Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Science Center’s new $4M federal grant will bring STEM education to 300+ kids

The funding for the org's FirstHand program will come over five years and serve students in eight West Philadelphia middle schools.

University City Science Center's FirstHand program.

(Courtesy photo)

Amid the ongoing push from University City institutions to get more Philadelphians into STEM careers, University City Science Center’s STEM education program for teens is the recipient of nearly $4 million from the US Department of Education, the org announced this week.

FirstHand, which launched in 2014, offers project-based programming to local schools and community organizations, intending to spark interest in STEM careers for middle and high school students. Throughout 2020, the program worked with more than 250 middle and high schoolers from 12 Philly schools. In April, it received nearly $188,000 from Gov. Tom Wolf’s PAsmart, a $10.8 million fund to expand access to computer science and STEM education.

The new five-year, $3.975 million grant was a part of $182 million designated to 30 school districts, institutions, higher ed or nonprofit orgs as part of the Education Innovation and Research program.

AnLar LLC and Palmer Wolf Corporation will serve as research and evaluation partners on the grant. The planning and educational services companies will conduct an evaluation to collect baseline data and refine FirstHand’s program delivery, as well as evaluate the effectiveness of the curricula on students’ STEM identities, competencies and skills.

The grant will go toward serving more than 300 students in sixth through eighth grade at eight different West Philly schools, the Science Center said. The programming takes place at the Science Center’s 5,000-square-foot learning center with two wet labs and a makerspace that has hand and power tools as well as prototyping tools like laser cutters. The space also houses a digital studio equipped with laptops and design software.

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“The Science Center is ensuring that Philadelphia youth can participate in and benefit from the region’s thriving life sciences ecosystem. FirstHand’s unique combination of STEM career exposure, industry-informed curricula, and project-based learning helps put students on that pathway,” said Science Center President and CEO Tiffany Wilson in a release. “We are incredibly grateful to the Department of Education for this grant which enables us to open more doors for the minds of tomorrow.”

A few months ago, a recent FirstHand cohort was featured in a short film produced by UnitEd for Equality. The film highlights what the high schoolers have learned — and why they’re intrigued by and pursuing careers in technology. Check it out:

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