The Chelsea Public Library (CPL) held a NASA@ My Library Community Dialogue on Jan. 31, to discuss the community’s view of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). City leaders, library and school administration, high school students, and parents participated in the casual conversation to plan programming that will positively impact the entire city and inspire a passion for STEM learning among residents.
“We should try to build bridges between what’s happening in schools and formal education, and what’s happening in the community as we develop and grow,” said Lisa Santagate, Chelsea Public Schools/Chelsea Public Library trustee. “Science pervades our lives. STEM is everywhere and all connected.”
The Chelsea Public Library is one of 75 libraries across the country that was awarded the NASA@ My Library Grant, funded by NASA and the American Library Association. The initiative collaborates with libraries to increase and enhance STEM learning opportunities and activities.
“The main focus of this grant is to help underserved groups — especially youth – find more resources within STEM, and have more models for STEM careers,” said Martha Boksenbaum, CPL children’s librarian. “Often, women and people of color are underrepresented.”
Since May 2017, CPL has hosted a solar eclipse viewing party on City Hall lawn, offered a science café for adults, and presented a series of Tinker Time Workshops for children to explore scientific instruments such as a green screen and inferred thermometers.
Some panelists explained that, while there are elementary school events and an abundance of library programs for children, teenagers are an underserved population. Members of the community suggested increasing connections to the schools and library, and creating a more inviting atmosphere for young adults.
“In school there are a lot of classes in biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering, but it’s usually announced to the younger kids, and I think that’s great. The younger you are when you learn about science, the more you love it,” said Stephanie Alvarado, Chelsea High School senior. “We do tree mapping and water quality testing. That’s how I’m able to connect with STEM, but not the community as a whole.”
One of the main concerns mentioned during the community gathering was outreach to local STEM professionals that Chelsea residents could better relate to.
“A struggle I am experiencing in implementing this grant is showing examples of role models. I would like to represent people of color and women, but when I reach out, they are overwhelmingly not a representation of the majority of people here in the community,” explained Boksenbaum. “If the kids are learning that somebody next door is in a STEM field and looks like them, then they’re going to feel like that’s something they can do as well.”
By Seth Daniel
Look Up! Kristin Edwardsen, Lisa Makrinikolas and Michael Brannigan focus in on the eclipse.
As the moon began to pass in front of the Sun on Monday, Aug. 21, the line of people who wanted to get in on the Eclipse Party on City Hall Lawn began to grow and grow.
Soon, hundreds had gathered to witness the spectacle, far more than anyone had expected.
But it was a marvel that grabbed the attention of the nation, and Chelsea was no different in that hordes of people gathered to have fun on a beautiful Monday and see something quite unique.
For some of the hundreds that gathered at City Hall, they understood that it might be a once in a lifetime event. Only 63 percent of the Sun was blocked out in Chelsea, and another coast to coast event like Monday’s isn’t going to happen until 2040 – though a total eclipse will occur in New England in 2024.
“This isn’t going to happen again here until 2024 and I might not be alive to see another one,” said Naomi Zabot, who attended with her sister, Devra Zabot. “I’ve been talking about this for a long time. My grandparents came from Chelsea and we have roots in Chelsea. This is the place to see history like this.”
Ivonny Carrillo attends the Pioneer Charter School of Science, and said she is good at science but doesn’t necessarily like it. However, the one exception is astronomy. So it was that she and her entire family came to City Hall to make sure to get special glasses and a prime viewing spot.
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” she said. “I don’t really like science, but I am good at it. Astronomy is about the only science I do like.”
Aimmi Velez said she simply enjoyed everyone coming out for a non-traditional event. It wasn’t a community meeting or a block party, but a natural event.
“I didn’t think I would see this in my lifetime,” she said. “I think it’s cool people wanted to come out and be together to look at this very unique natural occurrence. It’s interesting people wanted to be together to see it.”
The event at City Hall was put on by the Chelsea Public Library as part of a grant from NASA, and that partnership helped a lot to get people in the area interested in the eclipse.
Librarian Martha Boksenbaum has been preparing for the event for quite some time and was very excited to see everyone want to attend the Chelsea event. She said it gives some momentum to the other activities that will be included as part of the NASA partnership.
For the better part of 20 minutes, Milena Carvalho used her glasses to watch the movement of the moon across the Sun. She said it was a very patient and slow process.
“This was something I wanted my whole family to see,” she said, noting that her children, husband and mother were there. “It was really interesting to watch. It was like looking at a half moon, but instead it was a half Sun. That was very cool.”
Celeste Williams works on one of her abstract paintings while Tony Smith plays percussion in the background during the Chelsea Science Festival on Friday, Aug. 4, put on by the Lewis Latimer Society of Chelsea at the PORT Park. It was the second year for the Festival, and science disciplines from computers to environment to fire science were represented.
By Seth Daniel
Artist Allison Cekala never intended to be the spokesperson for road salt.
The Jamaica Plain resident, and Museum of Fine Arts School (Fenway) professor, only saw incredible lighting and interesting shapes in the Chelsea salt pile – located in varying quantities and in a very visible place right adjacent to the Tobin Bridge on the Chelsea waterfront.
However, the twists and turns of the constantly changing piles of salt – a landscape in miniature – that Cekala saw took her on her own journey that had twists and turns leading to a salt mine in Chile and to an understanding of road salt that few artists or Boston residents have.
“It’s like I’ve become the spokesperson for salt now,” said Cekala, 31, noting that people often question her due to some of the potential environmental negatives associated with road salt. “The salt is complicated. I don’t feel like I’m pushing it, but simply telling a story. People can take what they want from that. I always get questioned about the environmental degradation, but I encourage people to do the research on their own. This exhibit and project are about human ingenuity, globalization and the raw beauty of the salt. I only hope it sparks people’s curiosity or interest. I do care about the environment and I get a lot of pushback, but I’m used to that now.”
The reason she’s used to it is because of Cekala’s recent photography project, which included following the trail of road salt from the Eastern Minerals mine in a remote coastal plain in Chile and onto a ship that travelled through the Panama Canal and up to the Eastern Minerals salt pile in Chelsea. Once in Chelsea, it is distributed to cities and towns all over the area, including Boston, for spreading on the roads and major sidewalks to the benefit of all drivers and pedestrians in storms such as the city has seen over the past week.
The end result was a montage of photographs and videos taken along the entire route and in Chelsea, with the final results being first displayed late last winter in the Museum of Science Gallery. That exhibit, which was very localized, gained such popularity that the Mayor’s Gallery in Boston City Hall decided to feature the work this winter for another exhibit. That refined exhibit is up now on the fifth floor of Boston City Hall through Feb. 29. Cekala has also participated in Chelsea’s Art Walk last summer with the exhibit, showing it on the site of the salt pile last summer in an industrial container. She hopes to be part of that effort in Chelsea once again, and to participate in other such exhibits as well.
Cekala’s focus has been centered on salt, and so much so that now she can tell the variety of salt and the origin of the salt by sight – such as a wine connoisseur can do simply by observing and tasting a type of celebrated vintage. Even with the focus on that one thing, it was the idea of tracing back a common product to its source that intrigued Cekala.
“I love the idea of finding where things come from,” she said. “It’s been really incredible doing this and investigating one piece of material ubiquitous of the landscape and tracing it back to the source. It makes me wonder about other things we use – the pens we use and the paper we write on. Salt is a good subject for this because it doesn’t require a lot of refinement or processing. It comes from the mine and is shipped up here and used. Other things might be harder to trace, but the idea is very interesting…This project is so relevant in Boston and I hope to have people in Boston see it and be able to make that same connection through my work that I made when I was creating it.”
