Industry Tour Series: RGRTA

October 13, 2014

Welcome back to our STEM Series:  Summer Teaching Institute Industry Tours.  In this series we are highlighting the local industries that welcomed our Summer Institute participants this summer.  Read more about the Summer Institute here.  This installment focuses on the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA).

Part of the RTS Fleet

Headquartered on East Main Street in Rochester and governed by twelve commissioners, RGRTA oversees public transportation in Monroe, Genesee, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans, Wayne,  Wyoming and Seneca counties. RGRTA also serves as the host agency to a planning organization known as the Genesee Transportation Council.        (source: RGRTA Website)

After speaking with two engineers who oversee the operations of RGRTA, it became clear that STEM principles are important at any age. They see a need for “tinkering” and “playing in the dirt”.  There is a direct correlation between those activities and interest in STEM. They stressed the need for skilled trades (electricians, metal workers, welders, etc.) and women in construction related fields. New college graduates should expect to work their way up the proverbial ladder, putting to use their collaboration and critical thinking skills. While the company itself does not lend itself to tours, the engineers are excited to spread the word about the importance of STEM. We walked away excited about having new connections that reinforced the value of what we are doing in the classroom every day.125px-RGRTA_color_logo

For more information about the RTS Transit Center, check out the August 2014 Issue of The Rochester Engineer, a monthly magazine published by the Rochester Engineering Society.  In addition, there is a wealth of information on their website.

Katie Nash is a  Biology Teacher at  Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women.  She participated in the Summer STEM Teaching Institute offered by the Finger Lakes STEM Hub.

First Meeting of the WNY STEM Hub

January 23, 2014

Question:   How do you grow a new STEM Hub to over 5 times its embryonic size in just 7 weeks?

Answer:   You have help from a Mentor Hub and use the exponential power of “paying it forward” with every new introduction.

The Western New York region of 5 counties, bounded by such landmarks as Niagara Falls, Lake Erie and Allegany State Park, recently became the last region to plug into the Empire State STEM Learning Network. We began our establishment with stewardship from the NYS Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences (COE). The COE hosted our first meeting on November 21, 2013 with a Founders Steering Committee of approximately 20 members.

Since that Founding Meeting, we have: grown our Steering Committee to over 80 members, established a Board of Champions of over 20 members, charged five Ad Hoc Groups to initiate tasks essential to developing our infrastructure, initiated an online Moodle Learning Site, adopted working Mission/Vision Statements and began our Strategic Planning. On January 9, 2014, 56 of our new members participated in the first joint Steering Committee-Board of Champions Meeting to network and discuss our opportunities for future action.

On hand at that January meeting were Sara Silverstone, Director of the Finger Lakes STEM Hub, and Phil Ortiz, Coordinator of the Empire State STEM Learning Network. Sara has been an invaluable Mentor in supporting our first steps by providing guidance and allowing the WNY Hub to use resources, such as the Finger Lakes Hub Mission/Vision which became a model for our work in WNY. The successes of the Finger Lakes STEM Hub will continue to serve as examples and an inspiration for WNY. Phil’s support of our evolving Hub in WNY has been another catalyst for our growth by encouraging the Mentor Hub relationship, linking us to other Hubs in New York State and assuring the ongoing interest of SUNY.

WNY STEM Hub Photo  credit:  Cattaraugus/Allegany BOCES

WNY STEM Hub’s Initial Meeting
Photo credit: Cattaraugus/Allegany BOCES

With a membership of over 100 and growing, we feel that our opportunities are endless and anything may be possible. The possibility for “collective impact” for STEM learning in WNY is strong. We believe that interest in STEM and in our Hub’s work will continue to grow. We challenge our members to remember that networked organizations thrive when each new introduction is “paid forward” by introducing others to STEM learning and to the Hub.

We want to thank Sara Silverstone and the Finger Lakes STEM Hub for guiding us in our work. The WNY STEM Hub looks forward to collaborating and growing together with our Mentor Hub to the East of us!

Guest Blog written by:  Michelle Kavanaugh, Ed.D., Facilitator

WNY STEM Hub of the Empire State STEM Learning Network

New York State Encourages Schools to Go Green

January 30, 2012

Is your school community making an effort to “Go Green”?   If so, your school could now receive national recognition for its efforts!! 


