Tag Archives: STEM

Poor Schools Face “Double Disadvantage” in STEM Education

Only twenty-six percent of high school seniors in the U.S. attend schools that offer some type of computer science course.

This stark statistic, among other inequities that exist between high- and low-poverty schools, appears in a brief entitled “Ending the Double Disadvantage: Ensuring STEM Opportunities in Our Poorest Schools,” published by Change The Equation (CTEq).

CTEq is a Washington, D.C.- based non-profit, non-partisan coalition of corporate leaders, educators, and policy advocates that convened in 2010 as a result of President Obama’s call to “strengthen America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation.” Its board of directors includes CEOs from some of the world’s most influential companies: Intel, Time Warner, Eastman Kodak, DuPont, Exxon Mobil, among others, with a goal toward improving STEM literacy for all children in the U.S.

As tech leaders looking toward the future for the next generation of employees, CTEq has reason to sound the alarm. The brief illustrates how, and (more importantly) to what extent, students who attend high-poverty schools are being left behind.

Using data gathered by the U.S. Department of Education, CTEq defines high-poverty schools as those where three-quarters or more of enrolled students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. By that definition, 2015 data shows a full twenty-five percent of all U.S. school children attend high-poverty schools.

According to the report, these students attend schools that lack lab space, don’t offer a full range of STEM courses, and don’t have adequate equipment to conduct experiments; in other words, the basics which low-poverty districts would consider foundational necessities.

  • 47 percent of fourth graders at high-poverty schools do a hands-on experiment once per week, compared to 61 percent of students in low-poverty schools
  • 62 percent of eighth grade teachers at high-poverty schools report having the resources they need to teach math, while 79 percent of their low-poverty-district counterparts do
  • 23 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools hold math degrees, while 31 percent in low-poverty schools do
  • 52 percent of high-poverty schools offer a statistics class, while 88 percent of wealthier schools do
  • 39 percent of high-poverty schools offer Advanced Placement Physics compared to 75 percent of high-income schools

These inequities have dire consequences for high-poverty-school students as they enter the workforce, unable to compete for jobs and ill-prepared for the technological demands of the 21st century.

As CTEq’s report demonstrates, “students in such schools suffer disadvantage upon disadvantage over the course of their schooling, and they face dim prospects for rewarding STEM careers.”

Although achieving equal access to STEM education may seem unattainable, there are solutions.

Locally, high schoolers can apply to attend INVESTING NOW, a program run through the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. Since 1988, the program has offered a “continuous pipeline for students from groups traditionally underrepresented to prepare for, enter, and graduate from the University of Pittsburgh as STEM majors.”

The program achieves its goals by providing individualized academic advising, SAT preparation, private tutoring with a Pitt undergrad, college planning workshops, hands-on projects in physics, engineering, and chemistry, and more.

In 2016, one hundred percent of INVESTING NOW’s high school seniors went on to college. More than half of them chose STEM majors.

According to Dr. Alaine Allen, INVESTING NOW’s Director, “Forming relationships with students and coaching them along the way to get into college is what we have observed has the most impact.”

Making sure they are challenging themselves throughout their high school careers, Dr. Allen says, is the key. If a student attends a high-poverty school, INVESTING NOW guides him or her to take the most rigorous courses available, sign up for extracurricular activities to gain STEM exposure, or plug into research as a supplement to academics to make them competitive.

The report points to ASSET STEM Education, which is based in Pittsburgh and is an active member of the Remake Learning Network, along with Science in Motion and the Amgen Biotech Experience as exemplary organizations working on the national level to help high-poverty schools acquire STEM resources and provide extra professional development to teachers.

College students majoring in STEM can earn teaching certificates “without adding time or cost to four-year degrees” through new programs like UTeach, a Texas-born initiative that’s spreading across the country.

State accountability systems can make science a priority by measuring educational outcomes, the same way reading and math outcomes are analyzed. As CTEq reports, “If science gets measured, it’s more likely to get taught.”