Salt came into Cekala’s life a few years ago when she was looking for strange urban landscapes to photograph. Cekala was born in Boston and grew up in Cincinnati. She attended Bard College and moved back to Boston to attend Fenway’s Museum School – specializing in photography and environmental studies along the way. As a professor of photography now at the Museum School, she has focused on photographing open, urban spaces with unique characteristics.
One day as she was out hunting for such rare areas, she crossed the Tobin Bridge, looked down, and found salt.
At first she photographed the pile close up during off hours, with its meandering and moveable mountains of crystal – which were interesting on their own. Some time after that, she came back during working hours and approached the supervisors, who were all too happy to help her.
Soon, Eastern Minerals owners Shelagh Mahoney and Joe McNamee had befriended Cekala and given her access not only to their business, but also to their family. Cekala’s journey then became more than just the beauty of salt, and expanded to the trail of salt and the company that produces it.
Soon, she had travelled to Chile, to a remote desert plain that stretches for hundreds of miles into Bolivia and hosts several salt mines. The mine she visited is owned by Eastern Minerals and has been for decades, with the company aligning its operations years ago from beginning to end. Cekala watched the workers mine the salt, observed the blasting of the large deposits (which are simply petrified ocean salt deposits from the ancient past), and the transport of it to the nearby coastal port.
“The salt deposit goes as far as you can see,” she said. “I was wondering about that before I went. I wondered if they were taking all the salt and that we could deplete the resource. That isn’t the case. The deposit goes all the way to Bolivia.”
From the mine, Cekala watched workers transport the salt nine miles to the port, where it was loaded on a ship for the two-week journey up to Chelsea. While she was able to observe the loading and board the ship at port, security restrictions didn’t allow her to travel on the ship.
“It was a surprising how many people were involved in the process, how many are in the mine, driving to the tankers and working on the ships,” she said. “It’s an exact and precise process. More of the operations in Chile are mechanized than they are in Chelsea. Still, there is someone always watching the operations. Everything just has to keep going. Also, it was notable to see how this huge quantity of minerals traveled from one continent to another continent, 4,500 miles and through the Panama Canal and up to Boston. The entirety of the process is incredible.”
The company said they are very pleased with how Cekala has seen their company. While they observe the operation as a business, it was out of the ordinary to view it through the eyes of an artist.
“Allison did a great job,” said Mahoney. “To me it was great to see our business through the eyes of an artist. We know how the business works, but we are amazed by what she did to portray this business. I know where it comes from and the operations of it all, but to see it how she portrayed it was an amazing look at what we do.”
Artist Allison Cekala has followed the trail, and the aesthetic beauty, of road salt for an artistic exhibition about where road salt comes from before it lands at the Chelsea salt pile and onto the roads of Boston and surrounding cities. Her journey has taken her from Chelsea to Chile and back. The exhibition appeared at the Museum of Science last year and is now in Boston City Hall though Feb. 29. Cekala is a JP resident and a teacher at the Museum of Fine Arts School in the Fenway.
Cekala said she didn’t envision the project catching on the way it has, and even after the Boston City Hall show, she expects that it will continue – especially in the winter seasons when road salt is on the mind.
“I didn’t expect it would keep on going this year,” she said. “I’m realizing this will keep going and probably will be for a long time. I’m happy with that. I believe I will probably now do more work with salt of some kind.”
Browne Middle School 5th grader Toni-Chanelle Suncar, 10, got to meet President Barack Obama on March 23 as part of a one-day trip to Washington, D.C. to present a project at the White House Science Fair.
In the lore of Browne Middle School 5th grader Toni-Chanelle Suncar’s family, there is a story about her great grandmother meeting the president of the Dominican Republic many years ago when she was a little girl.
As it’s told, Suncar’s great grandmother got face to face with the president and he told her he could give her anything she wanted – a house, money or schooling.
She chose simply to shake his hand.
Fast forward two generations, and another member of the family has come face to face with a president – this time U.S. President Barack Obama.
