Nestled in the heart of Harlem, N.Y., Harlem Academy—an independent school—had its humble beginnings in a church basement 10 years ago with a single class of 13 first-graders, growing deliberately slowly, one grade at a time, as its teachers and administrators learned how best to execute its vision to offer a transformative education for gifted and underserved city children.

In keeping with its mission to offer students the “highest standards of academic rigor and character development as a catalyst for lifelong learning, thoughtful citizenship, and upward mobility,” in 2010 Harlem Academy partnered with Rensselaer to provide students, parents, and teachers with an opportunity to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), along with college life on a university campus during the summer.

During the month of June, the three-day Harlem Academy Collaboration for Innovation program at Rensselaer offered a series of activities for students in grades 5-8. This summer, younger students focused on team-building exercises and introductory sessions led by faculty and staff related to the science of food and fitness, robotics, and physics. The older students focused on a core idea project related to the people and country of Ghana that included exploring solutions to create housing structures that could withstand a natural disaster, developing an easy-to-assemble emergency shelter, and creating an environmentally friendly solar reflector to heat ink used for adinkra symbols that appear on cloth, walls, pottery, and more.

HarlemAcademy9Their visit to campus also included a conversation with President Shirley Ann Jackson about opportunity that STEM careers provide for them to change the world for the better.

In May, while delivering remarks at the Harlem Academy Gala, President Shirley Ann Jackson noted that, “at Rensselaer, our motto is, ‘Why not change the world?’ Harlem Academy is changing the world, one curious and energetic child at a time. I very much look forward to the day that I shake the hands of the first Harlem Academy alumni and alumnae to enroll at Rensselaer—and the privilege of further preparing them to change the world.”

“We understand the important role STEM programs such as these play in preparing students for the high-tech careers of tomorrow,” said Cynthia Smith, assistant dean of students and director of pipeline initiatives and partnerships, who also coordinates the annual program. “Over the years, we have seen incredible enthusiasm and interest from students, parents, and teachers, sparked by the connection between the exciting interactive experiments and the core curriculum. We are honored to continue to introduce and inspire the Harlem Academy students to have a lifelong love of discovery and innovation.”