by Sage Wesenberg, Biochemistry and Journalism 2019
Congratulations to the Northeastern University Marine Science Center for being awarded an AmeriCorps member from the Massachusetts Promise Fellowship (MPF) to support its Beach Sisters program for the seventh year! The program will also benefit in the coming year from a $5,000 award from the Department of City and Community Affairs at Northeastern University, which will help it to meet MPF’s required matching funds.
Beach Sisters is a collaboration between the MSC and a local community-based organization, Girls Inc. of Lynn. The City of Lynn has a significant low-income population, and Lynn Public Schools works hard to bridge a significant science achievement gap. The families of many youth in Lynn are newly arrived in the United States and have not yet made a connection to the local environment, and many students aren’t aware that the Lynn waterfront is directly on the ocean.
Started in 2011, Beach Sisters engages elementary, middle, and high school girls in an after-school STEM enrichment program. Participants learn marine and environmental science through hands-on classroom experiences, guest speakers, special events, and field trips. A cornerstone of the program are the six high school peer leaders, who are trained to deliver content to their peers and younger girls weekly. Through the program, the peer leaders become environmental stewards and leaders themselves, helping other girls to develop environmental literacy. Amidst a field of working professionals, the Beach Sisters peer leaders were the first group of youth selected to present a workshop at the High School Marine Science Symposium, an event co-hosted by Northeastern and the Massachusetts Marine Educators. They also received the Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Energy and Environmental Education at the State House in 2015.
The Beach Sisters Fellow, granted annually by the AmeriCorps-funded Massachusetts Promise Fellowship, plays a critical role in training the peer leaders in content and methods to engage young learners, as well as developing lesson plans and coordinating day-to-day operations. Each year, the Fellow gains early career experience in marine education and leadership development, and they depart the program with a rich network of science and education contacts and resources. The MPF program is part of the Center of Community Service at Northeastern, and aims to provide critical educational resources to young people in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It receives most of its funding through a national AmeriCorps grant, and places 40 Fellows at sites that work with middle and high school youth at locations around Massachusetts.
The Beach Sisters program provides an excellent avenue for connecting youth with the resources of a large institution of higher education, and provides an opportunity for Northeastern faculty, staff, and students to promote interest in STEM studies and careers among populations under-represented in STEM, such as women, students from low income families, and minorities. In addition to providing program personnel, participants in the program benefit from the resources of the MSC, whether it be through hosting field trips, offering summer lab internships to peer leaders, or bringing its traveling touch tanks to Girls Inc. The leadership and faculty of the MSC understands the vital need to provide a ladder of opportunity for underserved youth to engage in the field of marine science, as well as to connect with and engage in stewardship of the local environment.
Beach Sisters has also been supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Cell Signaling Technologies, New England BioLabs, the Women’s Fund of Essex County, and the UU Church of Greater Lynn, among others. Thanks to the continuing partnership, Beach Sisters has been very successful and it continues to grow. With the support of its Fellow, the program has become much more than a weekly classroom experience – it provides a unique and exciting experience for girls to become engaged in the STEM field through collaboration with a major local university, as well as to become stewards of the environment and leaders in their community.