Questions answered by Kathy Siefert, Director of Development at Alexandria Seaport Foundation. This follow-up survey is designed to serve as a resource for understanding how grants serve nonprofits, and what obstacles grant recipients might encounter while implementing projects.
The Alexandria Seaport Foundation was the recipient of $7,500 in grant money to put towards STEM on the Potomac, a middle school initiative that uses wooden boats, the natural environment, and technology to improve students' STEM skills. The Alexandria Seaport Foundation's proposal outlined that the grant would support the purchase of SeaPerch kits, containing tools for building Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs); the purchase of tools to build an OpenROV (an open source robot); and the purchase of navigation software. Collectively, these were to serve as the foundation for a unique water-based STEM curriculum that would allow students to build and launch these ROVs, measure a variety of relevant data, and learn navigation skills.
Q: Where you able to use the $7,500 to make the purchases outlined in your proposal?
Yes, the $7,500 went to the purchase of the SeaPerch kits, the software and the execution of the project.
Q: How many students are using the Kits, OpenROV and software (across programs) and what kind of feedback have you received since implementing the program?
A total of 18 SeaPerches were build on site. In our Middle School Math Program, 95 students were involved in the building of the SeaPerches, and in our Apprentice Program, 2 apprentices built SeaPerches. The feedback from this program has been extremely positive, with students who had not previously exhibited interest in the sciences becoming very excited about both building the device and launching it. Using this project-based approach, students were able to gain STEM concepts through hands-on activities and have become more engaged in the process of learning.
Q: From a programmatic standpoint, has this hands-on engineering and technology curriculum allowed the Alexandria Seaport Foundation to reach more at-risk students than before? How has this changed the way ASF delivers services?
It is, actually, less about the ability to reach more at-risk students and more about improving the "how to's." This grant allowed us to purchase a device which really excited the students and which would have been financially out of reach for the Foundation without 501cTech's support. Some of the projects we have done in the Middle School Math Program include cigar box guitars, skate boards and small model boats. The SeaPerchase allowed students to work with a very high tech project and gain such skills and understanding buoyancy, electrical circuits, mechanics and engineering.
Q: Obviously STEM education is an educational priority everywhere and it is certainly true in Alexandria City Public Schools. how receptive has the City and community been to this program? Do you plan to continue the program as is or do you see it changing in the future based on your early learning? How?
I am happy to report that our STEM program is going very well. In fact, in a year where Alexandria City Public Schools experienced severe budget cuts, ASF was one of only two organizations to receive a grant this year for in-school, on-site services.
Q:What have you learned in doing this project that might hold valuable insight for other nonprofits seeking to do something similar?
We have learned to go after what we want and believe in our ability to achieve our goals. When we applied to 501cTech for this grant, we were excited but anxious - I'm not sure any of us really believed we would win. We would advise anyone who wants to reach for a grant like this to make the effort, as it just might pay off!
Q: What has wining the 501cTECH Technology Innovation Awards meant to your organization? What have you done to communicate about your win and, perhaps, leverage it for other key opportunities?
I remember the day we learned that ASF had won the grant, that first thing we did was report to our Board that we had been recognized by 501cTech with a $7,500 grant to build SeaPerches. We put it on our website and reported it to our data base (which goes to 2200 people) through our newsletter. We use it whenever we talk about ASF's awards and recognition.
Q:What has judging the TIA meant to you, personally?
I have to say that I was initially a bit intimidated by my agreeing to be on the panel as a judge, as I have absolutely no technical background as a Development Director. However, I am thrilled that I am doing it and have found it to be a wonderful experience. My value is in bringing my non-profit perspective to the table in a heavily corporate arena. I think the work these non-profits are doing is fascinating, and I am grateful to be a part of the decision making.