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.”
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.”