It’s All About STEM, the Arts, the Electric Slide Dance, and Future Careers


Media Relations

February 2, 2012

It’s All About STEM, the Arts, the Electric Slide Dance, and Future Careers

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Set To Host 14th Black Family Technology Awareness Day

More than 1,000 area students, families, teachers, and community organizations are expected at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Saturday, Feb. 4, to participate in the 14th annual Black Family Technology Awareness Day. The event, part of a nationally celebrated week of the same name, is designed to spur interest in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and the arts. The theme for the program, “Tetherless Training for Tomorrow’s Technologies: Heroes, Role Models, and Mentors,” was selected to pay homage to past, present, and future leaders of African-American descent in STEM-related fields.

The opening ceremony will be held in the Darrin Communications Center (DCC), room 308, beginning at 8:45 a.m. Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson will deliver the opening remarks. Timothy E. Sams, vice president for student life, will deliver the keynote.

“There is a quiet crisis building in the United States—a crisis that could jeopardize the nation’s pre-eminence and well-being. The crisis has been mounting gradually, but inexorably, over several decades,” said President Jackson. “The crisis stems from the gap between the nation’s growing need for scientists, engineers, and other technically skilled workers, and its production of them. As the generation educated in the 1950s and 1960s prepares to retire, our colleges and universities are not graduating enough scientific and technical talent to step into research laboratories, software and other design centers, refineries, defense installations, science policy offices, manufacturing shop floors, and high-tech startups.”  

President Jackson noted that closing the gap will require a national commitment to develop more of the talent of all our citizens, especially the underrepresented majority—the women, minorities, and persons with disabilities who comprise a disproportionately small part of the nation’s science, engineering, and technology workforce.

“For more than 30 years, Rensselaer has been working to build a national network of K-12 pipeline partnerships and programs that focus on identifying, nurturing, and providing educational development for promising scientists and engineers, with a special emphasis on women and underrepresented minority groups,” President Jackson said. “Black Family Technology Awareness Day is one way that Rensselaer is working to help our children to understand the excitement of discovery and innovation. To be capable of generating transformative ideas, children require nothing more than a solid footing in mathematics and science, and confidence enough to ask penetrating questions. But the results can be mighty indeed. Our task here is to help more children understand that they, too, have the power to change the world.”

The event is free and open to the public. There will be more than 70 workshops and hands-on activities led by Rensselaer professors, students, staff, alumni/alumnae, several area businesses, and local community organizations.

Sample workshops include: seeing how electricity and plasma are used to cut metal, making ice cream using liquid nitrogen, using LEGO building kits to build models of simple machines, introduction to the technology of light emitting diodes (LEDs), learning how to harvest power from the wind, using home-made ingredients to explore science and physics, creating a virtual turntable, learning how to use basic forensic science techniques, and an introduction to nanotechnology. 

New highlights include the lunchtime exercise break that will feature the Electric Slide dance; led by President Jackson and members of the administration. This will be held around 1 p.m. in the Alumni Sports and Recreation Center (Armory). 

In addition, the event is being held in conjunction with the Capital Region Science & Technology Entry Program (STEP) Science Fair. Nearly 60 students in grades 7-12 from schools around the area—who participate in programs at Albany Medical College, Fulton Montgomery Community College, Rensselaer, University at Albany, and Union College—will have their science projects on display in the Armory from noon to 1:15 p.m. STEP is funded by the New York State Department of Education.

“We are honored that the Capital Region STEP Science Fair will be held this year as part of Black Family Technology Awareness Day,” said Cynthia Smith ’96, Rensselaer assistant dean of students and director of pipeline initiatives and partnerships. “The students will be sharing their research-in-progress, in anticipation of competing at the New York State STEP Science Fair in late March.  This is a wonderful opportunity for members of the community to see the varied interests that our young researchers have in areas that include: biology, life sciences, human services, physical sciences, and social sciences. Programs like this truly help to encourage students to develop an interest and passion for STEM disciplines.”

Beginning at 3:30 p.m., also in the Armory, the program will culminate with an interactive panel discussion, titled “Discovering the Science and Engineering Around Us.” The discussion will feature several alumni/ae, a GE representative, and a Rensselaer faculty member as they candidly discuss their academic interests and career experiences.

In addition, the five schools at Rensselaer will participate in a special “Show and Tell” showcase from 3:30 to 5 p.m., also in the Armory. Each school will be represented by a faculty member, and student or student organization. Program attendees will have an opportunity to get an overview of each of the schools, learn about research projects and activities, and get a glimpse into the student experience.

Black Family Technology Awareness Day is part of a larger Rensselaer effort to interest area young people and their families in pursuing occupations in the fields of science and engineering. Other “pipeline” programs include: Design Your Future Day, to engage young girls in science and engineering studies and professions; Exploring Engineering Day, to spark the interest of Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts in science, technology, and engineering; and the Rensselaer Molecularium™ project, to teach young children about the smallest forms of matter.

For information about Black Family Technology Awareness Day, visit:

For information on the “Quiet Crisis,” visit:

The overall event is coordinated by an 18-member committee. In addition to Rensselaer, support for the event is provided by several area businesses and community organizations.


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About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, over 30 research centers, more than 140 academic programs including 25 new programs, and a dynamic community made up of over 6,800 students and 104,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include upwards of 155 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit