Middle School, part of a $2.95 million grant the National Science Foundation awarded to the SUNY system, the New York Academy of Sciences and SUNY Empire State College to bring to scale a mentoring program that has been successful downstate.

Patricia Waters will coordinate the STEM Afterschool Mentoring Program’s pilot project in Oswego. She said the college would recruit up to 10 graduate students to mentor up to 60 students at the middle school in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“I’m thoroughly excited, because this just makes sense for Oswego,” said Waters, who is already coordinating a two-year-old program called Oswego Mentor-Scholars. “It’s perfect timing to expand our outreach initiatives, because the college is doing great things in the sciences.”

SUNY Oswego will dedicate the new Richard S. Shineman Center for Science, Technology and Innovation, as well as the renewed Rice Creek Field Station, in October. In addition, the college recently launched new degree programs in electrical and computer engineering and software engineering to join many others in the sciences, mathematics and technology.

Early encouragement

The state university system in August announced that SUNY Oswego, Stony Brook University and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry would join SUNY Downstate, the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and SUNYIT to train graduate students as mentors and role models for middle school students.

“The STEM Afterschool Mentoring Program is off to a promising start, with nearly 300 middle-schoolers already having received mentoring from SUNY students,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher, who also chairs the New York Academy of Sciences’ Board of Governors. “We are proud to expand this program to Long Island and Central New York, where some of today’s youth will benefit from increased exposure to these critical disciplines and SUNY students will gain valuable experience in their fields.”

Dr. Fehmi Damkaci, associate dean of graduate studies and associate professor of chemistry at SUNY Oswego, said he supports this and other efforts to provide college resources in adolescent grade levels.

“The research shows that earlier engagement in science does have an impact on students’ perceptions regarding STEM,” Damkaci said. “Efforts like this one — mentorship at the middle school level — most likely will prepare students for careers in STEM fields. In addition, it will help our graduate students to be better mentors, teachers and community leaders in STEM.”

Waters said she anticipates recruiting about 10 students in SUNY Oswego graduate programs such as technology education, chemistry and human-computer interaction to enroll in a three-credit-hour course this spring. The course initially will provide training, leading to twice-a-week afterschool mentorships from March through mid-May at Oswego Middle School.

The goal after the two-year pilot is to create a long-term structure for the Afterschool STEM Mentoring Program, Waters said. She currently is working with BOCES and the Oswego City School District on such a plan for the Oswego Mentor-Scholar Program, piloted the past two years by SUNY Oswego undergraduates working on academic and social issues with Oswego Middle School students at risk of dropping out.