By Emily Mamula '15
I got the chance to chat with Cassandra Brown (Class of 2016), a MechE/RoboE who had a unique education-based experience this summer. And what's more Olin than education reform?
Cassandra spent her summer working on the development of the Virginia STEAM Academy, a state-wide public school that is, according to their website, "intended to be a uniquely challenging experience for students with exceptional ability and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics." A lot of specialized programs in Virginia currently are restricted to students who happen to live in the right area, but VA STEAM is trying to eliminate the geographic limitations and accept students from all across the state, regardless of where they live by allowing boarders.
The inaugural freshman and sophomore classes are set to start in the fall of 2015, serving 1,000 9th - 12th grade students by the end of 2018. Her work revolved around researching different school structures and pulling ideas from different programs that are similar to the Academy's vision and possible funding sources, sponsors, and mentors. Much like Olin, they're looking to achieve something radically different from "normal" education. Their interest in Olin's goals led to Cassandra helping with admissions planning, putting them in touch with Vice President and Dean of Admissions Charlie Nolan.
Using all of the information from her research, Cassandra was then asked to write a report on what types of programs already exist versus what the Academy wants to pursue. She eventually was asked by the cofounders Judy Stewart and Caroline Martin to help assemble a final report that would be brought before the Virginia General Assembly that included a feasibility statement for the program. She even got in touch with a number of legislators in order to arrange meetings for the founders to spread the word about the project!
The final part of Cassandra's summer was spent helping out with a STEAM Academy-affiliated summer camp in July for rising middle schoolers. Students picked either a math or physics track and spent a week at the residential camp learning about their subject. Cassandra was one of the TAs for the physics track - leading the campers in awesome activities like making hot air balloons out of tissue paper, race cars out of K'Nex, and rollercoasters for marbles. Throughout the projects, students got to learn about the science of how to realize different goals.
When asked what she gained from her work this summer, Cassandra said she learned a lot about how school systems work and got unique experience writing executive summaries. But her favorite part (and probably closest to the goings on here at Olin) was working at the summer camps. She hopes to be a TA again next year!