ALBANY — The Saturday Scholars, a non-profit student-led initiative, is encouraging STEM learning in the Capital District with its diverse and accessible programs. The organization is collaborating with multiple schools to bring science, technology, engineering and math concepts to everyone.
Saturday Scholars board member Shreya Sajan said students from South Colonie and Emma Willard School are among those getting involved.
“That’s just amazing to me because it’s something that requires a lot of work,” Sajan said. “This is super unique because, with mentorships, internships, and even doing a passion project, a lot of people do it on their own and without guidance. In this program, we give you the guidance that you need.”
Board member Hanh Nguyen said Saturday Scholars’ main initiative right now is mentorship.
“[Saturday Scholars] has been around for about two years now, and we’ve had good success with that,” Nguyen said. “Two hundred students have gone through the mentorship programs, and 100 passion projects have been made. That has been our most successful initiative so far.”
Current programs include mentorship programs, virtual shadowing sessions with STEM professionals and career webinars. Organizers plan to eventually use libraries and schools as resources to allow students to explore science topics and do easy experiments.
From showing their high school peers how to craft a resume to joining an internship program, the Saturday Scholars’ plan is to keep branching out to K–12 students.
“We want to have multiple opportunities available,” said Nguyen.
The mentorship program is three months long. Board member Nguyet-Vien Le took part over the winter session. For her, it solidified her focus on what STEM can do for the world and the importance of making it accessible to everyone.
“When we look at STEM, a lot of people view it as this daunting thing that a lot of people are afraid to go into,” she said. “It seems like there’s so much knowledge and connections needed. But STEM was never intended to keep people out. Accessibility breaks down the wall that people create when they look at STEM. By having it be accessible, people can see it for what it really is, and by having more opportunities for people to pursue STEM, it increases people’s interests and makes them less afraid.”
Le acknowledged how STEM can be late nights spent reading thick books, lab coats and beakers, or complex math equations. But beyond the perceptions and realities of it, “it’s one of the many things that’s propelling our world forward,” she emphasized. “It’s finding solutions to the problems that people may be having.”
By expanding to include a younger audience of children, the intent is to encourage people to see it as not just a career path but also as something with daily application for everyone.
“Right now, people know about STEM, but they just see it as a career option. I feel like students, especially younger children, don’t really understand the benefits of STEM, the potential it has, the different categories, and the different careers and opportunities that come with STEM,” said Sajan. “Part of where we are expanding is having these events for younger kids. It shows not the career part of STEM but the fun part of STEM because STEM is fun and it shouldn’t be just an educational thing. There are many aspects to it. It’s not just something you look into when looking for a job or thinking about your future.”
Sajan connects her childhood spent building with Legos, dried pasta and cardboard to the engineering and STEM fields that she is now interested in.
“If you’re exposed to it when you’re younger, you’ll know what courses you want to take and be on the right path,” she said.
Nguyen said that for younger kids, the way that schools teach science, engineering and math may not be compatible with their way of learning, and this might be their only chance to enjoy these subjects.
“A lot of times, the way that the school curriculum is structured, there isn’t much room for fun and exploration, especially in science,” said Nguyen. “A lot of things become graded as you get older, and there are stakes in each assignment. I think that’s the main reason why we wanted to start these programs for younger kids.They have the chance to explore STEM for what it is, to enjoy it, and to have fun. There are no stakes and no pressure.”
Many STEM programs are not easily accessible for all students and are often affiliated with a college or a prestigious institution.
“Our program is so that STEM can be accessible to anyone, and it’s not too difficult to join the mentorship programs or a webinar,” said Nguyen. “Students have freedom to explore what they want to do versus what they don’t.”
Sajan being virtual gives the program a greater reach.
“I think this program is special because there are just so many tools available, and we’re adding more tools that are helpful to high school students, little kids, and middle school students — a really large audience,” said Sajan.
The September calendar for The Saturday Scholars is busy, with sign-ups available for the workshops that center on resume-building and internship applications. Plans include an in-person event in October that is designed especially for children to educate them about cancer. From October to December, there is the STEM mentorship program. Mentors are a wide range of STEM professionals, from neuroscientists to engineers.
Individuals are encouraged to reach out on the Saturday Scholars website or social media if they are interested in pursuing the program as students or for their children.
“Through Saturday Scholars, it makes it easier because they help you along the way,” said Le. “In the end, we all get more opportunities to benefit from and pursue STEM to our hearts content.”
For information on the Saturday Scholars, visit @saturdayscholars on Instagram and Facebook, or visit their website at https://nextgensaturdaysch.wixsite.com/stem.
This article appeared on page 1 of the September 6, 2023 print edition of the Spot