There’s some serious innovation happening at Wildwood’s Upper School with the launch of the Applied STEM Institute. The goal is to get students involved in a range of scientific research projects that draw on various disciplines. But first, the students themselves are being tasked with designing and creating this center for applied, integrated research in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math.)
Wildwood’s new Applied STEM Coordinator, Joe Wise, and Upper School Director, Lori Strauss, initiated and are supporting the new Institute, but the expectation is that students will lead it.
“We’re here to be on the leading edge of scientific research in any high school, anywhere,” says Joe. Some potential projects: Lasers, cosmic ray detection, radio telescopy, 3D printing, and engineering, to name a few.
From the vibe at the first meeting, it seems students were plenty interested.
“That is so awesome!” says 10th grader Conor G.
Joe is ideally suited to guiding Wildwood students in creating their Institute. A career educator who joins the Wildwood upper school faculty this year, Joe has decades of teaching experience and building STEM-related science programs. He’s also served as an educational consultant for the Jet Propulsion Lab, helping educators inspire student interest in recent NASA missions.
The vision for the Institute, Joe tells a group of assembled students, is to be the high school equivalent of a university research center. But, he emphasizes, they will spend this initial design year creating and defining it. Once the Institute is up and running next year, Wildwood students will propose projects and conduct research in their areas of interest. Students will collaborate in their work within and across grade levels and scientific disciplines. When they’ve graduated, they’ll have laid the groundwork for younger students to build upon.
Even at the first meeting, students were pressing to expand the research menu. Eleventh grader Zach L. suggests that the Institute also consider research in the biological and cognitive sciences. “Absolutely,” says Joe. “This Institute is what you make it to be. We could do research into artificial intelligence.” The answer elicits a smile from Zach.
The Applied STEM Institute (A-STEM, for short) aligns with Wildwood’s progressive profile as a school that fosters student interest and ownership in their learning—two essentials for success in college and life. With an ideal balance of adult guidance, academic preparation, and creative freedom, the Institute will spark students’ deeper learning and collaboration—all the while encouraging real-world science work.
Joe skillfully helps the students realize that they are building something from the ground up that will leave their mark for future generations of Wildwood students. “I like the idea of starting something new, and leaving a legacy once I graduate,” Conor G. says. “And I’m really excited about doing research that I’ve designed,” he adds.
Innovation defines Wildwood’s A-STEM Institute in the making. Driven by student interest, the design phase of this new venture implies a deep trust in students’ abilities, and their desire to take their work seriously. In the months ahead, these students and their peers will encounter many opportunities for learning, leadership, collaboration, and preparation for college and life.
~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach