New Kensington's Tracie Brockhoff wins WISE award for STEM projects

Tracie Brockhoff, demonstration and equipment specialist in biology and chemistry at Penn State New Kensington, was honored March 19 by Penn State's Women in the Sciences and Engineering (WISE) Institute.

Brockhoff, co-director for the campus' Females Interested in Reaching for Science, Technology and Engineering (FIRSTE) program, received the WISE Recognition Award for her work with high school girls in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The WISE Institute annually honors students, faculty and staff who have helped women and girls excel in the STEM disciplines.

Established in 1994, WISE represents an innovative approach to cross-disciplinary interaction among engineers, humanists, scientists and social scientists to promote the representation and diversity of women in the STEM fields. The institute supports programs and activities at select Penn State campuses and colleges.

Brockhoff was nominated for the award by Deborah Sillman, instructor in biology at the campus. In addition to teaching, Sillman, along with biology professor Bill Hamilton, also oversees the maintenance of the campus Nature Trail and virtual trail.

“Tracie has been a role model and a mentor to many girls and young women for more than 20 years," Sillman said. "She shares her expertise and passion for science with students at our campus and in area public schools with great humor and patience.”

At the New Kensington campus, Brockhoff developed FIRSTE, an annual two-day summer program that targets potential college-bound ninth-through-11th grade girls who are considering a career in science, technology or engineering. The objective of the program is to foster involvement of girls in these traditionally male fields by reaching them during the career-formative years of high school.

"Tracie's work with the FIRSTE Program and local 4-H programs is extraordinary, and she has done so much to help create an active, caring, and student-focused climate at the campus," said Hamilton said. "But it is her day to day, semester to semester work, with nursing, pre-med, pre-vet, biology and chemistry students, that has made the faculty so effective at helping these individuals find their way along their academic and professional paths."

STEM is a statewide initiative 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 grade-school students, especially females, minorities and the underrepresented, in the four core disciplines critical to the development of technological innovations.

Public-private collaboration is the cornerstone of the initiative. The Alcoa Foundation announced in October an investment of $70,000 in the New Kensington campus to augment K-12 STEM learning. The initiative, "Alcoa Foundation-Penn State New Kensington Partners for Engaged Learning in STEM Skills," integrates existing STEM activities into a coordinated and sustainable program.

Alcoa Foundation's investment builds on projects already in existence at Penn State New Kensington, such as the FIRSTE and Kids in College programs. Kids in College is a summer program that offers a variety of academic activities for students in elementary and secondary schools. Each year, more than 400 youths participate in the campus camps.

Maureen Ryan, owner and president of Write Connections LLC, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in grant writing services, recently joined the campus staff to develop and manage STEM programs. Ryan's charge is three-fold: 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; identify funding opportunities to support the programs; and implement the programs to improve the STEM skills of grade-school students, as well as those of the community workforce.

For a list of all award recipients and more about FIRSTE, STEM, and WISE, visit online.

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Last Updated April 21, 2010