Meet a STEM Mentor Pair: “Little” Gavin and “Big” Paul

June 11, 2010

Big Paul and Little Gavin with their completed greenhouse!

The STEM Blog will regularly be profiling pairs from the STEM Mentor Program – an innovative collaborative between The Rochester Area Colleges Center for Excellence in Math and Science (RACCEMS) and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester.

This program matches adults with a career, education, or interest in science, technology, education, or math (STEM)  with 4th, 5th, and 6th graders from the Rochester area.  STEM Mentor pairs – also called “Bigs” and “Littles” –  meet once a month or every other month to engage in a STEM related activity or outing.  All STEM Mentors first go through the thorough background check and training process to become a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters. 

“Big” Paul and “Little” Gavin shared a STEM activity they enjoyed doing together recently – building a miniature greenhouse. 

The idea behind their activity came from the STEM Mentor Volunteer Guide – which is full of optional science experiments and activities for the duos to complete together.  Big Paul chose the greenhouse activity, “Because it seemed like it was easy enough that I knew we could accomplish it, but hard enough that it wasn’t a cake walk.” 

Little Gavin and the greenhouse he built with his STEM Mentor Big Paul.

To start the project Big Paul and Little Gavin went shopping around the house and in a store for the following supplies:  an old shoebox, potting soil, seeds, wire clothes hangers, plastic wrap, plastic cups, and tape.   

A few weeks after completing the greenhouse - flowers are starting to grow!

 It took approximately two hours to complete the entire greenhouse project.  However, the impact of the greenhouse has gone well beyond a fun afternoon. 

Big Paul and Little Gavin have enjoyed watching their seeds grow and were excited to share some before and after photos.  “I learned where plants come from and that you can plant a seed and it will become a flower,” Little Gavin said.  Big Paul learned that plastic wrap can help keep moisture in a closed container.
Their greenhouse project has also given the pair an idea for a future STEM outing – visiting a real greenhouse.

Both Big Paul and Little Gavin recommend their STEM Mentor activity to others.  “It really isn’t too difficult to make,” said Big Paul, “but it’s still enough that you’ll feel a real sense of accomplishment afterwards.”  Little Gavin agreed: “It was fun making it and cool putting together the house.” 

Here are some links with different ideas to build your own mini greenhouse: 

Article by Caurie Miner Putnam – Coordinator of the STEM Mentor Program. For more information on the program email Caurie at

Teens Feelings about STEM – New Data from Lemelson-MIT

May 27, 2010


The 2010 Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, an annual survey that gauges American teens perceptions about invention and innovation, reveals some telling information about their feelings towards STEM subjects (science, technology, education and math). 

Of the teens surveyed for this year’s report: 

–  77 percent showed  interest in pursuing a STEM career

 – 85 percent wish they knew more about STEM in order to create or invent something 

  – 66 percent identified field trips and other activities outside of the classroom as the best way they can learn about STEM subjects

– 75 percent chose hands-on individual projects and hands-on group projects as the types of classroom-based educational methods they enjoy most

– 43 percent said that role models in STEM fields would increase their interest in learning about these areas

One program at The Center for Excellence in Math and Science that incorporates several of the needs identified in the Lemelson-MIT survey is the STEM Mentor Program.  Our STEM Mentor Program is a collaborative initiative with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester (BBBS) to increase interest, excitement, and exposure to informal STEM education and professionals.

 Mentors (or “Bigs”) in the program all have a background, career, or interest in the STEM fields.  The Bigs share their STEM excitement with Littles –  who have been identified by BBBS as having an interest in STEM subjects. 


“Littles” from the STEM Mentor Program have a hands-on STEM experience with a STEM professional from the Seneca Park Zoo.


The STEM Mentor Program facilitates field trips and hands on activities for the Big/Little pairs – things identified as important to teens in the Lemelson-MIT survey. 

The program also gives the Littles something the Lemelson-MIT survey found lacking on a national level – exposure to adults in the STEM fields.  Just 51% of teens surveyed said they knew someone who worked in a STEM profession.  

 Another mentor program aimed at increasing hands-on STEM learning and direct access to STEM professionals is Lemelson-MIT’s InvenTeams High School Invention Grants.

 InvenTeams is a national program.  Teams of high school students, teachers, and mentors receive grants up to $10,000 each to invent technological solutions to real-world problems. such as a temperature-sensitive color-changing roof to combat global warming.

 For more information about Lemelson-MIT’s InvenTeams High School Invention Grants visit:

 For more information about the STEM Mentor Program email Caurie Putnam, program coordinator, at

STEM Mentors Program Kicks Off!

March 26, 2010

A Big and Little from the STEM Mentor Program meet a duck from The Seneca Park Zoomobile. The Zoomobile also brought a rat, an owl, and an armadillo for the presentation they did called "Animal Adaptations."


March 6th marked the kickoff of the STEM Mentor Program – an innovative new partnership between The Rochester Area Colleges Center for Excellence in Math and Science (The Center) and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester (BBBS)  

This exciting program matches fourth, fifth, and sixth graders with adult mentors who have a background or passion in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Pairs meet once a month to engage in a formal or informal STEM related activity – such as visiting the Rochester Museum and Science Center or taking a nature hike in a local park. 

BBBS of Greater Rochester provides the matching and training of Big/Little pairs and The Center supports these matches with access to community resources, field trips and other group activities.  

The goals of the STEM Mentor Program are to: 1) Foster excitement and engagement in youth for STEM disciplines 2) Increase the number of students that maintain passing grades in college preparatory courses and 3) Increase the number of youth planning to attend college in STEM disciplines.  

While the final two goals may seem far away for children in grades four through six,  the reality is that those grades are the pivotal years to incite longterm interest in math and science.  Studies have shown that math scores decline most between grades six and seven. 

STEM Mentor Paul Guglielmo decided to become a STEM Mentor because he witnessed this trend starting with his own Little. “I was talking with my Little’s caregiver one day and she mentioned he was having a little trouble in school with science.”  Guglielmo, who is surrounded by science and technology on a daily basis as an on-air personality for a popular Rochester radio station, saw an opportunity to make a difference. “I want to pass that [interest in science] onto my Little,” Guglielmo said. 

March 6th was the first group activity for these pioneering pairs like Paul and his Little. The STEM Mentor Bigs and Littles came together for a fun-filled afternoon of games, pizza, discussion, and a presentation from The Seneca Park Zoomobile.  

Mentor Ensley Townsend, who said he joined the STEM Mentor Program “to share my love of math and science with younger minds,” enjoyed the event–especially the hands-on approach to science–something the STEM Mentor program strives for. “I loved the Zoomobile and the interactive nature of the event,” Townsend said, “It was my first time touching or even coming close to an armadillo.” 

Touching an armadillo was also a first for all of the Littles at the event.  These exciting moments of science shared between a Big and Little is what the STEM Mentor Program is all about. 

If you are interested in learning more about or joining the STEM Mentor Program please email the program coordinator, Caurie Putnam, at All STEM Mentors are Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers foremost and must first go through the thorough background check and training the organization provides.