In the meantime, local efforts like the Pittsburgh Regional STEM Ecosystem and the Carnegie Science Center STEM Excellence Pathway are taking active steps to expand access to high-quality STEM learning, and programs like Citizen Science Lab (whose annual STEAMabration is coming up this Saturday!) are bringing STEM learning to children and communities in need.

Putting Science Education Under the Microscope

It turns out teenagers are quite interested in the sciences. Science class, however, is another story.

The results are in from Students on STEM, a science learning survey conducted by the Amgen Foundation and Change the Equation. The researchers asked 1,569 American high school students about their opinions on science and their experiences learning it.

Students are certainly intrigued. Among those surveyed, 81 percent said they were interested in science topics, and biology in particular. Only 37 percent, however, said they liked science class a lot. Other subjects got better reviews.

Asked what would make science class more interesting, the students said hands-on lab experiments, field trips, and projects related to real life. That doesn’t mean traditional science instruction methods—class discussions and teaching from the textbook—lack value. But the responses are a signal that educators need to find ways to bridge the gap between curiosity and pedagogy.

STEM jobs are growing faster than those in other professions, according to Change the Equation. But many American students—particularly racial minorities, low-income students, and girls—do not end up qualified for STEM fields. Only 30 percent of high school seniors who took the ACT in 2013 were deemed ready for college-level work in science. In higher education, nearly half the bachelor’s degree students who started with a STEM major between 2003 and 2009 switched to a non-STEM major or dropped out, according to the U.S. Department of Education. As the Students on STEM survey shows, young people are interested in science—but without engaging, accessible learning experiences, that interest wanes and they miss opportunities for success.

Many educators are testing innovative science learning models to make the subjects more engaging and relevant. “Citizen science,” for example, refers to data collection and analysis by regular citizens, sometimes in collaboration with professional scientists. Citizen science projects can involve community members of all ages, but the model can be powerful for young learners who want to find real-world relevance in their coursework.

One such project in California has teenagers measuring air quality in their surroundings. The lessons grew out of a partnership between the Chabot Space and Science Center and UC Berkeley, where scientists were monitoring local air quality for pollutants. The science center has provided teachers with investigative lessons that have students analyzing the scientists’ genuine data or using handheld monitors to track carbon dioxide levels in places they spend their time.

The connection to professional scientists is key. Adult mentors play a critical role in a young person’s education, research shows. Educators and other adults help scaffold youths’ learning experiences and connect them to academic or professional opportunities.

More specifically, the Students on STEM results show that young people crave connection to adults working in fields that interest them. Among those surveyed, 86 percent said it would be helpful to know a professional in their field of interest, but fewer than half do. Low-income students have even less access to science professionals than their more affluent peers. The teens surveyed said loud and clear that they wanted science education to prepare them for opportunities after high school. Early exposure to professionals and the workforce is one solution.

Some programs simulate science workplace experiences. The Citizen Science Lab in Pittsburgh, for example, offers Hill District high school students the chance to test out a job in the pharmaceutical industry for a summer. The students earn a stipend to learn the process of drug design and computational modeling of proteins over the course of a month.

Other ideas laid out in the Students on STEM report are more straightforward. Respondents said it would be helpful to have greater access to career counseling, more classes related to future jobs, and relevant organizations on campus. The number of students who said they had access to such opportunities was far lower than the number who said they wanted it.

The researchers say businesses and schools can partner to get cutting-edge equipment into classrooms or job fairs on campus. Districts can support teachers by providing professional development opportunities that introduce them to innovative science learning practices. (The Amgen Foundation, which commissioned the report, provides biotech equipment and teacher training to schools.)

It is clear from the survey that young people know what they need to become engaged science learners and future science professionals. It is up to adults to make it happen.

