GK-12 Reach for the Stars

Computational Models for Teaching and Learning in Physics, Astronomy and Computer Science

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Student-led Data Expeditions with ‘Vault’

Student-led Data Expeditions with ‘Vault’

In high school, CIERA physics and astronomy graduate student Zachary Hafen didn’t necessarily find science interesting. Intrigued by its open-ended nature, he planned to study philosophy as an undergraduate.

“I always veered away from science in high school. I didn’t think it was interesting based on what was taught in class. When I had the opportunity to do real science, I loved it. It’s so different from the standard material found in classrooms.”

As a Reach for the Stars fellow at CIERA, Hafen developed “vault”, a program where he supports student-led data expeditions in collaboration with Chicago Public Schools to bring research experiences to high school students.

With only 10,000 labs in high schools across the U.S. to provide for more than 30 million high school students, the chance of having the tools to discover something unique in high school is low.

“But just look at available data. The U.S. government alone, on their single online data website, has 300,000 data sets,” said Hafen. “The number of data scientists in the world, at max, is 100,000. There is this huge well of untapped data out there that people could get involved with if they had the opportunity.”

Vault is an opportunity for students to dive deeply into a subject that they care about with the support of Hafen as a mentor, guiding them through the research process and helping them answer questions in the same way researchers would.

Hafen has been preparing the project for three years, and began implementing it last fall. Currently, he meets weekly with more than 15 high school students at the Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools to discuss groups’ progress and advise students as challenges arise.

“Students are very used to ‘you do this;’ it’s an x, y and z process. Many of them aren’t used to critical thinking. [In vault], they have to think for themselves. There’s a lot more unfocused exploration.”

From investigating how socioeconomic and cultural factors relate to healthcare access across Chicago to working out all the details on how humans can survive on Mars, students are working with each other to utilize available data exploring topics they’re interested in and producing real, concise answers.

The idea was always to have students explore what they can do in science earlier; it’s been an opportunity to put that ideal into action. It’s really directly bringing the science we do at Northwestern to them in the most real way possible.”

Some of the students have gone on to attend Northwestern University or continue their research career with professors at Northwestern. Hafen said that the thought that one day there can be students enjoying science in the same way that he does is greatly fulfilling.

“I want the students to succeed. It’s not like I necessarily get a sense of pride or accomplishment, because the students had the ability all along; they just needed the proper time and situation.”

Learn more:
Zachary Hafen’s Website
Vault Program Website
Reach for the Stars


CIERA’s Michelle Paulsen to Serve on National Education Leadership Committee

Michelle Paulsen, CIERA’s Director of Education, Outreach, and Communications Programs, has accepted a position on the NSELA Professional Development Committee (PDC) for a term of three years. NSELA is the National Science Education Leadership Association. The PDC is responsible for creating the professional learning portfolio offered by the organization, including face to face experiences, affiliate opportunities with the National Science Teachers Association, and partner webinars.

Congratulations, Michelle!

Learn more about NSELA,

Reach for the Stars Helps Chicago-Area High School Students Host 2018 GirlCon

Girl con 2018 group photo taken from overhead

On Saturday, June 16th, over 170 middle and high school girls from around the United States gathered to address the future of diversity in STEM during GirlCon 2018, hosted by CIERA and Reach for the Stars.

GirlCon was held at Northwestern’s Norris Center and was ideated, organized, and executed by a team of 15 high-school girls from across the US, lead by Deerfield High School rising junior Kyla Guru and Libertyville High School rising senior Molly Graton. More than 50 recognized experts in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics served as speakers, breakout session leaders, and lunch panelists.

Learn more about GirlCon at girlcon.io and follow @girlconchicago on Instagram for updates about 2019!

Professor Vicky Kalogera Elected to National Academy of Sciences

National Academy of science crest

Reach for the Stars program PI, Vicky Kalogera, has been elected to the prestigious National Academy of Science. Membership in the academy is one of the highest honors given to a scientist in the United States.

Kalogera, the Daniel I. Linzer Distinguished University Professor of Physics and Astronomy, is among 84 new members and 21 foreign associates elected in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Read the full Northwestern Now article.
Congratulations Vicky!

Reach for the Stars Teacher, John Kretsos, Honored with Distinguished Secondary Teacher Award

John Kretsos John Kretsos, is among five high school teachers who will be awarded during the 2018 Northwestern commencement ceremony for the positive impact they’ve had on their students’ lives.

The Distinguished Secondary Teacher Award honors high school teachers who, through their professional and personal commitment, have impacted Northwestern students, and carries a monetary gift of $5,000 for each teacher, as well as $5,000 for each of their schools.

Along with Kretsos, the other DSTA recipients include Katherine Konyar; Mark Liu; Natalie Sekicky; and Esther Wu. The awardees teach in high schools all across the United States, including public schools in California, Illinois and Ohio.

Read the full Northwestern Now article.
Congratulations John!

Reach for the Stars Teacher, Katie Page, of Prospect High School, Recognized in Chicago Tribune

Katie PageWhen Prospect High School science teacher Katie Page accompanies five of her students to an upcoming science and technology showcase, she will see them present a project that has been scrutinized by professional researchers.

Pioneer Press recently talked to Page, 47, an Arlington Heights resident, who traces her journey as an educator back to her days as a student at John Hersey High School, where her physics teacher inspired her to become a science teacher….”

Read the full Chicago Tribune article.
Congratulations Katie!

RftS Graduate Student, Zachary Hafen, Honored in Scientific Images Contest

RftS Graduate Student, Zachary Hafen, Honored in Scientific Images Contest

Earlier this month, Reach for the Stars graduate student, Zachary Hafen, received an honorable mention for his contribution to this year’s annual Scientific Images Convention, hosted by the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI).

Hafen was joined by other Northwestern scientists and engineers, all looking to share their research—via unique and cutting-edge images—with the public. Hafen’s contribution is titled “One Galaxy, Multiple Perspectives”, and is a computer simulation rendered in Python (matplotlib).

In Hafen’s own words, the collection of images show “gas swirling around the same galaxy in several different ways. Taken together, these snapshots create a time-lapse projection. The top row shows the density of gas in the galaxy at a given time: in these panels, the brightest areas show where gas is most densely concentrated. In the middle row, gas shoots out of the galaxy in the bright areas and plummets toward the center of galaxy in the darkest areas. The bottom row shows temperature: the brighter the area, the hotter the gas. Models like these help astrophysicists understand the chaotic, explosive, ever-changing lives of evolving galaxies.”

Read more about the event in Science in Society.
Check out all the winning images.
View Hafen’s MSI Workshop slides.

RftS Graduate Students Participate in High School Research Project Showcase

On June 1st the Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP) hosted the 9th Annual High School Project Showcase as part of Northwestern University’s Undergraduate Research and Arts Exposition. The high school students completed projects as part of their research and project-based math and science curricula at their schools, through independent research courses or clubs, or entirely independently.

Current and past Reach for the Stars Graduate Fellows, Adam Dempsey, Zach Hafen, Niharika Sravan, and Thomas Wytock served as judges in the showcase.

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