Eva Campodonico ’95, Science Teacher
Education: Middlebury College, B.S., Yale University, M.A., Yale University, Ph.D.
Favorite Science Moment: “I get a sense of glee when a student peers into a microscope and exclaims,
‘Oh it’s MOVING! That’s so COOL!’”
At College Prep, we are committed to preparing our students for a future in a rapidly changing world. A new hands-on STEM program with an integrated internship was just launched by science teacher and Prep alumna Eva Campodonico ’95. We spoke with her about her students’ enthusiasm and the benefits of digging deep into research.
What is the STEM program?
The acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Recent studies have shown that America’s students are falling behind in STEM disciplines, and are less interested in them than their international peers. That obviously affects our nation’s economic competitiveness. It’s not really true of the students here at Prep—they are not falling off in their interest in the sciences. A few years ago, members of the Board of Trustees asked Sharona Barzilay, Assistant Dean of Students and Assistant Head of School, to assess Prep’s offerings related to STEM and what the student appetite was for those disciplines. Sharona’s report revealed that the kids desperately wanted hands-on research as an experience and it was becoming more and more difficult for them to get that. Sharona approached me when I first got here and asked me to marry the student’s appetite with a program that Monique DeVane, Head of School, had seen in action that worked. The program I’ve developed has the following structure:
It’s a yearlong 3-part course designed for highly self-motivated students who are interested in getting hands-on research experience in a broad array of STEM fields. It begins with a spring semester seminar that provides students with foundational scientific knowledge and analytical skills. Students learn how to find primary scientific literature online—reading and dissecting sections of it. They select papers they love and present them to each other in our peer-to-peer Journal Club, leading each other through the research. We also do “boot camps” so the students can learn things like how to be an effective speaker utilizing PowerPoint and crunch data with Excel. The spring is dedicated to learning how to fundamentally design an experiment, as well as learning experimental design in an applied sense.
In the summer, the students are placed in a lab for a 4-6 week research internship. I help them read the research literature from the lab where they’ll be interning before they start. Coming from the research world, I know that they are well prepared. The kids are on fire about this. One of our students, for example, will be at a material sciences lab doing research on nanotechnology.
When the students come back in the fall, I will help them distill the research they did over the summer into a formal manuscript. They’ll also prepare to give a formal oral presentation in a symposium on campus. We’ll invite the mentors and the school to attend. It’s pretty exciting.
Can any student enroll in STEM?
The program is only open to Sophmores and Juniors. Seniors obviously can’t enroll because they aren’t coming back in the fall for the third part of the course. It’s competitive, too. We had 34 students apply and only eight get in. For this, our pilot year, we have three sophomores and five juniors. The STEM seminar is currently run by Alden Blair.
What are some of the challenges?
The main challenge for me has been finding people to host the kids for their summer internship. The pilot spots are full, but we’d love to expand this program. For the students, I think the challenge is that this is not a topic they are studying; it’s a whole career. They are learning how researchers quickly approach answering big questions. It’s amazing how quickly the students absorb this information.
What has surprised you most teaching this program?
I knew going in there was an appetite for hands-on research experience, but the enthusiasm has been incredible. I often have to quiet the classroom down because in their excitement it can get pretty loud. They have this basic toolset and when they are able to glean information from dense research, it opens up a floodgate of pent up curiosity. For me, teaching these kids is pure joy.