June 12, 2024
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YU Celebrates Success of START Science

(Courtesy of YU) Continuing the special partnership between Yeshiva University and its neighbors in Washington Heights, the YU chapter of START Science had its year-end celebration on Friday, May 5, on YU’s Wilf Campus.

The much-anticipated event included hundreds of students from local schools, their teachers, students from YU’s START Science chapter, various YU administrators as well as dignitaries such as Norman and Judy Bickoff, the generous donors of the program, and their son, Adam, and daughter-in-law, Shinny.

START Science is an initiative that mobilizes college students to bring exciting and engaging science experiences to local public elementary schools, particularly those with underrepresented students in the sciences. The program offers weekly modules covering a wide range of topics, from biology and chemistry to physics and engineering. Currently, START Science operates in four public schools in Washington Heights, primarily working with fourth grade students, although it also includes some students in the sixth and seventh grades. Each YU student volunteer was assigned to a specific team that works with a specific class throughout the semester.

The end-of-year event took the form of a science fair, with START Science volunteers helping the students in science experiments with the help of BioBus, a mobile science lab. The various stations featured hands-on activities, such as making lava lamps, slime, chromatography flowers and DNA bracelets, as well as performing dissections. The BioBus staff brought research-grade microscopes and live organisms for the children to observe, which allowed students to explore the STEM stations at their own pace.

During the event, Adam Bickoff spoke about his parents’ support for the program and their belief in spreading Yeshiva University’s values beyond its walls. They feel strongly that START Science is a club that embodies the values of YU and extends its impact to the Washington Heights community.

After the celebration, Norman Bickoff said of the START Science program, “My beloved father, may he rest in peace, always told me that from any experience, everyone must come away with something. No one should take all the marbles. I’m proud to follow his advice by seeing that this incredible program is no different. The students at Yeshiva are exposed to members of a community who come from many different backgrounds, which allows them to learn a tremendous amount, and the local students benefit from being exposed to the best Yeshiva University has to offer.”

The students had a wonderful time engaging with the experiments and collecting souvenirs.

One particular moment captured the essence of START Science’s mission of inspiring children to pursue careers in science: Three fourth grade girls, while dissecting a frog, turned to a student volunteer and expressed their aspirations to become biologists. Witnessing such enthusiasm reaffirmed the program’s commitment to inspire students and provide them with opportunities for further exploration.

Dr. Raji Viswanathan, chair of the department of chemistry and faculty advisor of START Science at YU, recounted the origin of the program. “I vividly remember the first time, almost 15 years ago, when one of my students, Yair Saperstein, and I walked over to a local public elementary school and proposed our idea to the principal,” she said. “The principal immediately welcomed the idea and opened the doors to one of the classrooms. Our students put together many hands-on science modules for the third and fourth graders, and since then, the program has grown to include many more grade levels and schools and hundreds of undergraduate volunteers from both YU campuses.”

Added Dr. Viswanathan, “This program would not be possible without the generous support of our donors, Norman and Judy Bickoff, and the efforts of Alan Secter in the Office of Institutional Advancement.”

Dr. Karen Bacon, Mordecai D. Katz and Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of the Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences at YU also attended the event and were electrified by the energy of the children and excitement of their college student mentors.

“As I walked around the room, I saw chemistry and biology come alive through creative demonstrations and hands-on experiences,” said Dean Bacon. “The kids, both young and older, were glowing.”

START Science showcases the values the University’s students learn in the classroom and put into practice, while simultaneously helping the local community. The event left a lasting impact not only on the local children, but also on YU’s student volunteers who had the opportunity to make a difference in their lives.

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