Jane Goodall Delivers Keynote at 2nd Annual “Sci-Ed Innovators Expo & Symposium”

More than 250 budding scientists – public school students from local middle and high schools – descended on NYU’s campus in early February to showcase their team science projects for the second annual “Sci-Ed Innovators Expo & Symposium.”

Sponsored by NYU Steinhardt and the Jhumki Basu Foundation, the event helped celebrate the work of the late Jhumki Basu, a science educator and Steinhardt faculty member who was devoted to making high-quality science education accessible to students in high-needs schools. The event also served to announce the launch of a campaign to raise funds for the proposed Center for Science Education at NYU Steinhardt, a multidisciplinary center designed to develop highly trained teacher-scientists and to study how children learn — and teachers learn to teach — science.

At the Sci-Ed Expo, students and teachers filled the halls of NYU’s Eisner and Lubin Auditorium to present their team projects to parents and other guests. Using laptop computers, PowerPoint displays, and traditional tri-fold poster boards, the teams eagerly explained to visitors the scope of their projects, their methods, and their findings and conclusions. Topics ranged from the feasibility of composting in school cafeterias to examinations of whether the chocolate we eat is harvested fairly.

Steinhardt Dean Mary Brabeck welcomed the crowd, and offered her thoughts on their accomplishments. “You may have read the recent New York Times article about the decline of the school science fair. But I say not in New York City, where science education is strong!” Brabeck was joined by special guest Shael Polakow-Suransky, chief academic officer of NYC’s Department of Education. He congratulated the students on their commitment to science and their enthusiasm.

Also on display were educational games designed by the Games 4 Learning Institute, a multi-university consortium of researchers and games designers that is located at NYU. Students also learned about robotics at a display hosted by the Polytechnic Institute of NYU.

Many of the teachers involved in the Expo are “Sci-Ed Fellows,” a group of dedicated science educators selected by the Jhumki Basu Foundation for a year-long collaborative that seeks to further instill Basu’s vision of engaging urban youth with high-quality and transformative science instruction. The Fellows participate in a week-long conference at NYU as well as attend other in-person and online meetings that hone their skills as science educators. In doing so, the Fellows create a learning community of other professionals with whom they can share ideas and best practices.

Radha Basu, the mother of late educator Jhumki Basu and co-founder of the foundation that bears her name, offered some insight into what the proposed Center for Science Education would look like. Aiming to help make science come alive for both students and teachers, the proposed Center would help create a cadre of science teachers who are experts in STEME education—science, technology, engineering, math, and environmental education.

With a major funding commitment from the Jhumki Basu Foundation, and with a technology gift from Cisco Systems that would allow for high-tech telepresence conferencing between NYU and schools, the Center would link public schools with researchers and educators working on new approaches to teaching and learning science.

Following the Expo, participants filled the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts for a keynote address by Dr. Jane Goodall, world-renowned primatologist and UN Messenger of Peace. Basu, following remarks by Brabeck and NYU President John Sexton, said that it was an honor to host Dr. Goodall, since she was a lifelong here to Jhumki. Indeed, Basu recalled how, as a child, Jhumki imagined herself to be “part gorilla.”

Dr. Goodall spoke movingly of her formative years and the central role her own mother played in cultivating her interest in science. She recalled her childhood curiosity and love of animals, and how she impishly devised a strategy for observing how a pregnant hen lays an egg.

Ranging from her early collaboration with famed archaeologist Louis Leakey and her breakthrough discovery that chimpanzees have the ability to fashion tools (once thought by scientists as solely the domain of humans) to her more recent work with Roots & Shoots, a community service initiative that is active in 126 countries, Goodall inspired the students in the audience with her remarkable life story.

She offered her own reasons for hope, despite the many environmental and social challenges our planet faces. Her hope, she said, springs from the resilience of nature itself, which she noted has brought back to life places –and species—once given up for lost. She also finds hope in the “demonstration of the human brain,” with its seemingly limitless capacity for invention and creativity.

Goodall signed books and greeted the many budding scientists after the keynote lecture, no doubt inspiring them to a lifelong commitment to exploring science.

Top photo, from l.to r., Brabeck, Goodall, Radha Basu, Dipak Basu.

All photos © NYU Photo Bureau: Asselin