Public Discussion

  • Icon for: Randy Kochevar

    Randy Kochevar

    Facilitator
    May 11, 2015 | 06:40 p.m.

    What a neat program! How do you measure the success of the program, in terms of outcomes for the 150 students you’ve worked with?

  • Icon for: Emily Stoeth

    Emily Stoeth

    Presenter
    May 12, 2015 | 12:09 p.m.

    Thanks for your comments! We use a pre and post interest and attitudes survey to measure the student’s self-reported knowledge about science and zoo careers as well as their interest and comfort with scientific concepts and the training needed to enter this career field. More informally, we look at whether the students are attending college and what they are majoring in.

  • Icon for: Ben Sayler

    Ben Sayler

    Facilitator
    May 11, 2015 | 09:08 p.m.

    Nice work! What lessons have you learned that might be transferable to other places and projects.

  • Icon for: Emily Stoeth

    Emily Stoeth

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 09:17 a.m.

    One of the biggest lessons we are taking away is that parental involvement is key to maintaining commitment on the part of the students. As a part of Bridging the Gap, parents attend an orientation to introduce them to the organization and the requirements of the program. They are also given full access to the project coordinator by phone and email. We have found this to be an effective model. Another lesson learned is from the mentoring component of the program. We began this program with a 1:1 mentoring model where each student was matched with staff member who would serve as a mentor. We found that although some of the matches were successful, most were quite forced and there were issues with keeping in contact etc. For the second and third cohorts we switched to a community mentoring model where students and mentors at each of our five sites meet once a month for mentoring sessions that are facilitated by the project coordinator. These community mentoring sessions allowed for connections between students and mentors to develop more organically and has proved to be a more successful method for our organization to provide support for our students in entering the STEM field.

  • Icon for: Ben Sayler

    Ben Sayler

    Facilitator
    May 13, 2015 | 10:03 a.m.

    Excellent – thanks!

  • Icon for: Gillian Puttick

    Gillian Puttick

    Principal Investigator
    May 12, 2015 | 09:46 a.m.

    I’m sure with this level of engagement and motivation, you’re thinking about sustaining the program after grant funding ends. What strategies do you have in mind?

  • Icon for: Emily Stoeth

    Emily Stoeth

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 09:33 a.m.

    Yes, we are definitely looking at continuing many of the efforts that were put forth in this program. One way is to encourage our Bridging the Gap students to apply for and enroll in other teen programs offered by WCS. We have already seen a number of students follow this route which is really encouraging as it’s a great way to keep their level of engagement within the organization. We are also taking a lot of lessons learned from Bridging the Gap and employing them in some of our other projects such as our new NSF AISL grant, Project TRUE, which focuses on teens researching urban ecology as well as our Discovery Guide program for teen volunteers. Additionally, we are looking for funding so that we may continue a program similar to Bridging the Gap in the future.

  • Icon for: Miyoko Chu

    Miyoko Chu

    Senior Director, Communications
    May 12, 2015 | 09:16 p.m.

    Thanks to WCS for this important effort! I am impressed by the multifaceted, high-touch approach that you have taken. Do you think this project could be scaled up to be adopted by other environmental organizations? What turned out to be the biggest challenges for WCS to implement? What aspects do you think were most valuable and that would translate well to other organizations?

  • Icon for: Emily Stoeth

    Emily Stoeth

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 01:47 p.m.

    Thanks so much for your comment! Yes, we certainly think this program represents a scalable model that can be implemented at other environmental organizations. The various phases in the program’s framework offer a gradual progression for students into a world that they may be entirely unfamiliar with. One of our biggest challenges was implementing the mentoring component. (You can also look my comment right above this one for more about mentoring in the program). In the original plan for this project we intended to match each student with a staff member to serve as a mentor. In our first cohort of 50 students this required approximately 50 staff members. Because WCS is a large organization, we were able to accomplish this, but there were challenges with forced matches and engagement between the mentors and the mentees. Considering these issues and looking ahead to 150 students total and therefore, potentially 150 staff mentors, we switched to a community mentoring model for our second and third cohorts. Not only did these monthly sessions allow for more natural connections between students and mentors, but it also allowed us to maintain connections with students in past cohorts (many of whom returned to these sessions to serve as peer-mentors as well as mentees). We really think this model can easily be implemented in other informal facilities.

