COVID-19 community project: Making of facial masks

Due to the spread of COVID-19, social distancing measures were taken by the university and the state, which resulted in all Penn State campuses and most businesses being shut down. Consequently, our EnvironMentors students found themselves having to continue courses online and transition to completing their research projects virtually.  Dealing with the isolation of quarantine, the impact of the pandemic, and adapting to these sudden changes were not only unfamiliar but also difficult for the students. Despite these challenges, our student participants at the University Park campus remained resilient and wanted to make a positive impact in their community in State College.

As a result, they came up with the idea of making comfortable facemasks that can be worn by healthcare and other essential workers. In order to adhere to the social distancing and quarantine rules, we bought the fabrics and materials necessary for the masks and dropped them at each student’s individual homes. Once the masks were completed, they were picked up and donated to the State College Food Bank, our organization of choice. We are extremely proud of our University Park’s students’ generosity and for taking the time to invest within their community.

COVID-19 webinar: The Virus and its Health Disparities

As part of our EnvironMentors program’s efforts to engage our students during this period of social distancing, we have organized a webinar on COVID-19 in order to discuss the current pandemic and learn more about the virus. We hosted the first webinar, entitled “COVID-19: The Virus and its Health Disparities” last Friday, May 2nd and we invited Penn State professors, Dr. Kristin Szajder and Dr. Yendelela Cuffee to share their expertise and findings on the subject.

Dr. Sznajder is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Services and Behavioral research in the College of Medicine. She is also a social epidemiologist with a primary focus on researching the health disparities faced by women of reproductive age. Her research has centered on the social, environmental, and behavioral aspects of health outcomes such as HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health, and mental health. She currently works on teams to conduct field research on primary prevention measures related to infectious disease in complex environments; the social determinants of negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes; and environmental determinants of ill-health in vulnerable populations. Dr. Sznajder’s presentation on Friday, entitled: “COVID-19: Investigating a pandemic” was on the field epidemiology and how the discipline is currently examining the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Yendelela Cuffee is a social epidemiologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at Penn State College of Medicine. Her research examines the psychosocial and behavioral determinants of health among African Americans and Latinos, including race and gender-based discrimination, positive affect, and spirituality. Dr. Cuffee develops and implements community-based research to promote behavioral change; her current research project uses storytelling to promote lifestyle modification and behavioral change among African Americans with hypertension. Dr. Cuffee’s presentation entitled: “Health Disparities and the Impact of COVID-19: A Social Justice Issue” talked about her research on high blood pressure within minority communities and its implications in the pandemic.

Both Dr. Szanjder and Dr. Cuffee shared several insightful and important information regarding the pandemic and the different ways we can help flatten the curve and decrease the current number of cases across the nation. Click both presentations’ titles to download the slides to get more information about COVID-19.

 

EnvironMentors: Updates!

 Due to the fast-spreading of the COVID-19 virus, NCSE, the parent organization of the EnvironMentors program has decided to cancel this academic year’s  National Science Fair and has left it to individual chapters across the country to cancel or continue the program on their campuses for the remainder of this year. At Penn State EnvironMentors, our research teams have worked very hard on their projects thus far and we do want their time and effort spent this academic year to be wasted. As a result, we have decided to move forward with the program and have asked our faculty mentors, if possible, to restructure their teams’ research projects and to lead their teams to complete them online. 

Thankfully, the majority of our faculty mentors have agreed to continue mentoring and leading their mentees on their projects virtually. Therefore, we have decided to hold a virtual showcase during which students who are able to conclude their projects, will get to present their projects to their peers and mentors. Furthermore, our virtual showcase will not be a competition based, poster showcase, but rather focus on students giving summary presentations about their projects. We are using this transition period to not only engage our Environmentors students and but also encourage them to be as creative as possible with their presentations. The virtual showcase will be held on Saturday, May 16th, 2020. During the showcase, our students at University Park, Harrisburg and Shenango campuses who are able to complete their projects, will present them to their families, friends, and members of the Penn State community. we hope to demonstrate the resilience of our participants in this crisis during the showcase. Please click on the link below to register for the showcase

Register for the 2020 Virtual STEM Showcase

EnvironMentors Harrisburg Campus Kickoff

Penn State Harrisburg campus is located in Middletown, Pennsylvania. Harrisburg is one of two campuses that will work with University Park in the EnvironMentors Program. This academic year, we have officially started our EnvironMentors chapter group at the Harrisburg branch campus. We have successfully recruited high school student participants from two high schools in the area, Harrisburg High Sci-Tech campus, and Middletown High. We were also to recruit both faculty and undergraduate student mentors to lead and guide the high school students during this academic year.

