An innovative program to encourage students to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM fields) is attracting thousands of students to Syracuse, N.Y.
USAGraduate is a 10-week interactive internet-based quiz program that offers students in grades 6 through 12 an opportunity to study STEM topics and compete for prizes such as iPods and laptop computers.
The program is based on one that originated in Ireland seven years ago with an effort led by Martin Heneghan of Castlebar, called the Graduate Online Youth Quiz, which was designed to interest students to study politics.
Since its inception, more than 30,000 students have participated every year in the program in Ireland.
The USAGraduate program was introduced to the U.S. in 2008 when an executive at one of the U.S.-based sponsors, Sensis Corp., learned about the program from Heneghan.
Recognizing the need to encourage students to study engineering and math for future careers in technology, the USA Graduate program's curriculum is focused on STEM topics.
The Obama Administration has made STEM education a priority in recent months and cited a study by the National Center for Education Statistics which found that one-third of fourth graders and one-fifth of eighth graders were not able to perform basic math. Also, high school seniors scored below the international average of 21 countries on math and science, the study found.
Numerous studies have pointed out that the U.S. has experienced a decline in the number of computer science and engineering graduates.
USAGraduate has been offered to students in the upstate New York area through the Syracuse public school system. Sensis Corp., a large engineering firm based in the area is a sponsor. Clear Channel Radio is also a partner in the project. The program is also being offered in a couple of school districts in Albany, N.Y.
Already, some 25,000 students from about 250 schools have participated, said Bob Clary, executive director of USAGraduate.
Participation among boys and girls is roughly even. About 55 percent of those participating are male and 45 percent are female, he said. The program is free for the users. There is no charge for the school districts, parents, or students.
"The program is completely funded by grants and sponsor support," Clary said. Local sponsors are also important to showcase real careers in these fields for the students. The material is designed to complement what the students are learning in school, Clary said. "We also want to provide real life examples of careers in science," he said.
Each week of the 10-week program involves a quiz. Each quiz has 10 questions. The program often includes links to videos and other websites, enabling students to dig deeper into the question and do more research, Clary said.
There is also a module available for teachers if they wish to register students and track their participation. They can also look at an advance copy of the quiz in order to see what the next week's topics will be.
Students can win prizes that are randomly awarded to those who participate each week for the entire program. For more information about the program, the website is usagraduate.com.