Lasting Learning “STEMs” from Experience

November, 2013

On Thursday, November 7th, Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center hosted a reception for our most generous donors at the MIT Museum in Cambridge. It was a wonderful opportunity to thank patrons for their support and to keep guests abreast of the latest trends in education and of Thompson Island initiatives. Numerous student ambassadors greeted the 100 guests and regaled them with stories of personal learning experiences from Thompson Island programs.

The venue for the evening was the modern, chic and colorful MIT Museum that provided a fitting backdrop to highlight TIOBEC’s initiatives in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) experiential learning. The speaker, Dr. Erika Ebbel Angle, also focused on this topic with remarks that described the importance and necessity of providing students with a high quality STEM education. Dr. Angle is a Biochemist with her PhD in biochemistry from Boston University, the CEO of Science from Scientists, and a former Miss Massachusetts.

Dr. Angle has agreed to be this month’s guest blogger and the transcript of her powerful speech is included below. I want to once again thank all of the incredibly generous Thompson Island donors. We wouldn’t be able to change lives through challenge and discovery without you. The 6,500 youth served annually (and their families and schools and teachers) thank you, too!

Paul Lamoureux,
Vice President Programs

Photos from this wonderful night are available here

Dr. Erika Ebbel Angle:

Thank you to everyone at Thompson Island Outward Bound Educational Center for inviting me to be a part of this evening’s Islanders Reception. I hope to be able to share with you some brief thoughts about the importance of STEM education, how it played an important role in my life and why supporting the Thompson Island Outward Bound Educational Center in its programming effort is so critical.

Providing students with a high quality STEM education is quite possibly one of the most important challenges and necessities facing our educational system today. STEM job growth exceeds other job growth areas by double, sometimes more. Salaries earned by those in STEM fields are on average higher allowing for greater career flexibility and quality of life. Our very global competitiveness as a nation cited by thought leaders from the president to others like Bill Gates hinges on our ability to maintain a competitive educational edge above other nations. In this growing global economy this is becoming more and more challenging. We are struggling to stay ahead of the curve, to stay on top and to keep instilled in our children the desire for hard work and academic excellence.

Here in Massachusetts, statistics indicate that the educational system is one of the best in the country. Students perform better in STEM subjects as compared to their age matched peers in other states. We have programs including one that I started nearly a decade ago called Science from Scientists which sends real scientists into the schools during the school day to help improve test scores and spark interest. Efforts are being made to help students in STEM. However, the fact that Massachusetts is leading the United States in STEM education is similar to the analogy that “in the land of midgets, the short man is a giant.” The US ranked 17th in science out of 34 countries in a recent US news report study. Further compounding this problem is the lack of student “interest” in STEM even when there is competence. It is in this area where I believe the Thompson Island Outward Bound plays a critically important role.

Students may score reasonably well on tests, but that does not mean they will actually PURSUE STEM degrees after college. Amazingly enough, these important seeds are planted when a child is between the ages of 3 and 12 with elementary and middle school being a truly crucial time in a child’s development regarding personal identity. Numerous scientific and anecdotal studies have shown that if a child is not interested in a subject, no matter how talented he or she might be, he or she will NOT pick that area of study to pursue. Thus, this is why the work of – Thompson Island is so critical.

I stand before you as an example of someone who was won over by science due to being exposed at an early age. As a resident of the Bay Area in California, we made frequent trips to Half Moon Bay in search of fossils on the beach. We were even taken out on boats in San Francisco bay where we caught fish which we studied and identified, then returned back to the ocean. I was also a frequent visitor at The Exploratorium which combined interactive hands-on experiments with eye-opening demonstrations and presentations from practicing scientists.

This love of science led to my getting involved with science fairs and I started working on an independent science project at the age of 10. I worked on this project for 8 years, went to MIT for undergrad and then BU for my PhD. My love of science has now led me to be co-founder and CEO of CounterPoint Health Solutions, a Bedford based biotech company specializing in developing early prediction diagnostics and therapeutics for incurable diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson and diabetes. Exposing youth to science sparks interest at a young age. My love for science started when I was 10. I’m still doing it more than 20 years later.

Tonight we are here to celebrate the kind of STEM programming that contributed to my excitement about science as a child. Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to visit Thompson Island for an entire day. As I unplugged from the stresses of the normal “city day” upon arrival, I was introduced to the exceptional, charismatic staff who are responsible for running the day to day programming. They were eager to share information about their work and stories about the youngsters participating in the current program.

As we visited the island, we stopped to spend some time with various school groups participating in different activities I witnessed excited, enthusiastic children studying the sea life and sea creatures, learning about ecosystems and participating in team building activities. These students, many of whom had never been outside of their communities and would likely not have had this opportunity had it not been for the Thompson Island program, experienced first-hand the beauty of nature, the interrelationships of plants and animals, the importance of ecosystems and the real world applications of science.

Thompson Island is an incredibly valuable, unique resource and I was very much impressed with the quality of the lesson plans, the engagement level of the children, the professionalism of the staff and the enthusiasm of the classroom teachers who had been bringing their students to the island year after year.

This program works. Love of science may start in the classroom, but it grows through making the science real, in real-life contexts and situations. This is what Thompson Island does.

Thank you all for attending this evening. We thank you for supporting the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center. The work and programs being run here are truly needed and will be a part of training and inspiring the next generation of scientists who will be our future doctors, engineers, scientists, and teachers.

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