An Age-Old Push for Science Literacy, With New Tools

Back in the 1990s, a group of private and public officials and academics joined forces in support of nationwide science literacy. The benefits of a strong science education were manifold, they said, with important applications in civic life and the workforce.

“In learning science, students describe objects and events, ask questions, acquire knowledge, construct explanations of natural phenomena, test out those explanations in many different ways, and communicate their ideas to others,” wrote the people who eventually developed National Science Education Standards, guidelines for K-12.

The great questions of the future—how to manage and share the world’s natural resources, say—would demand decision-makers with strong scientific training, they said. Even students who weren’t destined for such positions of power would be most successful in any field if they were science-literate.

“The business community needs entry-level workers with the ability to learn, reason, think creatively, make decisions, and solve problems,” the authors wrote.

Sound familiar? Our contemporary calls for learning that breeds innovation and critical thinking echo those of the past.

But in the 21st century, an era of entrepreneurship and global competition, these skills may be even more valuable. For those growing up in an age of melting ice caps and other climate concerns, science education can produce a sense of urgency and curiosity that leads young people to examine their surroundings through a critical lens.

Our contemporary calls for learning that breeds innovation and critical thinking echo those of the past.

A few years ago, an effort similar to the one in the 1990s yielded the Next Generation Science Standards. Sixteen states have adopted the standards, and most others have expressed interest in them. They urge the teaching of classic science concepts, only with a bit more context—an effort to encourage students to pursue careers in the field. That means teaching underlying ideas that span all science subjects, as well as teaching the practices of scientists and engineers.

“Science literacy” is a broad term, but at its core is inquiry. Students who learn science are encouraged to question how the world works, why natural phenomena occur, and what information is trustworthy. Take the scientific method, that step-by-step process most kids learn around fifth grade. At first glance it is a rote process to be memorized. But it trains young learners to devise questions and make observations, eventually putting informed hypotheses to the test through technical experiments.

The fundamental purposes of science education have not changed much in recent decades. What has changed are the tools available to stoke young people’s curiosity and help them search for answers. Bunsen burners and nature documentaries are now supplemented with uncanny visualizations and robotics kits.

Take Maker Camp, soon to be in its fifth summer. The partnership between Google and Make: magazine leverages video-chat technology to give any teenager with an internet connection a sneak peak into the practices of professional scientists and engineers. One year, participants took a virtual field trip to NASA, where they got to watch a telescope being assembled live.

Elizabeth Babcock, public engagement officer and dean of education at the California Academy of Sciences, has explained that digital technology has become part and parcel of her institution’s science literacy programming. A photosynthesis visualization at the academy brings visitors on a virtual journey through the molecules in a redwood tree. In other cases, digital media initiate genuine engagement, giving learners a more active role in their own science education, Babcock told Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning. After learning about the science and dangers of plastics, teenagers in an academy afterschool program launched a social media campaign to educate their peers.

When employed right, digital tools can support critical inquiry and give students immersive access to the vital issues of the day. That’s been the worthy goal of science education since its start, and one that is all the more urgent today.

Anyone who follows national politics knows that there are big barriers to widespread science literacy. Political and religious interest groups have worked to ban climate change curricula in several states and to prohibit officials from speaking about it publicly. A Yale study found that social consequences of caring about climate change, not a lack of scientific understanding, were the main cause of adults’ apathy about the topic.

That’s particular cause for developing science literacy at a young age. Information saturation, political interests, and societal forces are all at play in the adult world. Before they enter it, young learners need the capacity to parse through information, ask thoughtful questions, and act on the answers.

 

STEM Has Roots in Early Childhood

A child marvels at a butterfly that has emerged from a cocoon in her backyard.

A toddler plays with building blocks, balancing a small one on top of a big one.

A baby learns the concept of cause-and-effect by putting his hands over his eyes.

These young children are all engaging in a rudimentary form of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning. Adults might associate the term with middle school science fairs or technology start-ups, but the truth is the youngest kids are capable of, and naturally inclined toward, STEM-type learning.

