Graduate STEM mentoring initiative completes a successful semester

SUNY Oswego’s Graduate STEM mentoring initiative began March 2014 in an effort to improve science and math literacy among middle school children.

During the past spring semester, Patricia Waters, interim director for Experiential Learning at SUNY Oswego, recruited four graduate students in the fields of chemistryhuman-computer interaction (HCI) and mental health counseling.

At the end of the mentoring program, the students and teachers ventured to SUNY Oswego’s campus to participate in workshops with the mentors in the new Shineman Science Center and Park Hall.

Graduate student mentors Patricia Tanner and Carly Karas, HCI, led a workshop on the NAO robots and augmented reality.

“The importance of this program is to get an appreciation at a younger age rather than waiting for these students to go to high school or college to understand what they can do with careers in STEM.”
Sarah Therrien
7th grade math teacher, Oswego Middle School

The second workshop, led by Ahmeda Hrustanovic, chemistry and Kelly LaBarge, mental health counseling, involved freezing objects with liquid nitrogen and making ice cream.

The graduate student mentors met with the 24 middle school students twice a week throughout March and April to discuss robotics and forensics.

The robotics group had the opportunity to build a robot throughout the two months, while the forensics team learned about crime scene investigation.

Responses from students and teachers

The students were split into two groups, depending on interest and participated in hands-on activities and demonstrations.

In the beginning of the program, the graduate mentors introduced students to the forensic and robotics fields through educational labs.

The forensic students learned about how to measure bones, determine gender through bone remains, blood splatter analysis and other forensic investigative procedures preparing them for the final project involving the investigation of a crime scene.

“I liked solving the crimes,” said Liam Tovey, Oswego Middle School student. “We had to analyze the crime scene, determine where the person was bleeding, and lift fingerprints from glass and a pen.”

The robotics students learned about functions and programming, while building Lego Mindstorm robots among small groups. At the end of the program, the small groups had a dance off competition with the robots.

“I was so excited when I found out I got into the program, I hope to work with the big robots one day,” said Nelson DiGregorio, Oswego Middle School student. “I liked everything about the program and had a lot of fun building the robot and having the dance off.”

The mentoring program introduces students to college level experiences and careers in the STEM fields.

“The importance of this program is to get an appreciation at a younger age rather than waiting for these students to go to high school or college to understand what they can do with careers in STEM,” said Sarah Therrien, 7th grade math teacher. “It’s so important to grab these kids’ interest while they’re still young.”

The program

The middle school students applied for the STEM mentoring program, but only 24 students were accepted despite, having several other interested 7th and 8th graders.

Waters would like to expand the program and recruit up to 10 graduate mentors for the upcoming fall semester, which would allow the program to double the number of middle school students accepted into the STEM initiative.

The fall program will run between Sept. and Dec., with each pair of graduate student mentors working directly with 10-12 middle school students overseen by an Oswego Middle School Teacher.

Graduate students will also enroll in a 3 credit online course through SUNY Empire State College.

For more information and to apply visit SUNY Afterschool or contact Patricia Waters at