What do They do There Anyway? Get to Know Science from Scientists!

July 26, 2022

Off Loomis street at One Deangelo Drive, you come to a nondescript office where exciting things happen.

Suite C is the headquarters for Science from Scientists, SfS for shortI was curious: what do they do there anyway?

Science from Scientists was started by Erika Ebbel Angle, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Boston University School of Medicine.

The company was founded in 2002, with the specific mission to teach and inspire the next generation by improving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, including Computer Science) literacy.

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Angle said she identified the problem firsthand while tutoring local school kids in high school.   Young kids, especially kids in underserved communities, were not being exposed to a STEM curriculum.   

The idea was to bridge that gap by bringing real scientists into the classroom, to teach and inspire these kids.  SfS instructors bring both their expertise and their passion into the school with an every-other-week program to engage students with hands-on science activities.   

Beyond just encouraging STEM aptitude SfS instructors also want to change students’ STEM attitude.  They concentrate on elementary and middle school students.   In that age group there are many obstacles to engaging students in STEM,  whether from peer pressure (kids thinking science isn’t cool) to teachers not having time or being unfamiliar with some of the science themselves, lack of parental support, and a host of other issues. This is a critical time to get kids engaged in STEM studies. The SfS approach is very hands-on; making science fun and interesting is one of the goals.  

The program really works, and their curriculum has had a big impact.  Schools taking part in the programs are seeing their standardized test scores dramatically increasing.

Here’s how it works: SfS has a catalog of different learning modules that schools can choose from.  Schools often use the SfS modules to augment their current curriculum.  The modules span several disciplines, including Chemistry, Engineering, Earth Science, Life Science, Physics, Scientific Practices, and Technology.

Within these modules there is an extensive curriculum on specific subjects in that larger category. For example, under Earth Science there is a whole course on plate tectonics; in the physics module there is a course on gravity.   

Currently, SfS is in 84 schools teaching more than 11,000 students.  The organization has 13 full time instructors and between 30 and 45 part-time instructors. They also run vacation camps,  outreach events,  as well as other events for kids.  SfS recently did a new interactive, live science demonstration, “Growing the Future,” at the 2021 Taste of EPCOT® International Flower and Garden Festival at Walt Disney World Resort.

Image courtesy Science from Scientists

Funding for the programs comes from various sources-some from the school systems themselves as well as from grants and donations.  

I talked with Angle about some of the challenges.  Navigating the various school districts, recruiting scientists, and courting donors is a lot to coordinate. The key, she said, is to get a foot in the door.  Schools talk to each other; once SfS is in a school district, others hear about it and the program spreads. 

Their instructors come from the STEM fields around the area.  Many are recent graduates who are trying to figure out whether they want to go into education. Some are retirees and others are new mothers who have left industry and are looking for a less demanding schedule. That being said, Angle noted the courses they teach require a lot of preparation and it’s not at all a casual endeavor.  

Grants come from different sources, see their supporter page: https://www.sciencefromscientists.org/supporters-2/.   The donations and grants allow the SfS program to be implemented in underserved communities where the lack of STEM curriculum is even more pronounced. 

SfS is currently in three geographic areas; Massachusetts, Minnesota, and the Bay area in California.  California and Massachusetts have many STEM  industries and universities in the area which means there are more funding opportunities as well as available scientists to draw from.

How they ended up in Minnesota is a story in its own right.  Angle said she got a call from a Geologist who had heard an interview she was doing on NPR.   The Geologist really loved the idea and wanted to bring the program to her state.  She brought it to the powers that be and did the legwork to bring it to Minnesota.  Angle said having a champion in a region is key to launching it.

With their hands-on approach how did they survive the pandemic closures and remote learning? Angle said they quickly had to adapt and came up with different approaches.  The staff adapted half of the 100 lessons into lessons that were teachable virtually. To complement this, the SfS instructors would prepare baggies containing materials the children would use to do the hands-on component of the lesson. These would be dropped off at the schools for the students to pick up and bring home. The lesson could then be taught over Zoom with students still having that hands-on experience at home.   She said they learned a lot from the experience and are looking to apply those lessons in other geographies going forward in order to reach more schools.  

Not only does Erika Ebbel Angle run SfS but she is a founder and CEO of Ixcela, a BioTech business also in Bedford.  With her husband, she created Robots in Service of the Environment (or RSE), which involves using robots to help with environmental issues.  Look for this to be a future story!

Angle’s husband was one of the founders of iRobot which is one of the reasons they ended up here in Bedford.  She said they always had good experiences here and really like the town.

There are a many interesting companies here in our small town.  If there is a company you are curious about, let us know for our continuing “What Do they Do There Anyway?” series.

 

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Heather R Thacore
July 29, 2022 8:01 pm

This is fascinating! I’m curious why there aren’t any partnerships with local Bedford schools.

BarbaraAldorisio
July 27, 2022 1:12 pm

Gene: Very interesting, please keep writing these articles…Barbara

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