“As any parent knows, children are born curious,” said Roberto Rodríguez, deputy assistant to the president for education. “They’re born natural scientists.”

Rodríguez was kicking off the Early STEM Learning Symposium at the White House on April 21. There, officials, educators, researchers, and education technologists gathered to celebrate—and call for more—innovative STEM learning geared toward young children.

Research shows that even the youngest brains are capable of beginning to understand STEM concepts, but only if they are given the opportunity to explore and discover. Patricia Kuhl, University of Washington professor of speech and hearing sciences, has studied how children’s brains grow based on experiences they have starting at seven months.

“To get all the foundations of STEM into the brain early in development, we have to let children’s natural curiosity” blossom, Kuhl said at the White House symposium. “Playing with objects like blocks, playing with water, will feed that brain that wants to tinker with objects, and wants to have an effect on others in the world.”

But why devote a day at the White House to the topic? Because STEM learning can start early, and the STEM achievement gap does too.

A recent study published in Educational Researcher found that girls, as well as children who are racial or ethnic minorities, English language learners, or from low-income homes, demonstrated lower levels of science achievement as early as third grade. These kids typically continued to lag through middle school.

“It’s not a level playing field,” Kuhl said. “You can see, by the age of 5, huge effects of the opportunities to learn.”

Young learners lose out when adults underestimate what they are capable of. With well-paying jobs increasingly demanding a workforce that is well-versed in math and technology, it behooves the public and private sectors to make sure all children have access to STEM education, said leaders at the White House event. That support includes proper compensation and professional development for early learning instructors, said Secretary of Education John King.

Some researchers and companies have created products geared toward developing STEM skills and interest among young children, including those in groups that are underrepresented in the fields.

GoldiBlox is a popular engineering toy designed for girls. The kits, for kids as young as four, include construction pieces and a story that presents the player with a basic engineering challenge. Some of the toys come with action figures—racially diverse girls who carry laptops along with their capes.

Scratch, the free programming language for older kids and teens, has a younger sibling called Scratch Jr. The tool introduces coding concepts to kids ages 5 to 7, who can program games and interactive stories.

In conjunction with the White House event, dozens of organizations made commitments to further STEM opportunities for young learners. The administration also recognized efforts by public and private actors, including a handful in Pittsburgh. The Fred Rogers Company was recognized for its professional development, family resources, and peg + cat,” a TV show that teaches math to preschool-age kids. The Grable Foundation was also recognized for investing in hands-on STEM learning and technology for early childhood educators, and the White House named the Frazier School District in Fayette County, Penn., for overhauling its curriculum and professional development approach to support early STEM learning.

“It’s us rethinking how we’re doing education,” said Frazier Elementary principal Kelly Muic Lombard, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We’re implementing the 21st century slant, which is kids being creative, developing their problem-solving skills, and helping them be better collaborators.”

 

Science Center Is Nucleus in STEM Education Initiative

A few years ago, Sto-Rox School District was keen on providing students with engaging science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning. Administrators knew jobs in those fields were growing, but their students were graduating ill-equipped to land them.

The Allegheny County district was hardly alone in its inability, despite its eagerness, to keep up with the national movement to strengthen STEM education. According to the National Math and Science Initiative, in 2013 only 35 percent of U.S. eighth grade students tested proficient in math, and only 36 percent of high school students were ready for college-level science.

The Sto-Rox Middle School principal at the time, Melanie Kerber, was among several educators who joined with the Carnegie Science Center to create a free tool that could help districts like Sto-Rox as well as its affluent neighbors bolster STEM learning.

With support from the Heinz Endowments, the science center and its advisers produced the Carnegie STEM Excellence Pathway, an online self-assessment rubric. The tool helps schools and districts examine areas like teacher credentialing and training, as well as student participation. The rubric helps schools identify priorities, establish goals, and create plans for the coming year. It is intended to support both resource-rich and struggling schools, which repeat the self-evaluation annually.

