Sign up for updates. Be part of our community.

Science Center Pilots Program Aimed at Engaging High School Students with STEM

PHILADELPHIA--(September 16, 2016) – FirstHand is going to high school! Beginning this October, FirstHand, the University City Science Center’s youth engagement program, will pilot Project Inquiry, a 10-month curriculum designed specifically for high school students. FirstHand will also continue to offer Polymer Play and DNA Selfie programs to middle school students.

Designed to give high school students a more in-depth and focused experience with STEM learning, Project Inquiry will allow students to pursue individual interests through longer-term projects matched with more focused mentoring experiences. A staple of all FirstHand programming, mentoring will be a key component of Project Inquiry, with more frequent one-on-one interactions with Science Center-based professionals. Participants will also learn about and employ skills in design thinking, entrepreneurship, and hands-on creative problem solving.

“FirstHand is helping high school students explore their interest in STEM at a critical juncture in their lives – when college and career choices loom,” says Science Center President & CEO Stephen S. Tang, Ph.D., MBA. “We hope that the access, experience, resources and positive role models that Project Inquiry offers will inspire these students to pursue a future in STEM.”

Up to 12 students from West Philadelphia high schools will participate in the year-long program, which is designed to encourage the students to think about future career paths. Students will be selected for Project Inquiry based on applications and teacher recommendations.

Returning for 5th- 8th graders this month is FirstHand’s Polymer Play and DNA Selfie programs. Polymer Play puts an emphasis on materials science through project-based learning. Using technology such as laser cutters, power tools and soldering irons, students apply science and math to design real projects. In Polymer Play, students from six local middle schools will experiment with bio-plastic and recycle plastics into new materials.

DNA Selfie is a girl-focused workshop where participants create a new kind of self-portrait by examining their cells using photo-microscopy. Working alongside female scientists and designers, the students learn how to use laser cutters and vinyl cutters and creativity to design a genetic “selfie.”

With guidance from scientists, designers and entrepreneurs, students from both Polymer Play and DNA Selfie will team up to design and build final group projects that are exhibited to the community. Both programs will run from September through December.

Serving Philadelphia youth from under-resourced schools and the teachers, professionals and families in their communities, FirstHand aims to spark an interest in the STEAM disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math that students can explore and cultivate throughout their lives. By giving students the opportunity to explore, ask more questions, and create new solutions, FirstHand is opening the doors for the minds of tomorrow.

The FirstHand programs take place in the Science Center’s dedicated FirstHand Lab, which is located among the early-stage emerging technology companies working out of the Science Center’s Port business incubator.

Supporters of FirstHand include AstraZeneca, Cognizant Making the Future, The Dow Chemical Company, Lenfest Foundation, OHAUS, Rainin Instruments LLC, TD Bank Charitable Foundation, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Troemner, LLC, and William Penn Foundation.

About the Science Center

Located in the heart of uCity Square, the University City Science Center is a dynamic hub for innovation, and entrepreneurship and technology development in the Greater Philadelphia region. Founded in 1963 as the nation’s first urban research park, it provides business incubation, programming, lab and office facilities, and support services for entrepreneurs, start-ups, and growing and established companies. Graduate firms and current residents of the Science Center’s business incubator support one out of every 100 jobs in Greater Philadelphia and drive $12.9 billion in economic activity in the region annually. For more information about the Science Center, go to

Media Contact:

Kristen Fitch

Kristen Fitch

Senior Director, Marketing