Rice Empower inspires students to pursue STEM
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2012 23:10
Most students have to take basic science courses like chemistry, biology and physics in high school, but one Rice group is trying to bridge the gap between these classes and their real-life applications. Rice Empower, now in its third year, is working to teach students in Houston-area schools about careers in the sciences.
According to Rice Empower President Trent Navran, the organization has three main initiatives: training Rice students to be leaders in science, educating K-12 students about science while inspiring them to pursue careers in the sciences and encouraging dialogues about science in the Houston community.
All Rice students who participate in the program are trained in leadership workshops in collaboration with Leadership Rice. Members additionally work with the Civic Scientist Program at the Baker Institute for Public Policy. The program tries to cultivate knowledge about and interest in science, according to Navran.
“A civic scientist is someone willing to step beyond the lab to communicate about science and increase an interest in STEM,” Navran, a McMurtry College sophomore, said.
Once equipped with skills in scientific leadership, members participate in school dialogues at K-12 schools. Thus far, Rice Empower has worked with nearly 1,500 students at Houston-area schools. The dialogues consist of a panel session with civic scientists from a variety of fields and workplaces including Rice, the Texas Medical Center and the oil industry, according to Navran.
After the panel discussion, the students get a chance to apply their scientific knowledge by participating in hands-on science activities, such as launching bottle rockets and building solar cells, Navran said.
Rice Empower Faculty Sponsor Renata Ramos said she thinks the program helps kids see what scientists and engineers actually do.
“A lot of times, you’re in high school, and you’re doing fundamentals of these subjects, and they seem kind of boring,” Ramos, a lecturer in bioengineering, said. “Bringing people in who are in science and math [as careers] will get them excited about the topic. [Students] can see that the careers are interesting and that this is a fun option that they might not have considered before.”
Rice Empower Chief of Staff Gabrien Clark said he was inspired by a recent dialogue in which Rice University professor of computational and applied mathematics Steve Cox stepped down from the table and spoke directly to the students on a more informal basis.
“The students were able to more comfortably relate to him,” Clark said. “He opened up and shared not only his successes, but also his failures and how he was able to persevere. It’s a model we want to follow for future dialogues.”
Clark, a Hanszen College junior, is in charge of organizing the school dialogues. He said that in addition to teaching students about science, Rice Empower members also serve as informal mentors to students.
“It’s an excellent opportunity to talk to the students and share your experience beyond science,” Clark said.
Navran said he found opportunities to talk to students about college.
“We can talk about college applications, the SATs or how to get into Rice,” Navran said. “I really encourage people who might not otherwise apply to college to consider applying.”
After visiting a school, Navran said the program offers the school the Empower Challenge, which encourages teachers and students at the school to pass down what they learned to the students in the grades below them.
“You get most excited about something when you’re sharing it with someone else,” Navran said.
According to Navran, the program is seeing positive results.
“We did a survey of the approximately 1,200 students reached in our first two years, and over 90 percent said that they are more interested in a career in science,” Navran said.
Rice Empower is working with Houston Independent School District to find ways to expand the program to more schools. Additionally, the organization informally collaborates with Rice graduates working with Teach For America to find schools, according to Navran.