“For the first time, we can benchmark ourselves against what’s considered high quality.”

In some cases, the science center uses the Heinz money to help local under-resourced districts like Sto-Rox carry out their Pathway goals. The center offers workshops at a cost to other schools. Those farther afield can seek virtual advice through webinars.

“What we value about the Pathway is, for the first time, we can benchmark ourselves against what’s considered high quality based on a standardized rubric,” said South Fayette School District Superintendent Bille Rondinelli, who helped create the program.

The emphasis on continuous improvement helps schools find value in the tool, said Kerber, now superintendent of better-resourced Blackhawk School District, which uses the rubric as well.

“The nice thing about it is it’s calibrated so that if you’re showing any level of growth, you can be recognized for that,” she said.

As schools across the region embark on the self-improvement process, they build relationships with one another. When wealthy Upper St. Clair School District received a STEM grant that required partnership with an underserved district, an administrator reached out to Kerber, whom he had met at a Pathway meeting. That summer, Sto-Rox students joined Upper St. Clair students at a STEM camp.

The Pathway program has given rise to an educator community where “we have open and honest discussions where sharing takes place,” said South Fayette Assistant Superintendent Michael Loughead.

The Pathway initiative has brought to light the critical role a science center can play in a STEM ecosystem. Carnegie works directly with kids and educators, but also has connections to community institutions and corporations that employ STEM graduates. Supporting schools through programs like the STEM Excellence Pathway is one of the best ways to bring together disparate but complementary entities, said Carnegie Science Center Director of Strategic Education Initiatives Alana Kulesa, who spearheaded the Pathway program.

A science center can play a critical role in a STEM ecosystem.

The center “is a trusted leader in this field, and they’re neutral,” Loughead said. “It has promoted trust and changed things regionally. The spinoff has been connections we’ve made outside of this experience.” South Fayette is in talks with a local community college about a partnership, he said.

For Kerber, too, the science center has served as a portal to the world beyond school walls. Her relationship with the center opened her eyes to local opportunities in STEM fields she could encourage students to pursue. The health industry in Pittsburgh, for example, creates well-paying jobs for technicians that require less training than doctor and nurse positions.

“It really gets you thinking about how you can get kids excited about this,” Kerber said.

A new Heinz grant will allow Carnegie to train science centers beyond the region to play a role in STEM education.

“We were trying to meet a need in our community in southwestern Pennsylvania,” Kulesa said. “But we’ve provided resources really sorely needed by schools throughout country.”

Today, more than 5,300 schools nationwide are in the program. The science center has conducted trainings and workshops with some 1,000 educators and estimates the program is reaching 2.5 million students.

The data amassed through the program is revealing. Many schools are prioritizing inquiry and project-based learning, Kulesa said. The science center staff has noticed that schools feel comfortable conducting the self-evaluation but seek coaching to put a plan in place.

Hands-on STEM learning is “the most powerful way of approaching education right now,” Loughead said. “For teachers who’ve never done that, it can be overwhelming” to go it alone.

Kids Who Amazed Us in 2015

In 2015 we were, time and again, impressed by the ingenuity and creativity of kids.

We wrote about some of them on this blog. There was 16-year-old Olivia Hallisey, whose simple, cost-effective Ebola detection method made her the winner of the Google Science Fair. Then there was Jahnik Kurukulasuriya, who took time off from Pittsburgh’s Allderdice High School to present his breast cancer research at the White House.

Some kids used technology to innovate and help their peers. Fourteen-year-old Lexi Schneider won the National STEM Video Game Challenge for “Head of Class,” a game that leads players through a comic-inspired virtual school, teaching lessons along the way. And 10-year-old Torrae Owen used a 3D printer to build a plastic “superhero hand.” Her disabled peers who lack hands or fingers can use her invention to pick up objects.

