More than 400 grade-school students came to Harvard recently to present their science projects to Harvard faculty, staff, and students, as well as their peers from other Cambridge upper schools.
For the sixth consecutive year, all Cambridge Public Schools eighth-graders participated in the eighth-grade science showcase at Harvard, which is sponsored by Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
“We’re here to celebrate your work in the area of science, an area that is incredibly important to our shared future. I hope you see a future full of opportunity to invent and innovate in ways that will make the world we live in a better, safer, greener, and healthier place,” said Paul Andrew, Harvard’s vice president for public affairs and communications, as he welcomed the students to campus.
“The kinds of projects that you’re all working on are where the ideas that lead to breakthroughs begin. From robotics to biology, archaeology to nanoparticles, you are learning through hands-on research and experimentation. Harvard is fortunate to have such talented young students as our neighbors,” Andrew said.
Cambridge Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Young and Mayor Denise E. Simmons were also on hand to welcome students and view presentations.
“Just watching all the other schools and how they all approached the various projects was amazing,” said Anish Dhanda, whose daughter Emma explained her hovercraft project, along with her partner, Anna Kim. “Having it at Harvard is certainly going to help the kids. It says to them ‘Hey, you’re at the top university in the world. You can do this!’ ”
Harvard has long partnered with the Cambridge schools to deliver responsive and innovative programs that bolster academic enrichment among students year-round.
That week, in addition to the science showcase, students from Cambridge Rindge and Latin were on campus to present projects they developed as part of the marine science internship program. The students, who were teamed up with Harvard faculty and graduate students, got hands-on lab experience and the chance to work on research with real-world applications.
The program is a result of a partnership, forged in 2006, between Paul McGuinness, marine biology teacher at Rindge and Latin, and Peter Girguis, professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard. Other faculty sponsors this year included George Lauder, professor of organismic and evolutionary biology, and Colleen Cavanaugh, the Edward C. Jeffrey Professor of Biology.
“It’s some of the best experience that students can have in their entire high school careers,” McGuinness said of the program. He said he has watched participants “go from being high school students to thinking and presenting like college students. They are relating to data and research in labs in a completely different way than they would in a high school environment. It is phenomenal to see that intellectual growth over the course of just one semester.”
“This is an opportunity that I am really grateful for,” said junior Anna MacManus. “Doing the internship has pushed me to do the things I normally wouldn’t have done. It has made me move out of my comfort zone and made me realize that science is a career I’d actually be interested in pursuing.”
Parents, too, raved about the program. “In the beginning,” said the mother of student Emma Nour Belabbes, “she was feeling like, ‘Wow, I don’t know if I can do this,’ but that dissipated as she got some reinforcement from her mentor. She just flew with it.”
Nour Belabbes, who will attend Simmons College in the fall, added, “My mentor helped me to develop my confidence in the lab, and helped me see how our research connected to daily life.”
Second-year mentor Dylan Kenji Wainwright, a graduate student in organismic and evolutionary biology, said he plans to mentor again next year.
“The students get this amazing opportunity that I couldn’t have dreamed of when I was in high school. It is almost like I am giving back to them what I wish I had the opportunity to do when I was in high school,” he said. “It’s rewarding for me to work with students … It’s always fun getting to see a student develop into a young scientist.”