The New York State education department is encouraging private and public schools to apply for the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools program.  This program highlights schools where staff, students, officials, and communities are working together to “Go Green”.  Applicant school’s will have to provide evidence on their efforts to save energy, reduce costs, foster health and wellness, foster environmentally sustainable learning spaces, and offer environmental education. 

 Winning schools will be recognized at an annual ceremony.  Applications must be submitted online on or before February 24, 2012.  To learn more about this program visit the New York State Green Ribbon Schools Website.

Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators

December 27, 2011

Are you a teacher, or do you know an outstanding teacher, who uses innovative approaches to teach about environmental education? The Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE) recognizes outstanding kindergarten through grade 12 teachers who apply innovative approaches to environmental education and use the environment as a context for exploratory and integrated learning.

As discussed in the “America’s Great Outdoors: A Promise to Future Generations” report, in order to make environmental stewardship and conservation relevant to young Americans, environmental and place-based, experiential learning must be integrated into school curricula and facilities across the country.

This program recognizes outstanding kindergarten through grade 12 teachers who employ innovative approaches to environmental education and use the environment as a context for learning for their students.

“This awards program will highlight and encourage innovative ways to getter integrate environmental issues into our young people’s everyday learning experiences—helping to turn environmental education into environmental action,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe.

Two teachers from each of EPA’s 10 regional offices will be selected to receive this award.  Visit EPA’s teacher award website at

Applications for the PIAEE are due on January 31, 2012.

STEM Rich 2011 EcoFest at GCC Coming Soon

March 14, 2011

Lily Walker, 4, of Bergen with a sapling from the 2010 EcoFest.

Teachers, students, and parents – mark your calendars now for one of the area’s COOLEST STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) events of the year!

The 6th Annual CoolKids! EcoFest will be held Saturday, April 9th from 10 am to 2 pm in the student forum and cafeteria  of Genesee Community College (One College Road, Batavia, NY)

Seem like a bit of a hike from Rochester? It is so worth it!

I attended the event last year and was blown away by the number of STEM related hands-on displays, activities, and educational presentations. 

This year’s event will feature approximately  forty-five booths as well as a free pizza party for all at 12:30 pm and an exotic wildlife show at 1 p.m. on the Cool Kids Stage.

The most eye-opening part of the festival for me last year was its E-Scrap Drive.  Approximately 30,000 pounds of recyclables were collected last year! Trucks, bins, and barrels were teeming with old computers and sneakers. The drive will be part of this year’s festival as well. 

You are encouraged to bring the following items to the festival to be recycled:

OLD ELECTRONICS (drive up service available – TVs cost $5 to recycle – no businesses or agencies can recycle)

The following electronics are free to recycle:

~ Computers, laptops and printers
~ Fax machines
~ Cash registers
~ Wiring
~ Phones – cell and rotary
~ Stereos
~ Microwaves
~ Rechargeable batteries
~ Calculators
~ Typewriters
~ Peripheral computer equipment— mouses, keyboards, cables, modems, external drives, etc.

OLD SNEAKERS  (no metal parts!) for Nike-Reuse-A-Shoe Drive!

Paperback BOOKS (no hardcovers–or Romance novels) for Operation Paperback!

For each recyclable you bring from the list above, you will earn a raffle ticket to win a mountain bike.

The massive E-Scrap Drive at the 2010 EcoFest.

You can also earn raffle tickets by getting a FREE tire pressure check with Dunn Tire of Batavia (and a free tire gauge) and by getting your car checked for a mercury light switch by AAA. 

These events will be held in the parking lot along with a huge display of alternative energy cars (hydrogen, ethanol, electric and vegetable oil)

Read more about last year’s Eco Fest in my STEM Blog Article from April 2010.

by Caurie Putnam, Coordinator, STEM Mentor Program


Down to a Science – Cool Kids EcoFests make Environmental Issues Fun!

April 19, 2010

Lily Walker, 4, of Bergen with a sapling from EcoFest.

