Greenpoint youth STEMming from students to amateur engineers
by Lisa A. Fraser
Aug 03, 2011 | 2233 views | 0 0 comments | 173 173 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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One group of Greenpoint teenagers are certainly not bored this summer.

The Greenpoint YMCA along with ExxonMobil and the Wallerstein Collaborative for Urban Environmental Education at New York University Steinhardt are offering a unique summer program that aims to nurture teens’ interest in environmental literacy, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Known as SYSTEM, the program is enabling local teens to work on projects ranging from engineering and environmental sustainability to problem-solving science experiments and applicable community projects while utilizing STEM standards in their work.

Fourteen students are participating in the six-week interdisciplinary program, which is in its second year and funded by ExxonMobil. So far, they have been integrating green technology projects related to gardening and urban forestry on New York University’s campus and in the Greenpoint community, enabling them to become more engaged in helping out locally.

“It’s important because they’re promoting the environment,” said Margaret Christman, the teen coordinator of SYSTEM.

Each week the teens work together to build a new project, aimed to guide them into giving back to the community. From July 19 to 22, they worked at the Polytechnic Institute at NYU, where they learned about robotics, including the fundamentals of mechatronics and the importance of integrating mechanical, electrical and computer engineering to a project.

With the help of NYU-Poly engineering professors and students, the teens developed prototype devices to monitor soil moisture and humidity levels in the Lentol Community Garden in Greenpoint.

The boxed devices were set up in the Lentol Garden last week. The students were able to put their own spin on the devices by having them light up play a certain tune if the moisture in the garden becomes too low.

“It gets them to think of how one could use a robotic device to benefit the environment,” Christman said. “And in Greenpoint the kids are excited because they feel more connected to the neighborhood.”

Last week, the teens were visited by educators at Solar One, a green energy, arts and education non-profit. The educators encouraged the teens to look at problems they had observed in the garden from an environmental engineer’s perspective.

With no running water source in the garden, the group devised a plan to build a rain catchment system in the middle of the garden, since that is the place where water is hardest to get to.

After two days of work, the garden now has a constructed roof and a pergola, as well as a rainwater catchement system that drains storm water into barrels. The devices will enable the garden to use stored water, which will be carried from the barrels into tubes that direct the water into parts of the garden where it needs it the most.

For the next project, the students will be working with Trees New York, a nonprofit organization that cares for street trees. The students will take an exam after working with Trees New York and if they pass, they will become certified tree care providers. It is a certification issued by the nonprofit.

All of the projects, Christman said, enable the students to take ownership of the garden. And toward the end of the summer program, each student will focus on their individual interests, working on a project that will help them to figure out which area best fits them.

One SYSTEM member, Muhammed Uppal, saw the NYU Poly opportunity as only the beginning. “This trip connected with me and my future perfectly because I hope to pursue an engineering career,” he said. “When I first walked into the room I knew that this would be a great experience.”

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