'This is valuable work, but hard': Society Advocate shares his experiences | Society for Science & the Public
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Outreach & Equity

'This is valuable work, but hard': Society Advocate shares his experiences

February 15, 2017
Over a dozen Advocates convened in Washington, D.C. during the weekend of June 3.
Over a dozen Advocates convened in Washington, D.C. during the weekend of June 3.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF JESSICA YURINKO PHOTOGRAPHY.

Society for Science & the Public's Advocate Grant Program provides a stipend to an individual (teacher, counselor, mentor), who agrees to serve as an advocate for 3-5 underrepresented students to transition them from conducting a scientific or engineering research project to completing applications to scientific competition(s).

Mitchell Charkiewicz is an Advocate in Connecticut. Read his guest blog post to learn how, through Science Fair Club, he helps his students see STEM differently and open up their ideas for potential career paths.


 

 

Members of our Science Fair Club received a VR headset to fuel their imagination at our Christmas meeting.
Members of our Science Fair Club received a VR headset to fuel their imagination at our Christmas meeting.
Photo courtesy of Mitchell Charkiewicz

It is up to us to seek out those who are not included.

The Advocate Grant Program provides the motivation and incentive to invest time and energy in seeking out those underrepresented students, engage them, encourage them, and support them to reach further and higher into themselves. The motivation and reason for the Advocate Grant Program helps me reinforce and redirect efforts so that all students can be engaged.

It is not enough to be content with those students who will select to join a science club or those who qualify for a science research class, as those students may not represent the fullest diversity of the student body. It is up to us to seek out those who are not included. Those students are the underrepresented. My job as an Advocate is to find them and include them. That is the important impact of being an Advocate.

This is hard work. It is valuable work, but hard.

Prior to being an Advocate, it was easy to recruit those students already interested in STEM, those who already are joiners, those in an AP or Honors Science program. That was easy. Acquiring the underrepresented ... now, that is the challenge!


Be a champion for science like Mitchell. Join the Society today.


In my school district, many of those that are underrepresented are also bused into the district. They are not engaged in school, do not participate in after-school activities, and do not seem to reach higher academically. The Advocate Grant Program encourages me to seek out these students, encourage them to take this first step, and join in. It seems that their peer group pressure is strong so that they don't join in. They don't attend meetings.

It has been a constant, daily hallway attempt to try and talk with each one separately and gain their trust as well as their interest. The peer group grip is strong.

The Advocate Grant Program encourages me to seek out [underrepresented] students, encourage them to take this first step, and join in.

From about 50 potential underrepresented students in my school, I was able to interest seven; from that seven, four have joined. My hope, in this first year, is that all students will see the efforts from these four students. These four are the pathfinders to open the door for the next year. I will double my efforts next year.

Semifinalists at the 2016 Connecticut Science & Engineering Fair.
Semifinalists at the 2016 Connecticut Science & Engineering Fair.
Photo courtesy of Mitchell Charkiewicz.

My best success with my four students has come from talking with either their moms or their immediate friends. That additional support from their mom and/or friend has been instrumental and crucial in keeping them in the program.

The most emotional moment was when one Hispanic girl was overcome with emotion that someone cared enough and put effort into her that she was crying with joy. Her mother was the key to keep her motivated. You can't do it alone. This young lady as well as her mom have already gained from the program in so many non-academic ways, as she sees herself differently now.

We have very bright students who just have not been personally challenged yet. They seem to be content with the present good life. They cannot envision themselves in the future.

Additional support from their mom and/or friend has been instrumental and crucial in keeping them in the program.

We need to encourage them to test their limits and even reach further. Our students need to dream and have their imagination cultivated. For those underrepresented, the effort to gain self-reliance and confidence to step out from the peer pressure is critical. STEM is both the present and the future!

Our club likes to start with inspirational movies, like "October Sky" and "Hidden Figures," so they can see the real struggles within themselves, peer groups, family, school, and society. I try to cultivate their imagination in our group meetings, having fun as they develop their own thoughts and ideas.

We watch inspirational movies like "October Sky" and "Hidden Figures." I post new innovations in medicine, science, and math for them to consider.

I am always posting new innovations in medicine, science, and math for them to consider. As our Science Fair Club continues through the years, each student begins to see STEM differently and, in doing so, opens up their ideas of a potential career path. Our club encourages each of them to see their own future after graduation, seeking a good career starting point and further education. No matter what level student we start with, we tend to have 100% reach higher after graduation, mainly to college.

The Advocates need to understand that this is hard work. It is valuable work, but hard. The work will pay off for each student, but it will take a sincere effort, sometimes a mighty effort for what seems to be a little gain. But that little gain is so meaningful to that student.

Just showing interest in each student matters, whether they decide to join in or not — your effort still matters. For the underrepresented, your effort as an Advocate will be groundbreaking to them.

As an Advocate, I have changed for the better. Couldn't ask for more!

Very honestly, the efforts that I now spend upon the underrepresented I also use with other students, as they too have peer pressure, issues at home, and school. The efforts of an Advocate are clearly important and do make a difference. This is a valuable program. As an Advocate, I have changed for the better. Couldn't ask for more!