ESSYI: An Exemplary STEM program

December 19, 2014

Welcome back to our STEM Series:  Recognizing STEM Exemplars.  In this series we are highlighting summer programs that offer engaging, exciting and empowering STEM programming for students in our area.   Read more about the STEM Exemplar program here.   This installment focuses on the Environmental Studies Summer Youth Insitute (ESSYI) at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.


The Environmental Studies Summer Youth Institute (ESSYI) at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) is a two-week, college-level, interdisciplinary, academic enrichment program for talented high-school students from around the world. ESSYI attracts students from a variety of settings across the U.S. and in recent years has had students from Spain, South Africa, Columbia, Greece, France, China, Senegal and Korea. The program introduces students to pressing environmental issues from a wide variety of disciplines. Toward this end, the ESSYI utilizes tools, techniques and technologies found throughout Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines and helps students understand that successful solutions to environmental issues will not come from a single field. The central goal of the program is to empower students with the confidence to change the world and to help them visualize possible career paths.  Students leave the institute with a better understanding of themselves, the environment, their academic opportunities in college, and potential career aspirations. Those who perform well in the program also receive college credit.

Outdoor learning is a key component of the EYYSI program

Outdoor learning is a key component of the EYYSI program

Throughout the ESSYI, STEM disciplines perspectives are integrated as the foundation for exploring environmental problems. Students conduct scientific research on the HWS Scandling (a 65-foot research vessel on Seneca Lake), in streams, quaking bogs, in the Adirondack Mountains, and in the Colleges’ science laboratories.  Participants explore the ways in which quantitative data can be used to monitor changes in the environment and discuss the how STEM disciplines serve as the backbone for understanding environmental issues. In order to investigate our surroundings from multiple perspectives – and develop tools for understanding our relationship to the environment – students engage with STEM partnership organizations (such as the SUNY Adirondack Ecological Center and the and Adirondack Interpretive Centers) and are exposed to a wide variety of regional expertise. This type of engagement also includes travel to a local landfill (a repository for many communities throughout New York State) and a trip to an organic farm that participates in community-supported agriculture. Students examine the complexity of environmental issues from ethical and philosophical perspectives through the investigation of sustainable options that consider geographic location, economic status, materialistic necessity, and political stakeholders. Students explore specific examples of how environmental issues have been dealt with in the past and learn to use multiple ‘STEM lenses’ to develop sustainable solutions for the future. The program culminates with a four-day trip to the Adirondack Park where students use their newly acquired skills to work collaboratively and address a specific environmental challenge.

In an effort to engage students from under-represented populations, ESSYI routinely partners with both private and non-profit organizations to provide high-achieving students from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds with tuition scholarships. These organizations include the HWS Finger Lakes Institute, New Jersey SEEDS, Fundació Catalunya-La Pedrera, The Kent Cook Foundation, The Schuler Scholar Program and Christodora, Inc.

Students explore Seneca Lake aboard the HWS William F. Scandling

Students explore Seneca Lake aboard the HWS William F. Scandling

ESSYI is unique among summer pre-college programs in that its focuses on the interdisciplinary nature of environmental issues and the complexity of potential solutions through a varied STEM curriculum. By connecting students with over 15 college faculty from a myriad of disciplines (within the sciences, social sciences, humanities and the arts), ESSYI empowers students in ways that catalyze real personal growth. Students find specific topics, sessions and ideas that resonate with them individually. At the same time, they are exposed to other ideas and ways of thinking about environmental issues that broaden their perceptions collaboratively. Environmental problem solving is rocket science and ESSYI is an excellent first step towards a sustainable future.

For many ESSYI students, scholarships have played a significant part in their ability to attend the program. Click here for more information on ESSYI scholarship opportunities.

For more information, visit the program’s website or fill out a request for information.

Brad Muise is the Associate Director at ESSYI and is responsible for the logistics of the program.  He has a varied-background in several environmental health disciplines for both academia and industry. 

Recognizing STEM Exemplars

December 8, 2014

Join us for a new blog series as we celebrate the programs recognized by the Student Impact Team of the Finger Lakes STEM Hub.

Each finalist brought a display to highlight their program.

Each finalist brought a display to highlight their program.

This team was formed when student impact was identified as one of the top 3 priorities by the Hub’s Steering Committee.  Our team set out to identify and promote STEM activities and events in the Finger Lakes region that are engaging, exciting, and empowering for students. We created a S.M.A.R.T. Goal that we would “identify and recognize a minimum of 5 exemplary STEM initiatives in the region by September, 2014.”

In fall of 2013, an Action Team was formed to make this Goal a reality. A small group of dedicated people came together to analyze the tasks that we felt were necessary to accomplish. We decided that we would solicit applications from various STEM initiatives and then compare them with a rubric. One of the first challenges we faced was identifying what makes a STEM initiative “exemplary.” Each member conducted research regarding existing rubrics for STEM programs. We shared, met, discussed, and word-smithed the rubrics until we developed one that we felt represented our group’s vision. In addition, our group felt that a STEM initiative could not adequately be evaluated with a rubric based upon a paper application alone. We knew we needed to visit each of the finalist programs. For our first year, we decided to limit the scope of our goal to  programs that happen during the summer only.

After soliciting applications and determining finalists, we set off into the field to visit each of the STEM programs. What a treat that was! Each program had different strengths. Collectively, however, they represented a broad range of STEM programming happening in the Finger Lakes area.

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Teachers at the STANYS Conference browsing the displays

The Five Exemplary Summer STEM initiatives were recognized on November 1st, 2014 at a Science Teacher of New York State (STANYS) conference evening event held at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Each Finalist was represented at the event and provided information about what is offered, how the program runs, how it is funded, and other details. This allowed the STEM Hub to share the Exemplary programs with the community of teachers from across New York State.

The Exemplary Summer STEM initiatives recognized in 2014 by the Finger Lakes STEM Hub are:

  • Environmental Studies Summer Youth Institute from Hobart & William Smith Colleges
  • STEM Programs in Engineering Education from Vista Teach Instructional Services
  • Lake Ontario STEM Academy from the Sodus CSD and the Wayne Finger Lakes BOCES
  • Carter Street Recreation Center, “STEM Explosion” from the City of Rochester, Department of Recreation and Youth Services
  • Summer Fun Camp Program: Robotics from the Rochester Museum and Science Center
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Teachers had ample opportunity to ask questions about the programs and services

What’s ahead for the Action Team for Student Impact? We will feature a blog series this month celebrating our five exemplary programs.  Each program will be highlighted to give you more information on their program, along with what we saw that made them an exemplary program in our eyes.  In addition, as we celebrate the accomplishment of our goal, we will set new goals for our next program in 2015.

The experience of finding, recognizing, and holding up as examples various types of STEM programs has been inspirational. We hope that we have, in some way, encouraged others to engage in the development of STEM programming that will impact students positively.

The rubric that we developed, along with other information about the program  can be on the Finger Lakes STEM Hub website. Please feel free to use the rubric as a conversation starter,  for professional development or to evaluate an existing STEM program.

In addition, if you are interested in becoming more involved with the Finger Lakes STEM Hub Student Impact Action Team, or have any questions about this program, please contact me at

Mary W. Thomas is the Assistant Director at the Elementary Science Program offered by Monroe #2 – Orleans BOCES.  She is an active member of the Finger Lakes STEM Hub Steering Committee, as well as the Chair for the Student Impact Action Team.