Solution Overview

Solution Name:

The Citizen Science Lab (TCSL)

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One-line solution summary:

Providing innovative and interactive science education and activities to underrepresented youth to create a more diverse STEM workforce.

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Pitch your solution.

TCSL is working to directly address the lack of African Americans, women, and other underrepresented groups in STEM. TCSL strongly believes that the disparity between students and their choice in STEM careers is due to a lack of exposure, which correlates directly with a lack of interest in the sciences. In addition, many children of color (girls, in particular) are unable to envision themselves in a career in STEM because they do not see people who look like them in high-paying STEM positions.    Through active, hands-on learning, delivered by people who come from the same gender, ethnic, or socioeconomic background as our participants, TCSL is opening the world of STEM to some of our nation’s most deserving youth.  An effective, strategic replication of our program would have a direct impact on the educational and financial futures of underserved and underrepresented communities across our globe.

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What specific problem are you solving?

TCSL is committed to removing the barriers that prevent underserved youth from Pittsburgh and beyond to gaining the STEM skills they need to prepare them to thrive in the future.  An article by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit dedicated to covering innovation and inequality in education, highlighted these alarming facts:  “The proportion of bachelor’s degrees in science awarded to Black graduates remained flat at about 9%  from 2001 to 2016, according to the most recent available figures from the National Science Foundation; in engineering, it declined from 5% to 4%; and in math, it dropped from 7% to 4%.” The Survey of Earned Doctorates also reports that approximately only 5% of PhD’s in the sciences are awarded to African Americans. Thus, unsurprisingly, leading statistics indicate that the US is falling behind in the production of a science workforce.  In addition, there is also a lack of exposure to quality STEM programming in many at-risk neighborhoods, which, combined with under-resourced schools, contributes to a dearth of brown and black children pursuing STEM careers.   With our increasingly technology-driven economy, not having access to this in-demand industry could have a devastating impact on our most vulnerable populations. 

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What is your solution?

The Citizen Science Lab is Pittsburgh’s first community life sciences laboratory where hands-on, discovery-based learning and STEM enrichment fuel inquisitive minds and enthusiasm for all things science.

TCSL provides an accessible space to connect young people with opportunities to increase STEM knowledge, academic achievement, and self confidence. TCSL incorporates state-of-the-art laboratories that provide hands-on exposure to life science, biomedical, robotics, and biotechnology education for students, teachers, and adult citizens of the Pittsburgh region.   

Through hands-on experiments with robots, medicines, germs, drones, computers, and more, at TCSL, it’s all about science learning while having fun.  Students also learn the common research techniques used in science fields. Participants are expected to be honest with their research, cooperate with one another, practice good sportsmanship, be respectful of their peers, and celebrate everyone's efforts. As apparent, these skills extend beyond the laboratory.

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Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

TCSL is committed to serving African Americans, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM.  While our programming is offered to all youth within Pittsburgh, we have targeted outreach, projects, and intervention efforts for underrepresented African American and female students, with priority for those youth living in underserved neighborhoods.  

As a black scientist and the founder of TCSL, it was important for Dr. Samuel to ensure that the facilities that TCSL built were directly in the neighborhoods that needed them.  This is why the very first TCSL lab was created in the predominantly black under-represented and low-income neighborhood of the Hill District in Pittsburgh. This allowed TCSL to not only serve this target population directly, but also provided an opportunity for us to have the community directly involved in our programs.  The selection of this initial site has allowed us to develop long-term relationships with the residents in those neighborhoods, and our proudest moments are when members from the community share the impact our programming has had on their children’s lives. Our guiding principle is our commitment to underrepresented neighborhoods and our major policies and strategic placement of key staff and board members ensure that we stay true to our mission. 

Needs assessments are conducted for all TCSL major initiatives in order to accurately incorporate the needs, desires, and goals of Pittsburgh’s historically underrepresented populations (as articulated by those communities).  Parent and student evaluation is required of all TCSL activities, and former TCSL participants, many who are currently in college or STEM training programs, periodically provide feedback on past and future TCSL activities.

