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BOP Schools and Citizen Science Partner Spotlight: Stephanie Wortel

By Heather Flanagan
May 23, 2016

Billion Oyster Project Curriculum and Community Enterprise for Restoration Science (BOP-CCERS) is a community of students and teachers, professional scientists and citizen scientist volunteers, schools, universities, businesses, and community organizations, all working together to conduct oyster restoration-based scientific research in New York Harbor.  BOP-CCERS is funded through a three-year educational research grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings.

Part of what’s so exciting about the BOP-CCERS project is that NYC’s public school students are getting access to some of the city’s best and most enthusiastic scientists, educators, and youth development professionals.  We’ll be introducing you to the people who are making it happen in our Partner Spotlight series.  Today, we’re getting to know Stephanie Wortel, Manager, Education, at the New York Academy of Sciences.

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What’s your job?  What do you spend your day doing?  How did you end up doing that work?
“I am a manager in the Education Department at the New York Academy of Sciences, overseeing the Afterschool STEM Mentoring Program. I spend my days working with early career scientists (undergraduates, graduate students, and post doctoral researchers), and recruit, train, and support them in leading weekly enrichment classes for underserved middle school students during afterschool hours. I also liaise directly with New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development, as well as with the community based organizations whose afterschool programs they sponsor, such as Good Shepherd Services. I ended up doing this because I have extensive experience serving New York City school children both as a public school teacher and an informal educator at the American Museum of Natural History, as well as experience conducting science research in the astrophysics and education fields. So you could say I’ve had a foot in both worlds, both the worlds of the early career scientist ‘mentors’ and the world of the middle school students they interact with.”


What’s your role in this project?
“I am working in the Afterschool Pillar of the Project, collaborating with Good Shepherd Services and the evaluator to send pairs of mentors into GSS afterschool programs, to act as co-instructors with GSS staff, and deliver a hands-on, afterschool curriculum around restoration ecology and the New York Harbor’s keystone species: the Oyster!”  (Click here to read about the work NYAS mentors do with GSS students.)

What got you interested in the Billion Oyster Project?

“The National Science Foundation supported Curriculum+Community Enterprise for Restoration Science (CCERS) element of the Billion Oyster Project brings together many diverse partners, from the New York City Department of Education, to Pace University, to The River Project, to the Harbor School, to Columbia, to the New York Academy of Sciences, to the New York Aquarium and Smart Start. There are so many unique perspectives coming together to create a whole-community education and research approach to restoration ecology, and seeing that mosaic of resources and strengths come together was very interesting to me.”


What are you most excited about?
“I am most excited to see both classroom groups and afterschool groups launching Oyster Restoration Stations this spring, and to see the data collected from both youth and citizen scientists aggregate into a mighty data set. Both our oyster population and our wisdom about the health of our harbor will be growing, which is very exciting!”


What’s your favorite waterfront spot?  Why?
“My favorite waterfront spot is probably Brooklyn Bridge Park, because you always see so many generations of New Yorkers enjoying it together. (Plus I’m obsessed with the little Light House that serves ice cream and always has a line around the building.)”


What advice do you have for young scientists?
“Something young scientists should remember is that the process of collecting data and doing science includes making mistakes, getting messy, seeing something fascinating, getting frustrated, but always being persistent. A scientist does not have to be a super genius, but they do have to be curious, and have a drive toward being interested and getting involved!”

Interested in reading more about BOP-CCERS and how we’re bringing hands-on restoration science to classrooms all over the city?  Sign up for our newsletter and click here to read all BOP-CCERS posts!