Furthermore, research teams have been formed and have also started working on their research projects.  Lastly, last week on Tuesday, February 25th, our Harrisburg team held their official kickoff event during all program participants and student parents got together for the first time and learn more details about the EnvironMentors program and their research projects.

Meet and Greet with Dr. Aziza Baccouche

 

February is Black History Month and to commemorate the contributions and impact of African Americans to the STEM field, we invited Dr. Aziza Baccouche to give a lecture to members of the student body at University Park.

Dr. Aziza Baccouche is a nuclear physicist by training and is currently working as a science media producer in affiliation with AZIZA Productions, a science media production company established in 2000. While working on her Ph.D. in theoretical nuclear physics at the University of Maryland at College Park, Dr. Baccouche received a Mass Media Science & Engineering fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and was assigned to CNN’s science and technology unit in Atlanta Georgia. During her fellowship, she gained hands-on experience producing science news video segments which aired on CNN’s newscasts. This experience launched her career as a TV science producer and on-air correspondent. After receiving her doctorate in physics in 2002, Dr. Aziza became a regular science producer and correspondent for Evening Exchange on Howard University Television, a PBS affiliate station. As president and CEO of AZIZA Productions, Dr. Baccouche spends most of her time running the day-to-day operations of her company and takes an active role in her company’s production.

Throughout her career, Dr. Baccouche has faced many challenges not only as an African American woman in Science but also has as a legally blind one. Dr. Baccouche started losing her sight at the young age of 6 years old due to a brain tumor and has gone through 9 brain surgeries since then. Despite these many challenges, Dr. Baccouche has persevered through, and remained resilient and committed to her goals and purpose. Dr. Baccouche  is currently producing a personal television documentary titled “Seeking Vision.” Through this film, she hopes to change the general public’s perception and attitudes about the abilities of legally blind and other disabled people. Last week, on Wednesday, our EnvironMentors students had the great opportunity to meet with Dr. Baccouche and listen to her share her story.

Cuboctahedron workshop with Prof DK Osseo-Asare

 

As the Spring semester resumed last month, our students took a short break to focus on meeting with their mentors and to make progress on their research projects. We resumed program our activities this week with a workshop led by Penn State Professor of Architecture and Design DK Osseo-Asare. Professor Osseo-Asare guided our students through the process of design thinking and the building of cuboctahedron. A Cuboctahedrons is a polyhedron with 8 triangular faces and 6 square faces. It has 12 identical vertices, 2 triangles, 2 squares, and 24 identical edges. The building of the polyhedron is based on a project that Prof. Osseo-Asare is also guiding his students in one of his classes.

The ultimate goal of the project is his students to build environmentally sustainable cuboctahedron that will be hanging from the wall and in which veggies can be grown. The workshop with our EnvironMentors students was an overview of the project. our students not only got challenged in design thinking that they can apply to their own research projects.  They also gained new skills through the process of building the cuboctahedron. Please check out the pictures of the workshop.

 

 

Visit to the PSU Center for Nanotechnology Education and Utilization (CNEU)

 

On November, 21st, we took our EnvironMentors students on to visit the Penn State’s Center for Nanotechnology Education and Utilization (CNEU) at the University Park campus. Through a partnership with the Pennsylvania Nanofabrication Manufacturing Technology (NMT), Penn State created CNEU to tackle the needs of Pennsylvania’s skilled nanofabrication workers industry. Since its creation, CNEU has been dedicated “to research, development, and education across all aspects of micro-and nanotechnology” (CNEU).  The center also focuses on incorporating nanotechnology into secondary education, post-secondary education, and industry applications.

Furthermore, CNEU is also home to the UN’s Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chair. During our visit, our students not only had fun touring CNEU’s cleanroom/lab, which also serves as a classroom for the center’s students. The cleanroom contains various equipment ranging from a field emission Scanning electron microscope, furnace, Optical microscope, and many more. Our students also got to learn about the different research and nanotechnology products being created at the center.

EnvironMentors Field Trip to Fallingwater

 

As we officially kicked off our program activities at the beginning of this month, we took our students on our first field trip of this academic to Mill Run, Pennsylvania to visit the famous Fallingwater house.  Built in the 193os, Fallingwater is a house that was designed by world-renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and was commissioned by the Kaufman family as their private residence and weekend home. Fallingwater was constructed of native sandstone and bolder stones that were found at the location. In addition, Wright designed Fallingwater to rise above the waterfall upon which it was built. Fallingwater is not only one of Wright’s most widely acclaimed works but one that best exemplifies his philosophy of organic architecture.