    One other successful component that can be easily implemented was the use of guest speakers. Our guest speakers often included staff members that were not able to commit to being mentors, but were willing to come and speak to the students for an hour about their career path, how they got into the field, what their job entails, and offer advice to students interested in the same career. We found this exposure to be really helpful so that students can get to know professionals in the field and to see first-hand the many different paths one can take to achieve these positions.

  • Icon for: Jackie DeLisi

    Jackie DeLisi

    Facilitator
    May 12, 2015 | 09:26 p.m.

    This looks like a great program for urban kids who might not otherwise be considering careers related to wildlife conservation. Can you say something about how you recruit students, and whether you have been able to follow up with any of them in their first years post-high school?

  • Icon for: Emily Stoeth

    Emily Stoeth

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 03:52 p.m.

    Absolutely! Recruitment (especially in our first year) was a huge undertaking! Because this was a brand new program, we had to do a lot of leg work to get the word out and get students interested. The Project Coordinator went on school visits to many high schools in New York City and met with guidance counselors, principals, and science teachers as well as students to share information about the program as well as deliver application materials. In subsequent years this process was slightly less daunting as we began to build up a following. Each year, though, we recruited to some new schools and continued school visits to maintain interest in the program. We actually just finished data collection on one of our long-term surveys which will track some of the follow up information you’re asking about. Unfortunately, I don’t have the results just yet. I can tell you from more informal tracking that 88% of the Bridging the Gap students that are eligible to attend university are either enrolled in college now or planning to attend in the fall.

  • Icon for: Elizabeth Hassrick

    Elizabeth Hassrick

    Research Scientist
    May 14, 2015 | 11:57 a.m.

    Excited about how you included parents. Sharing any lessons learned from doing this work with parents would be invaluable!

  • Icon for: Emily Stoeth

    Emily Stoeth

    Presenter
    May 14, 2015 | 03:49 p.m.

    I can certainly address parental participation! We try to involve parents from the outset of the program. Like I mentioned in an earlier response, at the beginning of each cohort, we held an orientation at each of our sites for parents to attend. We encouraged parents to bring younger children to this session if necessary to try to accommodate child-care challenges and to make it feel like more of a family day. In addition to introducing parents to our organization and mission, providing the program overview, and schedule and a facility tour, we also included food and activities. We feel it’s important for parents to meet program staff and see the spaces their children will be learning in. During some parent orientations there was a concurrent student session; if this was the case parents observed an activity to see the program in action. When student’s finish the first and longest phase of the program, parents are invited back to attend a small celebratory event. Parents are also provided with full access to the project coordinator through phone, text, email, and in-person meetings. We also partner with a social services organization in our area and are able to refer parents for mental health, educational, and/or social services if needed. Lastly, parents receive college-prep and financial aid information. One constant challenge is timing- many of our parents work on weekends when much of our programming occurs. Providing a range of time options is ideal- we offer one of the college prep nights on a weekend evening to try to allow everyone an opportunity to attend.

  • Further posting is closed as the showcase has ended.

Bridging the Gap
NSF Award #: 1138685

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is a global conservation organization that runs 5 living institutions in New York City and conducts conservation work and research in more than 60 countries worldwide. Many zoo and aquarium institutions, including WCS, have prioritized increasing the diversity of staff members in STEM-related careers in zoos and aquariums. With this goal in mind, Bridging the Gap (BTG) was established to connect high school students with STEM interests directly with WCS professionals. Over the course of 3 years, 150 high school students participated in more than 100 hours of training, workshops, internships, college prep classes, parent workshops, and staff mentoring. As a result of the success of the program, BTG was awarded the 2014 Association of Zoo and Aquarium Angela Peterson Excellence in Diversity Award. “Bridging the Gap” is a 3 minute documentary which tells the story of this innovate program and illustrates its many highlights.