These kids give us a glimpse of what youngsters can do. “Youth are natural inventors,” Joan Ganz Cooney Center director Michael H. Levine said when he announced the STEM video game contest.

So why are these kids the exception?

Low-income students and kids of color often lack access to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education that has helped the Olivia Halliseys flourish. Many under-resourced schools cannot offer basic chemistry or Algebra II. According to the U.S. Department of Education, black and Latino students have disproportionately low access to math and science courses.

It is fair to say that even when the seeds are planted, most kids will not grow up to become cutting-edge cancer researchers. But STEM education opens many career possibilities. The nonprofit Change the Equation reports that middle-skill jobs that require technology grew 2.5 times faster between 2003 and 2013 than jobs that do not.

Economist Raj Chetty has spotlighted the many factors stacked against low-income children—and the importance of childhood environment in laying the groundwork for success. He has researched how a child’s neighborhood and family income affect his or her economic opportunities.

In a study in 2014, Chetty and his colleagues found that “the birth lottery”—who a child is born to—is a bigger predictor today of economic mobility than in the past. In a lecture, he noted how a childhood of poverty is much less likely to lead to an adulthood of innovation. A child born to parents in the top 1 percent income bracket is 10 times more likely to invent something than one whose parents earn below the median income.

By contrast, with access to STEM and hands-on learning, kids begin to fuse technical skill-building with curiosity—with an eye on the world around them. In 2015, we watched what young people can do when they have the right tools, supportive educators and families, and well-resourced schools.

In 2016 and beyond, let’s give more kids a chance to experiment and create.

 

Closing the STEM Gap, From Pittsburgh to D.C.

Jahnik Kurukulasuriya spends a lot of time in the lab. At 17, the Pittsburgh Allderdice High School junior has made nucleotide sequences that could help detect cancerous cell lineages.

Earlier this month, Kurukulasuriya dragged himself away from his research to visit Washington for the White House Summit on Next Generation High Schools. The initiative supports efforts to reinvent the high school experience, including incorporating more applied learning, “maker” projects, partnerships with colleges, and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curricula aimed at underrepresented students. At the summit, Kurukulasuriya was among a handful of students selected to present their academic work to educators, industry leaders, and philanthropists.

Kurukulasuriya is clearly no stranger to interactive STEM learning. After his normal school day ends, he spends two to three hours at the UPMC Magee-Womens Research Institute. He landed the lab gig through a new class on real-world science research at his high school, a Pittsburgh Public School (PPS) with a partial engineering magnet program. Students have the unusual opportunity to find a lab that aligns with their interests and work alongside professional scientists.

PPS STEAM Coordinator Shaun Tomaszewski and Jahnik Kurukulasuriya visit the White House. Photo/Shaun Tomaszewski

Kurukulasuriya’s interest in science was sparked by early experiences at school. As a kid he labored on science fair projects, thrilled by the opportunity to showcase his work. But research shows that few teenagers in America are lucky enough to have experiences like Kurukulasuriyas’s. According to the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, one-fourth of public high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students do not offer Algebra II, and one-third do not offer chemistry, let alone opportunities to do cancer research.

In recent years, the public and private sectors have called attention to this STEM gap and are working to close it.

The public-private Next-Generation High School initiative that brought Kurukulasuriya to Washington injects more than $375 million nationally into campuses that lack funding for STEM programs, and urges other schools to expand their offerings. Included in the multifaceted program are $20 million in federal Investing in Innovation grants for low-income schools, and guidebooks from the Department of Education on how to redesign high schools to promote equity and STEM learning. A number of private foundations are also increasing support for existing and new schools.

In Pittsburgh local schools and out-of-school programs have responded to the White House’s call to “redesign” high school and promote STEM. In conjunction with the summit, the White House recognized Kickstarting Making, a partnership between the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and Kickstarter that helped regional schools crowd-fund impressive makerspaces.

