For the past decade, students from Albany’s middle schools have dedicated their Saturdays to come to Siena to work on a range of science, technology, engineering, math (STEM), and art projects as participants in Siena College’s Informal STEM program (siena.edu/informalstem). Supported by the Albany City School District with matching funding from Siena College, the program recruits students from two elementary schools where any 5th or 6th grade students are invited to participate. We do not recruit from the middle schools as returning middle school students complete our enrollment.
Participating middle school students typically meet on the Siena campus one day per week (Saturday) for 14 weeks during the Fall and Spring semesters for a total of 70 hours. The program has grown to serve about 90 upper elementary, middle and high school students. Participants, or scholars, are bussed to the Siena campus each week to spend the day working in Siena’s science labs on projects ranging from physics lessons with Lego Robotics, exploring Quantum Mechanics in a Minecraft world, creating augmented reality games, and learning how to get into space in KerbalEDU. In an effort to bridge the arts and science, the program has offered sessions in Cartooning in Science, Programming with Scratch, and creating with littleBits. Experienced teachers or subject matter experts and Siena undergraduate students in some courses lead the individual sessions.
Transportation and lunch is provided for all participants. Scholars arrive on campus at 10 AM and kick off the day with a snack during the Morning Meeting. At 10:15 AM, scholars go to their respective sessions. Scholars break at noon and meet at Siena’s undergraduate cafeteria for lunch. After lunch, scholars set off for their afternoon sessions. At 2:45 PM, all scholars report back to a common room to share highlights from the day’s activities, reflect on achievements, and prepare for the short bus trip back to Albany.