(Photo by Jamique Mascoll, courtesy of NYU-Poly Center for K12 STEM Education)
If you’re an educator, don’t call Ben Esner to send an engineer to your classroom for Earth Day. STEM education has to go so much deeper than an annual lecture, and he’ll help you do that.
Esner is the director of the Center for K12 STEM Education at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. In that role, he leads a decade-old effort that builds initiatives with NYU-Poly faculty, graduate and undergraduate students for city public schools, after school programs and on its Brooklyn campus that bring “high quality and in-depth STEM programming” to both teachers and pupils.
“Great universities contribute to the life of a nation,” said Esner, who was born in Brooklyn Heights and currently lives in Bed-Stuy. Forgive him his college days at the University of Michigan and “a stint in the West Village,” and he’s committed his life’s work to Brooklyn, where he has spent 38 of his 47 years.
He sees the distance between the exploding technology communities in the borough and the sustained education shortcomings of Brooklyn’s poorest neighborhoods. That’s why NYU-Poly, “a school of opportunity,” as Esner calls it, is poised to do something about it.
In the program, NYU-Poly students, who contribute 10 hours a week for more than 30 weeks in addition to helping with after-school robotics teams, are paid for their time. They learn to deal with public school bureaucracy, kids and parents and experience the socioeconomic challenges that come when 98 percent of the young people they work with come from low-income backgrounds.
The program was launched in 2002 by Prof. Vikram Kapila in the NYU-Poly mechanical and aerospace engineering department.
The media side of the web is programmed as well, as Esner is growing content publication and digital media outlets to increase media literacy and promoting their work, all under the #STEMNow branding. Just look at the 22,000 people following them on Google+.
The program is also growing an analytics approach to evaluating their work. The program’s Central Brooklyn STEM Initiative has been formally evaluated during its five year history, where three out of every four students who participate in their program show an improvement in their math and science grades, according to data cited by Esner.
“We can’t overstate how beneficial this program has been both for our students and the young people we work with,” Esner said. “This is a big part of how we prepare for the future.”