TJ Partnership Fund to Add Outreach Mission
Like any great educational institution that aims to stay on the cutting edge, TJ will always have needs: Students and faculty are constantly looking into new areas of research; lab equipment and technology become outdated quickly; student projects will always need supplies. Yet, the success of the Campaign for TJ satisfied many long-term needs — a new Planetarium, for example, which has been on the school’s wish list for more than a decade — and ushered in a new era for TJ’s Research Labs and classrooms. As the Campaign has transformed TJ it has also inspired TJ Partnership Fund leadership to leverage the renovated TJ, with its shiny facilities and new instrumentation, to support STEM education in the broader community.
In February, the PF Board approved a blueprint for the future expansion of its mission from the singular goal of supporting TJ’s unique programs to one that includes both strengthening alumni ties and doubling down on its commitment to STEM outreach. These additional causes are closely intertwined, as TJ alumni have been among the most vocal supporters of an increased role for TJ and the TJPF in expanding access to STEM education among younger students, girls, and underrepresented groups. The new TJ, with its inviting facade, large spaces, and state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, along with a student body that, thanks in large part to Principal Glazer’s leadership (see Principal, this issue), is more committed than ever to making a difference, is now poised to serve as a beacon of learning for the region and beyond. With the financial and organizational support of the TJ Partnership Fund and its many corporate and individual partners, TJ can help transform Northern Virginia into a place where every student — no matter where he lives or attends school, or where her parents come from or what they do for a living — can dream of becoming a software engineer, physician, or researcher and take steps to make that dream a reality.
Ensuring Continuation of LIFT Program
TJPF took concrete steps toward its outreach goal when it voted to fund the successful Learning through Inquiry, Fellowship, and Tutoring (LIFT) Program that was sponsored for two years by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation (see Aug 2016 and Nov 2015 issues). The Program enrolls low-income middle school students in TJ’s Middle School Tech Institute (MSTI), introduces them to helpful TJ student mentors, provides them with TJ test-prep, tutoring, time-management, and confidence-building sessions, links them with a diverse and ambitious peer group, and encourages them to pursue STEM education, whether or not they’re admitted to TJ.
In its first year, the LIFT program more than doubled the number of students eligible for free or reduced lunch who were admitted to TJ (from four to ten). Twenty-two LIFT Scholars made it to the semifinal round and nine were admitted, with eight enrolling in the Class of 2020. In its second year, thirty-seven LIFT Scholars became Semifinalists — over half of the 69 who applied. Four students were admitted, all of whom have enrolled in TJ’s Class of 2021.
The semifinalist statistics show that LIFT has had great success preparing students for the first-round TJ test. At the Program’s closing session, LIFT organizers and guest speakers emphasized that admission to TJ is not the Program’s sole objective and that LIFT Scholars should recognize that they are all now better prepared to seek out and tackle STEM and other challenges at any school.
The Cooke Foundation chose not to renew its two-year, $100,000 LIFT grant because of its commitment to using seed funding to make a difference across many communities. Convinced that this important work should continue, Assistant Principal Shawn Frank and German teacher Szilvia Oszko, who together ran LIFT with devotion for two years, appealed to the TJPF Board for funding. In order to ensure that plans for next year could begin without delay, the TJPF responded immediately, setting aside $50,000 to support the Program for another year.
TJPF funds will not only cover screening tests, MSTI classes and transportation, math and TJ prep courses, books, supplies, food, and more, but through an efficient use of resources will also enable the Program’s expansion from one that serves only 8th-graders to one that includes 7th-graders as well.
The new LIFT Program will provide 7th-graders with weekly 3-hour Saturday math classes from early December through May. Eighth-graders will receive weekly 3-hour Saturday TJ test-prep classes from early September until the TJ test, administered this coming year on November 18th, and Semifinalists will be offered several 3-hour Saturday writing workshops to prepare for the essay portion of the TJ test. Program organizers feel strongly — and the TJPF agrees — that by bringing LIFT’s benefits to students earlier, it will be able to have an even greater impact on their trajectory, including their chances of admission to TJ.
Piloting High School STEM Institute
During TJ’s four-year renovation, TJ’s summer Middle School Tech Institute (MSTI), a program offering fun week-long courses in a variety of STEM disciplines, was held at Woodson HS. The TJ Partnership Fund has long supported MSTI by inviting potential future corporate sponsors to observe the power of hands-on learning and cultivating existing relationships. Through the generosity of Northrop Grumman and others (including the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation – see above), MSTI scholarships have opened up the program to hundreds of low-income students and students from underrepresented groups (see Aug 2015 and Aug 2016 issues).
TJ’s Science, Technology, and Math Summer Institute, which began with a Biotechnology research pilot program in 2012, was considered so site-dependent that it was suspended during the renovation. Principal Glazer, who has long viewed TJ as a beacon of STEM learning and has urged TJ students to think of themselves as STEM ambassadors (see Principal, this issue), was committed to bringing back the Institute, this time with a renewed focus on sharing access to TJ’s exceptional new facilities. This spring, he asked the TJPF for funds to jump-start an expanded program that would give any high school student — with particular emphasis on students not attending TJ — an opportunity for inquiry-based STEM learning over the summer.
Institute courses are designed to teach students how to use a sophisticated piece of equipment or perfect a skill that could help them with research, whether they’re working on a project for a research competition or simply aiming to expand their research capabilities. Topics offered this summer include Marine & Environmental Science, Conventional & Alternative Energies, Microbiology, Science Writing, and Brain-Machine Interface.