And this time around, Toni-Chanelle Suncar humbly shook the president’s hand, just like her great grandmother, and added to the presidential lore of the family.
It came last Monday, March 23, when Suncar went on a whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C. to participate in the White House Science Fair as part of a national presentation by students from all over the country. During the fair, Suncar got to be front and center with the president as he gave a speech honoring the achievements of the students.
“I guess the president of the Dominican Republic could have given my great grandmother anything in the world, and she just chose to shake his hand,” said Suncar in an interview late last week. “Now, everyone in the family is making a big deal of the fact that my great grandmother met a president and now another member of the family, me, has met a president. My mom was happy the day we found out I was going to Washington, D.C. The whole family was talking about it.”
So was the entire Browne Middle School (BMS).
Suncar was chosen for a computer coding project she did through the BMS’s partnership with Citizen Schools and the Boston technology firm Digitas. Students from the BMS get to partake in short internships with several of the partner companies, including Digitas, and work on science and engineering projects. For Suncar, she and other team members combined with Digitas volunteers to code a computer game called “Flappy Unicorn.”
“Our main goal was to make a video game using the program ‘Scratch,’” Suncar said. “So, we chose a unicorn because that was the logo of Digitas. They taught us how to code and counseled us. We based it on the game ‘Flappy Bird’ and put the blocks together to tell our unicorn what to do based on an x-axis and a y-axis – like we learned in math…For us, the coding was kind of like the instructions for our figure – sort of like a Morse Code…I didn’t know when I was at Digitas that I was doing anything really big. I never thought it would lead to a trip to Washington. I thought I would move on to another internship and take with me what I learned.”
Suncar said they chose her because she stood out as the hardest worker on the project.
“They felt I had been the hardest worker on the project and were impressed with what I had done,” she said. “So, they chose me to go and represent our team.”
Coding is something that is becoming a primary building block of learning for students all over the world. In short, it’s the language of computers and tells them what to do and how to do it. Many technology companies, including Microsoft, believe that coding needs to be taught in every school to students just as a foreign language would be taught. Technology companies routinely report that there are jobs open at their companies, but no one with the skills to fill them.
With students like Suncar, that might change.
However, other pursuits might take her away from the computer.
Suncar, 10, said she probably will become a veterinarian when she’s older, but she’s also considering journalism.
“My inspiration to become a veterinarian is my aunt’s dog,” she said. “I always observe him a lot when I go over to her house – to see how much he sleeps and how he behaves. I really enjoy observing and noting his behaviors and how he acts around certain people.”
BMS Principal David Leibowitz said the opportunity to meet the president and present a project at the White House Science Fair is something that only comes because of the great partnerships the BMS has built with the community and Citizen Schools.
“This special opportunity is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Toni-Chanelle to display the work she’s done and present to an incredible audience what she’s learned,” he said. “It’s also a great model for other 5th graders that shows what anyone can do with hard work. It’s something for other kids to aspire to.”
Suncar said, in summary, it was great to meet the president, but she’s also ready for family history to repeat itself again.
“I hope I can meet him again; I really would like to go again next year,” she said.
Suncar is the daughter of Wanda Barrios, and she credited her older sisters Erica Maria Tapia and Stephanie Rivera – as well as her Citizen School teacher Lydia Cochrane – with supporting her in her efforts.
Leo and Ron Robinson are shown at the Chelsea Public Library in the Lewis Latimer Museum last week after announcing
that they will hold a local remembrance of the famed inventor on April 9, and then will travel to Connecticut
on April 11 to accept an award for their work in STEM.
The Lewis Latimer Society of Chelsea will be holding a local commemoration of National Engineers Month this coming week at the Chelsea Public Library, and then taking that show on the road to Connecticut, where an organization there will honor the Chelsea group for its work with kids and its groundbreaking research into the prominent, African American inventor.
