Nathaniel Gauthier, a ninth-grader at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science, has participated in programs from Steppingstone Scholars, a local educational nonprofit for low-income students in Philadelphia, for five years.
Gauthier is excited to finally return to in-person learning after participating in virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Steppingstone’s biomedical and life sciences offerings mostly returned to in-person learning for the first time since its inception last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. The eight-week session, which began in February and will end in the first week of April, offers two programs for students at its partner Philadelphia high schools — one on Tuesdays affiliated with the Pennsylvania Society for Biomedical Research and another on Wednesdays with The eClose Institute, a local organization that encourages scientific partnerships between teachers and students.
“I’m glad it’s in person because it’s been a long two years where everything’s virtual,” Gauthier said.
The programs are offered to increase interest in subjects relating to science, technology, engineering and mathematics among local high school students and facilitate a pathway that leads students to pursue careers in Philadelphia’s STEM industry, said Jeremy Heyman, associate director of STEM training and ventures for Steppingstone.
Steppingstone provides Philadelphia students with academic programs, college opportunities and enrichment programs. The program is not affiliated with Temple University, but uses its spaces for its programs and has some partnerships with programs at the university, Heyman said.
Classes in partnership with the eClose Institute are primarily in person at the OWLHub located on 11th Street near Berks, but students, who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 or are unable to attend in person for accessibility reasons, participate virtually using Zoom, Heyman said. PSBR affiliated classes are entirely in person.
Primarily in-person programming has allowed instructors and students to form more personal connections with each other and the material they are learning, Heyman said.
“Students are really hungry for more in-person opportunities, we can engage more with students and have more intense experiences with them in person,” Heyman said.
Steppingstone started offering biomedical and life science programming virtually in Fall 2021, with plans to offer mostly in-person programs in the spring. The Omicron variant of COVID-19 disrupted some opportunities including field trips and job shadowing, Heyman wrote in an email to The Temple News.
Recently, students in the eClose program examined diabetes in fruit flies by submerging them in different foods. The PSBR program is guiding students in microbiology projects, like gene editing.
Students from the eClose program will present their project remotely or in person at Ritter Hall on April 27.
At Carver High School, Gauthier takes freshman biology and plans to take anatomy or Advanced Placement Biology in the future. In contrast to what he learns in school, Gauthier likes how the eClose program emphasizes research and analysis.
Students are encouraged to get involved in a STEM-related field to be better equipped with problem-solving and decision-making skills, according to the United States Department of Education.
“There’s a growing number of biotech, biomanufacturing, cell and gene therapy work, companies, et cetera, that are going on here in Philadelphia in terms of industry as well as in academia,” Heyman said. “It’s really blowing up here.”
As one of the instructors of the eClose program, Kavita Kute, a sophomore public health major, enjoys passing down her passion and knowledge for microbiology down to the high school students she teaches.
“I know that a lot of these programs work as a pipeline so with me, I started [in] one and now I’m teaching years later,” Kute said.
After the programs end, Steppingstone maintains contact with their partner high schools and arranges for STEM-related field trips for their students. The programs’ coordinators help advise students on participating in Steppingstone’s summer internships, Heyman said.
Steppingstone will be offering internship programs, like the Science Engineering Lab internship, for students to continue to cultivate their skills in STEM, Heyman said. The internships are in partnership with local corporations and universities, like Temple.
“I really like giving that information down to people who maybe don’t have as many biology classes or as many hands-on lab experiences,” Kute said.