Environmental science can be cool, creative, and fun—that was the message at the fifth annual Cool Kids EcoFest on April 17th at Genesee Community College. 

The EcoFest attracted 1,000 visitors to environmental displays and activities from over 50 green businesses and organizations—such as the Iroquois Nature Preserve, Braddock Bay Raptor Research, The Sierra Club, the Oatka Creek Watershed Committee, the NY Geographic Alliance, and the Wildlife Educators Coalition.    

Lily Walker, 4, of Bergen, most enjoyed the display by The Genesee County Soil and Water Conservation.  She gingerly cradled the free seedling the group gave her as her mother, Caroline, said she loved the event.  Walker learned about EcoFest from a flier the Byron Bergen school district sent home.  “It keeps the kids entertained while getting the message about the environment across to everyone,” Walker said.    

That is the precise goal of the EcoFest’s Director Steve Appleton.  Appleton created the event not just to make environmental issues appealing to children, but also to adults.  “Most kids are already in-tune with recycling and the environment, but this is to help the whole family learn that environmental stuff can be fun,” Appleton said, “I specifically made it an after school event to address parents—to bring them into their kids world.”    

Some displays parents seemed most drawn to were:  Cabot Cheese samples, giveaways of TOPS Friendly Markets and Monroe County Dept. of Environmental Science reusable bags, a Cadillac Escalade Hybrid display and a Mercury Switch-Out sponsored by AAA of WNY where AAA removed the mercury switch hood lamp from cars 2002 or older.    

Jeannette Elia, 12, of Bativia, demonstrating how to knit with plastic bags at EcoFest.

Appleton also drew in people of all ages with free raffle tickets  in exchange for donating e-scraps (such as old computers), old sneakers, and bottles and cans.  The tickets could be used to enter drawings for green prizes, like a mountain bike.  By the event’s end an astounding 26,000 pounds of electronic junk and 290 pairs of sneakers were collected for recycling.   

The lessons of EcoFest made an impression on all who attended, especially a group of future teachers.  The Genesee Community College Education Club staffed a “Let’s Morph – Butterfly Table.” Lauren Humphrey, an earth science major at GCC who will be transferring to SUNY Geneseo’s Geological Sciences program, learned some things she plans to apply to a future science classroom of her own.  “This is such a great event for earth science,” said Humphrey, “I’ve watched the kids get so excited planting seeds and getting their free seedlings…that stuff is real and makes the environment real to them.”   

Future teachers from the GCC Education Club at their Butterfly Table.

Appleton plans to hold a 6th EcoFest at GCC next Spring, however, if you can’t wait that long the 2nd Annual Cool Kids EcoFest in Corning is this coming weekend.  The Corning EcoFest will be held on Saturday, April 24th 2010 from 11 am to 3 pm at Corning Community College in Corning, New York.  For more information visit this link.  Cool Kids also sponsors free, GREEN themed performances in the Village of  Brockport on Friday nights during the Summer.  Bookmark The STEM Blog for more information and a summer schedule.

The massive E-Scrap Drive at EcoFest.

DJ Stephen Wright from WGCC with one of the bowls made from recycled records the organization was selling.

Race Car Made From Vegetables And Runs On Chocolate

May 13, 2009


Last week, Warwick University in England unveiled its 95% biodegradable race car that runs on chocolate. It has been made entirely of sustainable and renewable materials including vegetables!

The idea of using chocolate as biodiesel is not new as the team that drove across Europe and West Africa on 2007 demonstrated (Journey across Europe to Timbuktu, Chocolate Powered Truck). But the University of Warwick took it many steps further. “While the main focus of car manufacturers has been decreasing engine emissions, the University of Warwick team broadened their vision to include the raw materials used to build the car, as well considering its final disposal” (Chocolate Powered Car). “The project clearly demonstrates that automotive environmentalism can and should be about the whole package” (Chocolate Powered Racing Car…).


steering wheel carrots
seat flax fiber shell, soy bean and recycled polyester
mirrors potato starch
brake pads ground cashew nut shells
body potato starch, recycled carbon fiber, recycled plastic bottles
lubricants plant oils
biodiesel cocoa butter (a waste product from making chocolate) turned into bio-ethanol and mixed with vegetable oil to make biodiesel

The car is expected to go 145 mph and 125 mph around corners. It took more than nine months to develop it and the cost was around USD$227,000.

