The Chelsea Public Library (CPL) held a NASA@ My Library Community Dialogue on Jan. 31, to discuss the community’s view of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). City leaders, library and school administration, high school students, and parents participated in the casual conversation to plan programming that will positively impact the entire city and inspire a passion for STEM learning among residents.
“We should try to build bridges between what’s happening in schools and formal education, and what’s happening in the community as we develop and grow,” said Lisa Santagate, Chelsea Public Schools/Chelsea Public Library trustee. “Science pervades our lives. STEM is everywhere and all connected.”
The Chelsea Public Library is one of 75 libraries across the country that was awarded the NASA@ My Library Grant, funded by NASA and the American Library Association. The initiative collaborates with libraries to increase and enhance STEM learning opportunities and activities.
“The main focus of this grant is to help underserved groups — especially youth – find more resources within STEM, and have more models for STEM careers,” said Martha Boksenbaum, CPL children’s librarian. “Often, women and people of color are underrepresented.”
Since May 2017, CPL has hosted a solar eclipse viewing party on City Hall lawn, offered a science café for adults, and presented a series of Tinker Time Workshops for children to explore scientific instruments such as a green screen and inferred thermometers.
Some panelists explained that, while there are elementary school events and an abundance of library programs for children, teenagers are an underserved population. Members of the community suggested increasing connections to the schools and library, and creating a more inviting atmosphere for young adults.
“In school there are a lot of classes in biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering, but it’s usually announced to the younger kids, and I think that’s great. The younger you are when you learn about science, the more you love it,” said Stephanie Alvarado, Chelsea High School senior. “We do tree mapping and water quality testing. That’s how I’m able to connect with STEM, but not the community as a whole.”
One of the main concerns mentioned during the community gathering was outreach to local STEM professionals that Chelsea residents could better relate to.
“A struggle I am experiencing in implementing this grant is showing examples of role models. I would like to represent people of color and women, but when I reach out, they are overwhelmingly not a representation of the majority of people here in the community,” explained Boksenbaum. “If the kids are learning that somebody next door is in a STEM field and looks like them, then they’re going to feel like that’s something they can do as well.”