And Kurukulasuriya’s is not the only PPS campus to introduce new STEM programming. The district’s STEAM coordinator, Shaun Tomaszewski also went to the White House Summit. On the heels of the opening of three schools newly focused on STEAM (that’s “Arts” in addition to STEM), PPS has launched its STEAM Mini-Grant Program. Educators across the city have received $2,500 awards from the Grable Foundation to design innovative projects for their students. In one project, Pittsburgh Allegheny elementary school students will “grow a meal” by planting a garden, harvesting the vegetables, and making a salad. At Perry Traditional Academy, high school students will write, shoot, and edit a documentary about their communities with professional filmmakers.

In the spring cycle, students who think up engaging STEAM curricula for their younger peers will also be eligible for the mini grants, which could climb to $7,500.

The inclusion of students in the grant program is part of a PPS push to support students in taking charge of their own education. Kurukulasuriya and his classmates are a testament to the power of adult-supported, student-driven STEM education.

“A lot of kids go to school, come home, and aren’t super excited to learn,” the junior said. “One of the things I’ve seen in science research class is all the kids get really excited about what they’re doing, because they get to pick the project themselves, find a lab, and have our teacher approach that lab on their behalf.”

For Kurukulasuriya, the hands-on experience has helped confirm that he would like to pursue science education and possibly a career in a related field.

The hope is that with a fortified emphasis on STEM in schools, Kurukulasuriya will no longer be an exception.

Could a Teenager End Ebola?

Throughout 2014, Ebola ravaged West Africa, with many cases going undetected until it was too late. But in a lab a few thousand miles away, a teenager was working to change that.

Olivia Hallisey, a 16-year-old from Connecticut, is the grand prize winner of this year’s Google Science Fair for developing an Ebola detection method that may eliminate many of the problems with the existing approach. The current tools and chemicals require constant refrigeration—often impossible in the regions most affected by the virus; they also take up to 12 hours to produce a diagnosis and cost about $1,000 per patient. Hallisey’s technique uses silk fibroin, which allows for room temperature storage. The diagnosis can take as little as 30 minutes and costs just $25.

“It’s basically a pregnancy test for Ebola,” Hallisey told Fox News. “The hope is to see this project to the end and see it being used to help people.”

She and the other winners were selected from a global pool of contestants ages 13 to 18. (Watch the video of the awards ceremony to meet some of the finalists.)

Last year, the same science contest put a spotlight on Pittsburgh when Mihir Garimella won in the 13 to 15 age category. The Fox Chapel Area High School student built a flying robot that can sense and avoid moving objects. The design was inspired by an invasion of fruit flies in Garimella’s kitchen; the teenager was impressed by the pests’ ability to dart away from his hand.

Google’s version of a science fair has a bit more to offer than the typical fluorescently lit show-and-tell in a campus auditorium. (Namely, the potential to win a $50,000 scholarship or an expedition to the Galápagos Islands aboard a National Geographic ship.) But even without the fanfare and high stakes, young people in Pittsburgh produce impressive inventions and designs every day.

Just look at Girls of Steel Robotics, a team of young women from all over Pittsburgh who build functional robots, which they enter into competitions. Their inventions include Ada, a recycling ’bot, and E.V.E., who can throw Frisbees.

Thanks to the Allegheny Intermediate Unit STEAM grants, public school students throughout the county have the opportunity to build all kinds of gadgets and equipment—or, in the case of Blackhawk High School, to fix them. Much to their teachers’ delight, students there have used a 3D printer to repair a tripod, a paper cutter, and a drill case.

At the Google Science Fair awards ceremony, the host said: “The lesson of the evening is there are a lot of brilliant kids doing a lot of amazing work, and the key is you have to get out there and try something. So for all you watching at home, what will you try in 2016?”

The Google Science Fair website provides a place to start. A nifty tool allows prospective participants to input their interests and ambitions, and up pops a treasure trove of articles and resources to get you started.