The first event will take place on Thursday, April 9 at the Library from 4-7 p.m. and is titled ‘Recognizing a Hometown Hero: Lewis Howard Quincy Latimer.’ Latimer was born in Chelsea and was a prominent inventor working for folks such as Thomas Edison. He was the inventor of the carbon filament used in the lightbulb, among many other things.
Leo and Ron Robinson – who head up the Chelsea society – said they are holding the local celebration to highlight National Engineers Month and to remind everyone in Chelsea about the contribution of its hometown “hero.”
The local celebration will give way to an awards ceremony in Trumbull, CT where the Juneteenth of Fairfield County organization will hold a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) gala.
The black-tie affair will feature an appearance by Hugh Price, the great grand nephew of Latimer and also the former president of the National Urban League.
In conjunction with his presentation will be an award ceremony on April 11 honoring the Chelsea society’s historic work and STEM work.
“We hope that Thursday will be a time to celebrate the Lewis Latimer society and a time to celebrate of a man from Chelsea who was a prominent inventor and engineer,” said Ron Robinson. “This is a man whose inventions still have an effect on the lives of many people worldwide. We plan to recognize that, in particular the carbon filament. At the same time, we’ll be going to Connecticut to accept an award for working with kids in STEM…This award recognizes our activities with STEM that we’ve done.”
Leo Robinson said a big part of the celebration of Latimer in Connecticut is that many down there have just realized that Latimer lived and worked in the area.
“It’s going to be a big weekend down there on Lewis Latimer,” he said. “They’re naming a street after him. He did live in Bridgeport and he had a few inventions patented when he was there…This is big and a huge honor. You don’t get a lot of honors, but you really don’t do it for the honors. They’re just now realizing that Lewis Latimer lived there and just how important he was. We hope to be able to share what we’ve learned with them.”
The Robinsons were in a similar boat as those in Fairfield County back in 1996.
They said they had always worked with kids, trying to keep them in school and trying to stress the importance of academics. In the course of that, they were looking for a black man from Chelsea that they could point to as successful in the area of mathematics and engineering.
“We wanted a role model who was from Chelsea for when we worked with the kids,” Ron said. “We wanted to be able to point to someone who had accomplished something great so that we could keep kids in high school. We also wanted to stress black history with the youth as well. We had some descendants of Latimer at that time still living in Chelsea. They relayed the story to us. Little did we know, when we began looking into the man, that he was so prominent and there were all these societies dedicated to his work. They all wanted to know more about the man and his beginnings in Chelsea. Yet, we had nothing at the time recognizing that he was even from here.”
Cobbling together science materials and introducing young people to the every-day science around the City, the Robinsons put together a program that taught about the history of Latimer – even visiting the sites where he lived – and stressed the importance of his inventions.
“A big thing we had was we took kids to college campuses to speak to them,” he said. “They hd to understand that to get there, to get to a place like Latimer got in his career, they had to open their books. They had to study to have a better future. Many of the kids had never talked about college until they experienced the campus on a visit. They would often come home and talk to their parents for the first time about their plans to attend college.”
Browne Middle School (BMS) 5th grader Toni-Chanelle Suncar, 10, travelled to Washington, D.C. on Monday to participate in the White House Science Fair, one of only a handful of children nationwide to be invited to the event. Suncar left Monday morning from Boston, participated in a roundtable discussion on women in the sciences, showed her work at the science fair, met President Obama and then jetted back to Chelsea on Monday night. Suncar got the invite for her noteworthy project of writing computer code to create a computer game called ‘Slap the Unicorn.’ Through the BMS’s partnership with Citizens Schools and Digitas Corp., Suncar worked on making the game. After it was completed, the two entities entered her in the running to participate at the White House, and she ended up being invited. BMS Principal David Leibowitz said not only was it Suncar’s first trip to Washington, D.C., it was the first time she’s been on an airplane since she was at toddler. He said that even though Suncar was nervous to meet President Obama, she was able to get out a few sentences that she had practiced at home