Project Director, James Meredith, said “The WorldFirst project expels the myth that performance needs to be compromised when developing the sustainable motor vehicles of the future” (Chocolate Powered Racing Car…). He also mentioned that the team plans to use similar techniques to build other vehicles, such as road cars and boats (TG Daily).

Will there be enough chocolate waste to power these vehicles?

It seems that the world will need many sources to produce the biodiesel that vehicles being developed will need. This is all very exiting and I can’t wait to see it all unfold.

For more information, watch the video:


April 7, 2009


GIS stands for Geographic Information Sharing; SIG stands for Special Interest Group…

This educational group’s primary mission is to foster the understanding of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technology.

The group is gearing up for their 18th Annual Spatial/Digital Mapping Conference;  a professional forum in the Rochester – Genesee Finger Lakes region for GIS education, data sharing, communication and networking with other local, state and national users.

The morning keynote speaker, Geoff Zeiss is the Director of Autodesk Geospatial Technology. His presentation, entitled: “The Convergence of BIM, CAD, GIS, and 3D Simulation: Implications for Government” will explore new technologies that provide a seamless view of buildings and infrastructure. 

The afternoon keynote address will be co-presented by Jonathan Cobb of Waypoint Technology Group, LLC, and Austin Fisher, Vice President of Fountains Spatial, Inc. They will be presenting “Geospatial Mercenaries: The Balkans and Beyond“.

Check out the GIS/SIG website for more information on this exciting event!

Lake Ontario is Rising

February 27, 2009
Lake Ontario Trends

Lake Ontario Trends

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported on Monday that Lake Ontario is now 8 inches higher than it was last year at this time. The number, reported by the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers, is the third highest increase seen in one of the Great Lakes behind Michigan and Huron both tied at 1 foot.

What does the rise in level mean for the Great Lakes?

While excessive rising of the water level may cause flooding and higher rates of erosion, a moderate level provides routes for “commercial navigation, recreational boating, marinas, beaches, fishing, cottage and homeowners, and the aquatic ecosystem.” [1] While Lake Ontario’s levels are indeed increasing, they are doing so at a healthy rate… hardly to the extent as the highs of the mid 1980’s or the lows caused by El Nina in the late 1990’s.

The Great Lakes provide rich learning experiences for local students… does your class use Lake Ontario or any of the local streams to explore environmental trends?

1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Click to access lakelevels.pdf

An Ecosystem Balancing Lesson

January 23, 2009


The island of Macquarie, which is south of Australia and administered by the Australian state of Tasmania, is facing major “environmental devastation” caused by the removal of feral cats from the island. The island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Reserve, and a Tasmanian State Nature Reserve. It has all these classifications to give it the maximum protection possible. Regardless, species that are not native to the island are killing the native plants and animals.

Cats were killing tens of thousands of native seabirds, some of which are classified as threatened.  In a project to stop the birds from becoming extinct, cats were eradicated from the island after several decades of attempts. Now the rabbit and rodent non-native populations, which were being kept in check by the cats, have exploded. Rabbits are destroying the vegetation and the rats and mice are eating the seedlings, bird’s eggs and fledglings.

This is what happens when you meddle with the ecosystem, even with the best of intentions, without thinking long and hard, says the article. “The lessons for conservation agencies globally is that interventions should be comprehensive, and include risk assessments to explicitly consider and plan for indirect effects, or face substantial subsequent costs.”

Rabbits, rats and mice will start to get eradicated in 2010 to help the island and it’s native plant and bird species recover from the invasion that has lasted about a century. For more details go the the January 13, 2009 article by Michael Casey and the Sydney Morning Herald April 12, 2007 article.

This can be used when teaching the balance of an ecosystem in Intermediate Science and Living Environment Core Curriculums.

Other cases of ecosystems affected by nonnative species are in New Zealand, Hawaii, Pacific Islands, Aleutian Islands, etc.

Which cases do you know about?