The house is surrounded by natural land known as the Bear Run nature reserve, hence, Wright designed the house in a manner it’s inhabitant feels immersed in the nature surrounding the property. Furthermore, Fallingwater is not only a beautiful architectural masterpiece that was designed to be ahead of its time but also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site this year. it is also designated as a National Historic Landmark and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Treasure. Our students not only had fun touring the home but also learned about the building process and history of the house. Fallingwater is open to pubic a museum and is the only major design of Wright to be open to the public domain.

The 2019 National Science Fair

 

The EnvironMentors National Science Fair is the culminating event of the EnvironMentors program, during which the top three winners from each EnvironMentors’s chapters across the country gather to present their research projects and compete for the top award prizes. The National Science Fair is held every year in Washington D.C, home of the EnvironMentors program. The 2019 EnvironMentors National Science Fair was held from June 1st to June 4th, 2019. A total of 20 plus students from 8 EnvironMentors chapters across the nation gathered in Washington this past weekend, to not only meet each other for the very first time but socialize with one another and also compete for the top three scholarship prizes.

 

 

The National Council for Science and the EnvironMentors (NCSE), which is the parent organization of the EnvironMentors program, organized fun and engaging activities that our student enjoyed during the trip to Washington D.C. All chapter students and leaders arrived and settled in the hotel accommodations on Saturday, June 1st. On Sunday, June 2nd, students, first, got a special tour of the entomology department in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. During the tour,  they got to learn about the conservation of the different species of insects being studied at the Smithsonian. Next, students got to tour the National Museum of African American History and Culture where they learned more about the rich history of African Americans spanning from the 1400s to the present day. Following tours of both museums, students also got to have a fun time visiting the Smithsonian National Zoo.

 

 

After an eventful weekend, the Science Fair was held the next day, Monday, June 3rd at the Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives. Established in the 1800s, the Charles Sumner school was one of the first public elementary school buildings for African American students in Washington, D.C.  The Sumner School was built as a national monument to honor former U.S Senator Charles Sumner, who was well known for his leadership and contributions to the anti-slavery forces in Massachusetts during the American Civil War. Today, the Sumner school collects and preserves rich and cultural materials and documents that capture the untold stories of the people, history, and evolution of the D.C public education system. During the Science Fair, the top three students, a total of  16 from 8 EnvironMentors chapters presented the research projects that they worked hard on during the 2018-2019 academic year. Their research projects were reviewed by experts and professionals from diverse fields who served as Judges during the Fair.

 

 

This year, NCSE selected three winners for the Science Fair and our students, Tyrin-Ian Todd and Natalia Carrasco-Munoz’s research, entitled Particles Matter: The Creation of a Low-Cost Sensor Network, came first place and won the scholarship award of $2500. Anh Vo of the University of California Davis chapter won 2nd place, and Briana Coleman of the Louisiana State University chapter placed third. Our two additional students that presented at the National Science Fair were Shawn Oputa whose research project is entitled Developing a web-based, interactive streamflow viewer tool; and Ireolubowa Mayegun, whose research project is titled temporal Variability of Carbon Dioxide Measured in Indianapolis, Indiana.  We Are extremely proud of our student participants for their hard work and dedication this academic year and for contributing to Penn State EnvironMentors’ success in our first year. We are looking forward to recruiting and impact the lives of more students at not only at University Park but also at every Penn State Branch campus in the future.

Field Trip to the Shale Hills Critical Observatory Zone (CZO)

On March 15th, 2019  we took our high school students participants on a trip to the Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory (CZO). The Shale Hills CZO was established in 2007, with the goal of studying and understanding how the forested, first-order catchment of the shale bedrock in central PA evolves over multiple time scales in a temperate climate. The Susquehanna Shale CZO is funded by the National Foundation for Science (NSF) and the researches being conducted at the site, are led by a team of Penn State faculty members and graduate students. One of our Faculty Mentors, Dr. Jennifer Williams is one of the faculty members team at the Shale Hills CZO.
During the trip, our students not only got to meet a couple of the faculty members and grad students but also had fun learning about the many research and studies being conducted at the CZO. Some of these research and studies include soil gas cycles, the effect of carbon dioxide on trees roots in the forest, and many more. To learn more about the Shale Hills CZO, check out their website at criticalzone.org/shale-hills.