Manlius Teen Shares Love for Science and Technology with Area Children

New Nonprofit Emphasizes the Importance of STEAM Education

June 28, 2017 – Alena Zhang, a high school student, developed a love for science and technology while attending Fayetteville-Manlius High School, where she is currently finishing her senior year. She found many things about science to be amazing, especially considering how problem-solving applications could lead to significant gateways to the future.

During her studies, Alena noticed that she wasn’t the only one of her peers who enjoyed applying science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM). That is when she had a great idea – to fuse this commonality with her passion for helping young people.

Rose from Northside Learning Center testing out the rainbow reaction. She later demonstrated this experiment to over 70 people at the MOST Museum.

“I saw the amazing skill and talents of the high school students around me and thought it could be amazing to share their dedication and knowledge of STEAM with younger children in the area,” said Zhang. “I enjoyed working with other people and always had an interest in nonprofit work, so it was the perfect fit.”

With the help of her classmates, teachers and family, Alena created SciExcite, a nonprofit solely focused on spreading excitement around STEAM among local students of all backgrounds. According to the U.S. Department of Education it’s more important than ever for youth to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence and make sense of information. STEAM programs, initiatives and curriculums are designed to prepare students with those skills.

The SciExcite team consists of 30 high school students; each works to facilitate close mentorships with youth from kindergarteners up to high school seniors to conduct science experiments and help foster strong STEAM skills at an early age. After her organization began to gain popularity among students, she began to see the potential for taking it to the next level and expand into the greater community.

Alena Zhang stands beside Community Foundation Community Investment staff members Danielle Hurley and Frank Ridzi and President & CEO, Peter Dunn.

In 2016, Alena and five fellow SciExcite team members entered the Community Foundation’s eight-month long program, The Leadership Classroom (TLC). Through intensive and interactive training sessions, TLC teaches practical skills that help grassroots groups and its members to become more effective leaders in their neighborhoods and community.

“TLC was the most unique, informational and wonderful educational program I’ve ever had the privilege of attending,” said Zhang. “Each session offered down-to-ground skills and ways of thinking that really helped push the direction of SciExcite forward.”

Upon graduating from TLC, the five participating groups received $3,500 grants to implement community projects that were planned during their training. Throughout the training, Alena and her team recognized that as a high-school run nonprofit, sustainability would be a big challenge to overcome as they prepared to graduate and move on to college. The grant money will be used to help SciExcite further its sustainability efforts, help build strong foundations and branch out into neighboring high schools.

“My favorite thing about TLC was the atmosphere of engagement, passion and dedication each team and the facilitators brought,” said Zhang. “My teammates and I always left feeling incredibly inspired, which is a fantastic feeling to have. We learned from TLC that by getting to know many people and what drives them, you can create a network that benefits everyone in the community.”

After graduation, Alena will be attending Columbia University in the fall to study chemistry, education, and dance.

Thirty-two leaders from five local grassroots and nonprofit organizations celebrated their completion of The Leadership Classroom (TLC). Graduates included Black Nurses Rock, Karen Community in Syracuse, South Sudanese Community for Hope and TNT-Southside. A list with more detail about the participants can be found here:

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