Our STEAM programming has a new name! FirstHand. Equal parts Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math, FirstHand’s mission is to provide Philadelphia’s curious minds access to the knowledge and resources of the Science Center. By fueling discovery and exploration with interactive programming, we are opening the doors for the minds of tomorrow. FirstHand ties into key areas of the Science Center’s mission and activities, including workforce development, resident engagement, and placemaking.
LAB COAT MOMENTS
Students feel different when they put on a lab coat. “I feel like a real scientist when I get my lab coat on. It’s like all of a sudden I’m ready to get down to business. I’m going to make something today,” says Kiyneeanay, an 8th grader at KiPP West Philadelphia Prep Charter School.
The Science Center is taking those “lab coat moments” a step further, as it dedicated one of its labs to FirstHand programming on a full-time basis in early 2015. The FirstHand Lab introduces students and their teachers to new ways of thinking and design through hands-on, project-based programming.
FirstHand believes that to transform the STEM career pipeline, we must connect students, educators, working scientists and community members in a shared learning space rich in resources. Working out of the FirstHand Lab in the Science Center’s Port business incubator, students learn first-hand about innovation and entrepreneurship—and gain exposure to aspects of STEM careers that frequently go unseen.
THE SCIENCE CENTER EXPERIENCE
Ever wonder what it’s like to pitch to a “shark tank”? Or examine cells so you can understand and treat illnesses? “The Science Center Experience,” a popular FirstHand program, is a window into the world of real-life science and start-up research labs.
The Science Center is teeming with scientists, researchers, and entrepreneurs who are eager to share their work with students and teachers. Despite the hectic lifestyle inherent in entrepreneurship, scientists at companies across the Science Center campus are opening the doors of their labs and offices to middle-school students and giving them a close look at what it’s really like to work in the STEM disciplines.
The mentors see the value too. “They are all smart kids with great questions and it was joy to have them around,” Olamide Sanuth, Manufacturing Supervisor at Invisible Sentinel, commented following a lab visit. “I think it’s very important they get these sorts of exposures; it can really make a difference in their future.”
We chose the name FirstHand for a reason. After all, there’s nothing more impactful for a student than first-hand experience. Through interactive, hands-on programming, FirstHand students design experiments, test hypotheses and develop projects to present to the community. And it’s having a meaningful impact—in 2014 alone, 535 students participated in more than 2,700 hours of FirstHand programming.
Programs such as DNA Selfie, Polymer Play and AmpItUp are supplemented with mentorships from the Science Center’s resident companies, giving students the chance to learn about and experience real-life science in real-world applications. In 2014, 33 scientists from 10 companies mentored students in their labs. One out of every six program hours that students were in the lab were spent with Science Center residents, learning about career opportunities.