The Empire State STEM Learning Network (Empire STEM) officially launched its regional arm, the Finger Lakes STEM Hub at a press conference held during Science Exploration Day at St. John Fisher College on May 11th, 2012.
Dr. Sara Silverstone was instrumental in the founding of the Finger Lakes Regional Hub, and has led the Hub since it’s inception. Dr. Silverstone will retire from her position as Director on December 31, 2015.
Dr. Silverstone holds a BS in Philosophy from SUNY Cortland and a Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of California at Davis. After 17 years of science teaching and research, Dr. Silverstone was appointed Director of the Rochester Area Colleges’ Center for Excellence in Math and Science in 2007, and in 2011 she began the process to connect this group, and our region, with Empire State STEM through the formation of a regional hub.
Empire STEM is a statewide, community‐led collaborative advancing STEM education to prepare all students across New York State for success in school, work and life. The Regional Hub is our local network of STEM leaders from higher education, K-12, business, government and community organizations working together to leverage resources, create best practices and build awareness for and about STEM education efforts in our area. The Finger Lakes Hub covers a nine-county area: Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates Counties (source: www.empirestem-fl.org). As the Hub has grown and developed, Silverstone has guided the hub through development of many programs, including the STEM Program Recognition Award program and Summer Professional Development training courses.
We asked Dr. Silverstone to reflect over her time as Director and to answer a few questions for us.
Why is the Hub important?
The STEM Hub is the only group whose purpose is to connect all of the fantastic efforts to promote STEM education in our region. It is a catalyst for collaboration and as such, contributes to efforts of those in K-12 education, higher ed, business and industry, government and community organizations. By collaborating we can avoid redundancy, cross-pollinate and share best practices across sectors.
Why did you want to be involved?
I first caught the bug when I was teaching Biology at SUNY Brockport in the 1990s. A group of us, including Ken Schlecht and Jose Maliekal, reached out to teachers and students in the Rochester City School District. We applied for, and received, a grant to bring them out to our campus for a couple of weeks for a summer science institute. My motivation was to share some of the resources of the college with our neighbors in the city who have higher needs and lower resources than we have. I thought maybe we could help. I have always been concerned about helping children out of poverty and into college and career opportunities.
Over the years, I have found that approaches such as problem-based learning and contextualized learning have the power to engage students in the learning process, and literally change lives. Quality STEM education has the potential make the world a better place both by lifting up those who receive it, as well as by developing creative problem-solvers who know how to collaborate and communicate. Nothing is more rewarding than working towards these goals with like-minded, passionate colleagues, such a the members of the STEM Hub Steering Committee.
What is your favorite program that the hub has developed, and why?
I suppose if I had to choose just one, it would be the STEM Video Contest, where students created videos with the theme “What is STEM?” I loved how it involved so many different kinds of people. We had teams of students from grades 3-12 from throughout our region, creating videos. We had their parents and teachers who coached them and came to our awards banquet to celebrate with them. We had volunteer musicians from ARC who serenaded us, corporate sponsors who enabled us to put on a wonderful event and raise some funds for the Hub, STEM Hub members who gave many hours of their time and talents, and local celebrity judges and emcees. It had so many elements: students doing STEM and educating the public, engagement of every one of our constituencies, fund-raising and great PR, recognition of talented and hard-working youth, and a very rewarding culminating event. We still have those 19 videos on our website.
What are you most proud of over the years you were involved with the STEM Hub?
I am proud of the Steering Committee. We have been going strong since the first meeting, in 2010. For five years we have consistently had a big turnout at our monthly meetings, with representation from K-12, higher ed, community organizations, business and government. We have all gotten along without drama, operated on a consensus basis, and consistently attracted talented and passionate volunteers who get things done. We have stayed true to our mission and vision, and continuously attract new people who bring in new energy and perspectives to the group, but without rancor or divisiveness. I just think this is a terrific group of people I am proud to be a part of.
What are your hopes for the future with a new Director at the helm?
One of the areas for potential growth is increasing the involvement of business and industry. We are now poised to strengthen our relationship with some big companies whose resources can really help us achieve our goals. I am hopeful that new partnerships with industry can help us achieve some sustainable funding and enable us to begin another cycle of strategic planning for the next several years. When I began, STEM was not a term most people had ever heard of. Now that it is a buzzword and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, I see the Hub as being poised for growth. It is a great time for the new leader to take us to the next level.
A search committee has been organized, and the process of appointing a new Director is well underway. Stay tuned for a big announcement in January 2016 as we announce the new Director of the Finger Lakes STEM Hub.
In 2013, Dr. Silverstone founded Brockport Research Institute (BRI) to provide expertise in grant writing, evaluations, training, and project management to industry, government and private organizations. After her retirement as Director, she will continue to expand the offerings at BRI while continuing her advocacy for networking and collaboration in the STEM fields. She will remain an active participant in the Finger Lakes STEM Hub as we transition to new leadership.