The New York State Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP) has operated through New Paltz’s School of Education since 1986, enriching the math, science and technology skills of more than 120 underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students from local middle and high schools each year.
The program is highlighted by seven Saturday Academies, all-day events running once per month from November through May. Educators, advisors and science and technology professionals come together to provide students with academic opportunities, including supervised training in research methods with modern lab equipment, access to internships, test prep and academic and career counseling.
Recent examples of STEP course subjects include robotics, 3D replication, infectious disease, mathematical probability and cellular biology. There are chances for learning outside the classroom as well; in spring 2014 students traveled to Apple Pond Farm and Renewable Energy Education Center, where they got a first-hand look at agricultural sustainability technology.
“Our students are so much better prepared to navigate through high school and college than the average student, because they’ve got so much more information,” said Lenore Schulte, STEP project administrator at New Paltz.
More than 60 percent of participating students go on to choose a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) major at college after graduating high school. “It’s nice to see them go on and do well. All of us in the program, we want to see them succeed, and it makes us proud when they do,” Schulte said.
Current students at New Paltz also get the chance to contribute to the program and earn a stipend by conducting or assisting in STEP labs and lessons. The experience offers a chance to gain science education experience that makes a real difference in the community.
“Growing up I attended schools with large student bodies of underrepresented students, which were not getting the funding for resources they needed,” said Ivan Vivar ‘15, a computer engineering major who has worked as a STEP instructor through multiple semesters. “When I came to SUNY New Paltz I realized that many other schools face the same problem. This is why I continue to work with the STEP program: the kids I see come in, I kind of see a version of myself in them. I want to be a role model and show them, ‘I know it’s difficult, I know it’s unfair, but with hard work and determination you can go a long way.’”
STEP and CSTEP, which offers similar services to college students, are state-wide programs made possible by a New York State Education Department grant. STEP serves students at over 60 host colleges across New York. Its goal is to encourage participating students to continue their education after graduation in the fields of mathematics, science, technology and/or the licensed professions where minorities are traditionally underrepresented.
STEP activities at New Paltz are supported by the School of Education, by Campus Auxiliary Services, which offers discounted lunches for STEP students during the Saturday Academies, and by the students’ school districts, which provide on-site advising and student transportation to and from campus.