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Stiff-Roberts Garners Funding for “SENSOR Saturday Academy”

Program to give underrepresented minority youth in Durham a taste of engineering

Scores of Durham County eighth-graders from minority groups typically underrepresented in scientific careers will soon get to participate in a practical, hands-on program aimed at sparking their interest in research, teaching them about engineering and exposing them to the roles engineers play.

Dr. Adrienne Stiff-RobertsPratt School Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Adrienne Stiff-Roberts, PhD, has received one of only 12 Student Science Enrichment Program (SSEP) grants awarded in 2013 by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF).

In 2007 Stiff-Roberts—whose research is related to nanotechnology—created and successfully piloted the Student Engineers Network: Strengthening Opportunities in Research (SENSOR) Saturday Academy, which the BWF grant will now fund for three years.

The program will kick off in Fall 2014. Rising eighth-graders will be recruited during the spring prior to the beginning of each academic year, Stiff-Roberts says, and there will be an application process.

Like the pilot program, future Saturday Academies will examine the engineering-design process in terms of water-quality evaluation and familiarize students with sensors used to measure water quality.  Different 24-student cohorts will participate in the academy each year, attending 12 Saturday sessions that culminate with a field trip to the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, N.C.

The effort will be coordinated with research scientist Glenda Kelley, associate director for assessment and outreach of the Pratt School’s Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT). 

 “We’re currently working to identify Durham public-school students with an aptitude for science and math, but who aren’t necessarily on advanced-placement tracks—students for whom opportunities may be more limited,” says Stiff-Roberts. “We’re doing the academy on a larger scale this time, and it will really be integrated with research currently taking place at Duke.”