An innovative STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) initiative at Penn State New Kensington will provide online career mentoring for middle school females.
The new program, Courses on Math, Engineering, Technolog, and Science, also known as COMETS, targets seventh- and eighth-grade girls who have an interest in the STEM fields. Volunteer mentors, drawn from Penn State alumna and friends in STEM-related professions, will share their experiences on career opportunities in their fields. In addition to mentoring, the 10-week program features guest speakers and demonstrations.
“The mentors will provide new perspectives on their careers, as well as perspectives on other STEM careers for the girls,” said Debra Novak, coordinator of STEM programs at the campus. “In addition, the mentors will give support to the students.”
The COMETS program begins in January and Novak is recruiting volunteer mentors for the first class that is expected to enroll 25-30 girls. Mentors will hold weekly online sessions of 20-30 minutes with their mentees.
“I'm looking for women in STEM-related careers,” said Novak, who earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Pittsburgh. “There will be a short online orientation to assist the volunteers in the mentoring role. I welcome any alumni or friends of Penn State who would be willing to participate in our program.”
STEM is a statewide effort dedicated to preparing Pennsylvania students for global competitiveness through a strategy of enhanced education and career development opportunities. The initiatives are designed to increase the number of students, especially females, minorities and the underrepresented, in the STEM fields.
Novak, who joined the campus community in October, coordinates the campus’ four STEM programs -- Kids in College, Green Environmental Challenge for Kids Outreach (GECKO), STEM Academy and COMETS. Her responsibilities include increasing the interest of grade-school students in the four core disciplines critical to the development of technological innovations. She develops and manages STEM initiatives by bringing together representatives from the campus, local school districts and regional industries. The initiatives are geared to elementary and secondary students.
Kids in College, celebrating its 25th year in June, is a summer program that combines hands-on activities and STEM camps for students in grades one to 12. The STEM-related classes include courses like the Daring Designs where students draw scale plans for a bedroom or game room using a scientific perspective and Rocketry class, which is an opportunity for students to build their own model rockets and launch them. Kids in College is sponsored by the Grable Foundation.
The two-year GECKO program allows freshman and sophomore education and science majors at the campus to share lessons with local students, from kindergarten to the eighth grade, in Allegheny, Armstrong and Westmoreland county school districts. GECKO is supported by a grant from the Buhl Foundation.
STEM Academy, which began this fall, targets high school students. The program provides dual-enrollment courses that are focused on STEM majors. Students are given options for courses that can be taken at the New Kensington campus.
“The academy provides students with the advantages of earning college credits while in high school and exploring a career path that is STEM-related," said Novak, who teaches English as a second language in the Burrell School District. “It also provides an opportunity for high school teachers to work with campus faculty to develop the talents of college-bound and workforce-bound students whose career interests will require advanced knowledge of STEM areas.”
The campus’ four STEM projects complement Novak’s charge to coalesce interdisciplinary teams of grade school teachers and administrators, higher education students and faculty, and industry representatives to determine the best approach to STEM literacy in the region.
“STEM-related growth is expected to expand immensely in the near future for the Alle-Kiski Valley,” said Novak, who lives in Lower Burrell with her husband and four children. “Our programs are directed at introducing and supporting the necessary pathways for students in our area districts for success in STEM jobs.”