The Rutgers 4-H STEM Ambassador program, typically a five-day residential on-campus program for high-achieving high school students, has gone virtual. Starting July 24, more than 50 teens from underserved and underrepresented urban communities across New Jersey will spend a week participating virtually in this annual summer enrichment experience that marks its 12th anniversary this year.
The 2020 program, which ends July 31, includes teens selected from major urban centers like Newark, Trenton, Passaic and Atlantic City. Altogether, the teens represent seven New Jersey counties, including Atlantic, Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Passaic and Union.
Founded in 2009, the Rutgers STEM Ambassador program is usually an intense, hands-on experience on the Rutgers George H. Cook Campus each year. The 2020 program had to pivot to a virtual format due to the unprecedented public health crisis surrounding COVID-19. While different in format, the commitment to host this event in some form was a strong priority, said Alesha Vega, education & outreach coordinator for Rutgers 4-H Science, Engineering and Technology Program.
“When COVID-19 hit New Jersey and severely affected our ability to have in-person gatherings, the STEM Ambassador program was the first of many concerns of our 4-H team. But we knew we had to do something for our teens who look forward to this program all year long.”
“Especially in times of crisis, we could not let them down. So we all just got into gear and plugged away at pulling this virtual program together. It was a team effort,” continued Vega.
As part of this new virtual format, each STEM Ambassador alumni teen leader is designated a guest blogger on the 4-H STEM online site. Also, the teens will interact with a variety of Rutgers scientists, albeit virtually, as well as conduct a short research project, develop their STEM identities and get training on STEM activities to share with their communities.
Some components of the annual in-person program will remain, such as the Computer Science “teach backs” with the help of grants from Google and Bristol Myers Squibb, where the alumni Ambassadors train the new recruits in various computer science skills and activities to teach back in their communities.
Teens will also get a chance to safely meet with Rutgers faculty and researchers from various STEM disciplines during a speed-dating-like format called the “Scientists Roundtables.”