Because the Institute advances TJPF’s goal of leveraging TJ’s assets to benefit the larger community, the TJPF came through with a $30,000 grant to get the program off the ground. The PF is now actively seeking corporate partners to ensure the Institute’s continuity and growth.
Supporting Outreach Through Community Grants: BioCode Programming Competition
As part of its second annual Community Grant Awards this past fall (see Nov 2016 issue), the TJ Partnership Fund was pleased to support several outreach activities, including a new event run by TJ’s Bioinformatics Society, a club that teaches students how to use computer programming and mathematical concepts to solve important biological problems. The club used its $1,000 Partnership Fund grant to fund an exciting new all-day event held on Saturday, April 15th: TJ BioCode Programming Competition.
The TJ-hosted event was geared toward introducing the burgeoning field of bioinformatics to middle and high school students. In addition to a bioinformatics-themed programming contest, the event featured a variety of guest speakers and breakout sessions that included basic instruction in Java and Python programming languages, discussions of contest solutions, and information about careers in bioinformatics.
Consistent with its outreach purpose, students needed only passing knowledge of computer science to participate, the entire day was free of charge, and generous prizes (worth over $1,550) were awarded.
President: Prathik Naidu, TJ ’17
Co-Vice Presidents: Cece Chu, TJ ’17, and Kavya Kopparapu, TJ ’18, BioCode Chair
Research Coordinator: Sujay Ratna, TJ ’18
Teaching Coordinator: Jainam Modh, TJ ’18, BioCode Vice Chair
Webmaster: Artemis Veizi, TJ ’17
Faculty Sponsor: Chemistry teacher Mrs. Sandra Chhabra
Sixty-nine teams (a total of 220 students) participated in the competition, including 37 middle school teams, eight teams of high school students who had taken only an introductory Computer Science course (basic), fifteen teams of students who had taken AP Computer Science (intermediate), and nine teams of students who had taken a class beyond APCS (advanced). Prizes were awarded for the top 10 middle school teams and top 3 high school teams in each category.
Teams received a set of problems to complete, from simple tasks such as “translate this DNA into RNA” all the way to complex tasks such as “model equilibrium in this population” (all biology needed to solve the problem was provided). Those who finished early or were unable to complete some problems could take part in the event’s BiologyxCS Hackathon, in which teams pitched an idea for a product that combined biology and computer science and benefited humanity.
Event organizer Kavya Kopparapu, TJ ’18, was struck by the range of students participating: There were middle school students “with no computer science at all” alongside high school students who had “programmed since they were in 5th grade,” and “it was amazing to see the spirit of collaboration so alive even in a competition setting, especially the way the high school students helped the middle school students,” she said.
Supporting Outreach Through Special Event Sponsorship: NeuroInspire Impulse
TJ students who have founded successful non-profits face an additional challenge when moving on to college. Often programs simply end when the founders graduate. NeuroInspire Education, Inc. (NI) has bucked that trend. Founded by Class of 2013 alums Nathan Kodama, Seong Jiang, Suhas Gondi, and Sid Sivakumar, NI is still going strong — with a fully-trained, active instructor core of almost 50 students, evenly split between McLean HS and TJ — in large part because of the founders’ continued involvement.
The founders’ idea was to use the fascinating, multidisciplinary topic of neuroscience to excite younger students about STEM. The team launched their program at Kent Gardens ES in May of 2013 and quickly followed it up with programs at Kilmer and Longfellow MS. After the success of these pilot programs, NI partnered with FCPS to target schools identified by its Priority Schools Initiative, including Woodley Hills ES, Glen Forest ES, and Glasgow MS. The goal of NI, which now also offers AeroInspire and AstroInspire programs, is to “connect all students, regardless of their background, to their talents, career aspirations, and academic interests through a broad exposure to advanced STEM topics” (See also March 2014 issue).
Last summer, Kodama and Sivakumar, both of whom attended Case Western Reserve University, and TJ classmate Matthew Conley, also at Case Western, showed up before 7:30am every day to lead a week-long “Founders Program” at Glasgow MS (see August 2016 issue). Like earlier NI programs, the program used unique hands-on activities created by the team to inspire students. The founders also shared personal stories about their pursuit of their own academic passions.
At the Partnership Fund’s April Board meeting, Kodama made a brief presentation about his group’s plan for its first-ever all-day event, NeuroInspire Impulse. He distributed eleven pages of information, including a detailed budget, and described the five-hour instructor training session he had held the previous day in order to prepare 50 TJ and McLean students to be instructors at the event. Impressed by the organization’s longevity, the founders’ continued participation and deep commitment to its success, as well as the extensive training program and thoughtful event outline, the Partnership Fund arranged for TJ to host the event and provided a grant of over $10,000 to ensure that no financial obstacles would stand in the way of the group’s achieving its ambitious goals for the program.
On Saturday, June 3rd, TJ hosted NI’s free science event for students in grades 5-8. The event featured eight laboratories — each with a neuroscience, aerospace, or astrophysics theme — and fifteen lessons led by trained volunteer instructors from TJ and McLean HS. NeuroInspire labs featured such demonstrations as sheep brain dissection, electrophysiology, and food chemistry; AeroInspire included wind tunnels, radio communications, and drones; and AstroInspire labs featured universe simulation, spectroscopy, and both daytime and nighttime observation.
Main attractions included: a research-ready ultracortex electroencephalograph (EEG) in Neuro; a runway and airfield for radio-controlled (RC) planes in Aero; and a 10” Dobsonian telescope that has a high enough resolution to pick out the moons of Jupiter in Astro. “We believe instruments like these are reason alone for people of any socioeconomic background to come out to our event and experience something rare,” Kodama said.