American Museum of Natural History’s BridgeUp STEM is a profiled program in the Plugging In Report.
Who is served: A diverse group of high school girls, primarily from NYC public high schools lacking access to coding classes and out-of-school learning opportunities.
Number of participants: 40-45
Location: American Museum of Natural History
Frequency/Duration: 120 hours of coursework that can be taken after school during the school year, or during a five-week summer program; nine-month paid internship; annual Hackathons; monthly field trips and workshops around academic and professional opportunities in CS, such as visits to tech companies; optional standalone two-hour workshops.
Eligibility Criteria: They look for students who wouldn’t have these types of opportunities in their schools or communities, and who have minimal experience with coding, but have a strong interest in studying science and computer science. Applicants do not necessarily need to live in New York and can begin in grade 9 or 10. 8th grade NYS ELA and math exams/transcript/report card are part of the application, but there are no explicit requirements. Economic status is also considered, with a focus on accepting low-income students.
Curriculum: The first component is 120 hours of coursework centered on coding with Python. Coding is introduced through different scientific disciplines, including the earth sciences, astrophysics and molecular biology. Curriculum relates back to museum exhibitions.
After successful completion, girls can apply for the program’s second component, a nine-month paid internship in computational research within one of the museum’s scientific divisions. This offers a chance for girls to apply what they’ve learned about coding in a real-world lab setting and under the guidance of their near-peer mentors (post-baccalaureate women who’ve majored in CS and science). Throughout the program there are also annual Hackathons with professional developers, and monthly visits to tech companies and science/CS-related academic settings in New York City. Participants can also take standalone two-hour workshops in web development, machine learning, app development and other CS and STEM topics, presented at AMNH by women working in the tech industry.
Outcomes: BridgeUp began only 5 years ago as a pilot program of the museum but has proven effective. As the years progress, participants in BridgeUp tend to become more confident and their interest in science often increases, according to observation-based evaluations and parent surveys. “The change is absolutely amazing. Not only are they learning computational science and programming, but [also] developing their skills through group work, completing a project from start to finish and learning presentation skills,” said Yvonne De La Pena, director of BridgeUp: STEM.
Sources of funding: Private
What makes the program stand out? Few programs progress over the course of years, and BridgeUp also has the distinct advantage of being housed in a world-class museum where scientific research is continually underway. Participants are embedded in a professional science setting, and work alongside current STEM majors, bringing them face-to-face with possible career and academic paths to pursue after the program ends.
Codingand computer science, as well as dealing with large data sets and creating data visualizations, have become “essential to research” in the sciences, said Cohen. And in turn, “The girls have become a critical asset to a lot of our scientists.” While there’s a data science framework around the internship, the participants also have a chance to explore a field they’re interested in; typically there are several projects to choose from, and they work in teams of 6 to perform research, analyze data and write code to answer a guiding question.
What does the organization need? Due in part to the success of Bridge Up, AMNH wants to embed computational/CS skills-training across its K–12 programs. The museum also sees an opportunity to partner with other institutions to share the BridgeUp framework.