Taking Science Out of the Labs and Making Real, Virtual, Discoveries

Published: September 25, 2020

Noora Abdulla captured data on hurricanes in the North Atlantic.  Isabella Wooten and Kadiatou Bagayoko investigated New York City Harbor water quality. Bernardo Armendariz conducted surveys of COVID’s effect on exercise. Joseph Chai drafted a design for a Martian Flyer, a glider for Mars’ atmospheric conditions. Yutao Xu designed a miniature satellite.

Prior to COVID, biology, physics, and chemistry research such as this was conducted in labs at Queensborough Community College. This year Physics Professor Dr. Paul Marchese developed an on-line curriculum instead that made it possible for students to conduct research remotely.

“It was great because they were able to select their own projects,” said Marchese, who developed the curriculum for the STEM Research Academy, a citywide summer program administered locally by Queensborough Community College that provides eligible NYC high school students with the opportunity to take a pre-college science course and do research across several STEM disciplines.

“It was a revelation that these young people could conduct detailed, sophisticated research on-line, without any access to lab study. They had the inner resources and creativity to develop dozens of amazing projects,” added Marchese, who earned his Ph.D. in Physical Oceanography from Columbia University. He also supervised six graduate and undergraduate students from throughout New York City who mentored the high school researchers.

Queensborough was the first community college to participate in the CUNY STEM Research Academy starting three years ago when Marchese and colleague Mary Anne Meyer, College Now Director, determined that physics should be offered as part of the College Now experience. Before that high school students could only conduct research at one of the CUNY four-year colleges.

It has two components: A 3-credit course, PH-450 Introduction to Physics Research (3 credits), delivered in the spring; and research experience in the summer. Students are encouraged to continue their research in the fall at Queensborough.

In addition to the STEM Research Academy, College Now offered 2020 summer classes in American Film History, American Government and Politics, Database Technology and Web Services, Immigration and Ethnic Groups in American History. Nearly 300 students enrolled this year, an increase of 194% over 2019, according to Alexa Vlachos of College Now.

Meyer has worked for nearly 30 years in student outreach and collaborative programming. As a graduate of Queensborough, and the first in her family to attend college, she is driven to inspire and work with local high school students.

“I want them to explore their opportunities and come to college better prepared. Research opportunities like the Academy are what propel students to go to college,” she said.

“I went to Queens College after Queensborough and was planning to study environmental law but my plans changed when I had an opportunity to work in higher education and career pathways programs.”  

Born in Bedford Stuyvesant and “no stranger to crisis”, Meyer empathizes with young people trying to figure out their college plans and career aspirations.

“I had nothing before I came to Queensborough. No diploma, no driver’s license. I was a single mother with three kids. I am a cancer survivor. But these life experiences fuel my passion to help students. Their lives are full of challenges. Not long ago, a student came to my office and complained that he didn’t like his teacher and asked if he could get a different instructor. I said to him ‘The course is only 15 weeks. Do what the instructor asks of you and move on to the next class.’”

College, says Meyer, can provide lessons in endurance, patience and tenacity.

“That’s all good preparation for life.”  


Queensborough Community Colleges is grateful to Pinkerton Foundation, a major funder of the STEM Academy. The Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of young people in poor neighborhoods throughout New York City by helping them develop the skills, self-reliance and strong values necessary to live up to their full potential.



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