TCSL concentrates its efforts on sparking minority interest in STEM through the creation of projects that are relevant and provide opportunities to prototype and emphasize the importance of life sciences career choices. We are the only public life sciences lab in the region and one of only a few nationally led by African American PhDs.   Our lab provides the community with hands-on experience that has been shown to change youth interest and career goals.  Children living in high-poverty areas in our community are able to attend our program at no cost.

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Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Provide tools and opportunities for equitable access to jobs, credit, and generational wealth creation in communities of color.
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Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

Our mission of increasing the number of children of color and girls pursuing careers in STEM is directly aligned with the goals of  MIT Solve Anti-racist Technology challenge. By creating engaging partnerships between underserved communities and African American scientists, researchers, and engineers, and developing evidence-based, interactive youth STEM programming that can be replicated in urban areas, we know we can change the world.

Though TCSL is at its core a science program, we are also a bit romantic.  We truly believe that if done correctly STEM can have a revolutionary impact on generational poverty and inequality. 

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Pittsburgh, PA, USA
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What is your solution’s stage of development?

Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth.
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Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.

Since 2015, TCSL has provided STEM programming to residents of Pittsburgh.  At this point in our organizational growth, we believe it is time to expand our effort, including acquiring our own space dedicated exclusively to TCSL activities. 

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Dr. Andre Samuel

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More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful
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What makes your solution innovative?

Through participation in TCSL, students learn the common research techniques used in biology, technology, and computer science fields. Students are expected to be honest with their research, cooperate with one another, practice good sportsmanship, be respectful of their peers, and celebrate everyone's efforts. These skills extend beyond the laboratory, and that knowledge is a requirement for a successful career in the sciences.

 

In addition, while many OST programs shy away from students with disciplinary referrals, our inclusive outreach at TCSL is designed to make all students feel welcomed.  Thus, our programming goes beyond STEM exposure. We believe that providing opportunity for children to gain the skills and exposure they need to earn a competitive, living wage is one of the biggest weapons in our arsenal against the school to prison pipeline threatening so many of our neighborhoods.  

 

One of the most vital (and potentially disruptive) components of our program is that our students, many of whom are disproportionately underrepresented in STEM fields, are able to envision themselves in a STEM career.  For young women, students of color, and underserved children, this is no small feat and one of our biggest accomplishments.  100% of our PhD science staff are African-American and 50% are female. Of our FTE staff, 75% are female.

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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Children & Adolescents
  • Low-Income
  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 4. Quality Education
  • 5. Gender Equality
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 10. Reduced Inequality
  • 17. Partnerships for the Goals
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In which states / US territories do you currently operate?

  • Pennsylvania
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In which states / US territories will you be operating within the next year?

  • Pennsylvania
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How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

Currently, TCSL serves between 250-350 participants per year.  (The pandemic directly impacted our ability to host in-person activities.)  Our goal is to serve 350-400 students  next year.  In five years, we hope to serve over 1,000 participants through expansion to other urban areas.

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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

We will use a variety of metrics to evaluate our success in obtaining these objectives.   One measure will be tracking the number of students that complete the program and monitoring their knowledge of robotic, biochemistry, engineering and other STEM concepts.

Through the use of pre- and post surveys, we will evaluate the participants’ changing attitudes towards STEM and their own awareness of the diversity of STEM career opportunities.

We will also, through a series of surveys, gage the participants’ attitude and interest toward robotic engineering and STEM as the program progresses.  We will use a similar tool to evaluate the increase in confidence of the students who participate in our program.

We will also conduct assessment with our students’ families (including any younger siblings)  in order to see the impact of our program across generational lines.

We will work with Pittsburgh Public Schools to develop a comprehensive tracking method to analyze the impact of our programming on the STEM grades of our participants.

In addition to the above, all our efforts are continually evaluated and documented in order to replicate our program as part of our future expansion goals.

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About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Nonprofit

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Your Business Model & Partnerships

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
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Solution Team

 
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