September 5, 2012

SUNY Empire State College Shares in $2.95 Million NSF Grant to Help Expand After-School Mentoring Program to Promote STEM Education

(SARATOGA SPRINGS N.Y. – Sept. 5, 2012) – The State University of New York, the New York Academy of Science, and SUNY Empire State College have been awarded a $2.95 million National Science Foundation grant. The grant will help bring to scale a successful after-school program in which SUNY graduate students and postdoctoral fellows mentor middle-school students from high-need school districts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“The academy’s Afterschool STEM Mentoring Program has had a profound impact on New York City’s youth, and the expertise offered by SUNY graduate students has the potential to greatly improve science and math literacy among middle-school children throughout New York state,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, who also chairs the academy’s board of governors. “We are grateful for the support of the National Science Foundation and thrilled to have the opportunity to bring this program to children statewide, particularly in New York state’s urban and rural communities.” Zimpher announced the award.

Academy President and CEO Ellis Rubinstein said, “As New Yorkers, we are fortunate to live in a hotbed of academic talent at the graduate level, and yet our secondary school students in the very same areas are underperforming in STEM fields. STEM skills are critical not only to students’ educational success, but to their future job prospects and, vitally, the country’s ability to sustain a knowledge economy. The academy is thrilled to extend its successful Afterschool STEM Mentoring Program to include SUNY’s tradition of academic excellence, matching outstanding graduate student resources with the needs of our middle-school students.”

Provost Meg Benke portrait

Acting President Meg Benke

‌SUNY Empire State College Acting President Meg Benke said, “Teaching and learning through mentoring is the cornerstone of Empire State College’s education mission and by adding our strengths in curriculum development and online delivery we can help to bring the academy’s Afterschool STEM Mentoring Program to a statewide scale. Training SUNY graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to be better teachers means middle school will produce better students more likely to succeed in class. I am very pleased that the National Science Foundation is recognizing the value of what SUNY, the academy and the college offers.”

The grant will enable SUNY and the academy to introduce the program in urban and rural communities throughout New York state during the next three years. Initially, it will be implemented by SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, the University at Albany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in the Capital District, and SUNYIT in Utica and Rome. The campuses were selected for their geographical diversity, STEM-focused degree programs and existing partnerships with community-based organizations.

The project will create a foundation and model from which additional pilot sites can be fostered nationally. It will be carried out in three stages:

  • Together, SUNY and the academy will implement a comprehensive, systemic science education initiative to recruit scientists-in-training (graduate students and postdoctoral fellows) studying in the STEM disciplines at certain colleges and universities to serve as mentors in high-need middle school programs.
  • The scientists-in-training will participate in a new credit-bearing online course, designed with STEM content-specific subject matter and worth three graduate-level academic credits. Faculty from SUNY Empire State College will partner with the academy and each participating campus to prepare the mentors using the new course.
  • SUNY campuses will partner with community-based organizations to place mentors in afterschool programs, serving middle=school students in high-need, low-resource urban and rural communities.

The SUNY/academy model is unique in that it involves the creation of a scaling mechanism to allow for maximum local innovation and adaptation, while retaining the core elements of the program. It also utilizes an online platform to deliver the content-based mentor training and to provide support to the young scientists/mentors statewide.

By the end of the third year, a best-practices guide will be produced by the SUNY/academy team to help interested universities determine capacity for implementing similar programs at their campuses. Additional campuses will be selected in subsequent years using a request for proposals (RFP) selection process.

The project is one of several comprehensive efforts that SUNY is leading to help students successfully transition through the education pipeline, from early childhood through K-12 and college, and ultimately into the workforce.

Dr. Phillip A. Ortiz

‌"Right now far too many intelligent and talented students are leaking out of the educational pipeline,” said SUNY Empire State College Professor Phillip A. Ortiz, area coordinator and mentor in natural science at the college’s Center for Distance Learning. “At the same time, the need for students to be more proficient in STEM subjects is increasing. By collaborating, we can help more K-12 students succeed while also providing graduate students and postdoctoral fellows with the opportunity to earn credit and become better teachers.”

SUNY Senior Vice Chancellor for Community Colleges and the Education Pipeline Johanna Duncan-Poitier said, “At a time when there is an increased demand for more graduates in the STEM fields, the National Science Foundation has provided SUNY with a powerful opportunity to systemically strengthen the education pipeline for our state’s future. We are so pleased to be partnering with the New York Academy of Sciences and our campuses to bring this outstanding program to scale throughout New York.”

Academy Director of K12 Education Meghan Groome said, “Research continues to show that role models are vital in helping kids become the next generation of scientists and STEM-literate citizens. At the same time, young scientists need opportunities to learn how to teach and become better mentors as they pursue their scientific research. We are grateful to the National Science Foundation for giving us the opportunity to research how to bring this program to the students and scientists across New York State.”

About SUNY Empire State College

SUNY Empire State College was established in 1971 to offer adult learners the opportunity to earn associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the State University of New York.

In addition to awarding credit for prior college-level learning, the college pairs each student with a faculty mentor who supports that student throughout his or her college career. Students engage in guided independent study and course work onsite, online or a combination of both, which provides the flexibility for students to learn at the time, place and pace they choose.

The college serves more than 20,000 students worldwide at more than 35 locations in New York state and online. Its 63,000 alumni are active in their communities as entrepreneurs, politicians, business professionals, artists, nonprofit agency employees, teachers, veterans and active military, union members and more.

More information about the college is available here.

About the State University of New York

The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive university system in the United States, educating approximately 468,000 students in more than 7,500 degree and certificate programs on 64 campuses with nearly 3 million alumni around the globe. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit

About the New York Academy of Sciences

The New York Academy of Sciences is an independent, not-for-profit organization that since 1817 has been committed to advancing science, technology and society worldwide. With 25,000 members in 140 countries, the academy is creating a global community of science for the benefit of humanity. The academy's core mission is to advance scientific knowledge, positively impact the major global challenges of society with science-based solutions, and increase the number of scientifically informed individuals in society at large. Visit for more information.

Media Contact: David Henahan

Director of Communications

SUNY Empire State College

518-587-2100, ext. 2918



Media Contact

David M. Henahan, Director of Communications
518-587-2100, ext. 2918

(after 5 p.m. and weekends)

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