By Claire Walla
The jobs of tomorrow might not be here today, but a new program at the Ross School is aiming to help high school students prepare for them.
That’s the concept behind the school’s new science academy, Innovation Lab @Ross, which was announced this month and is now accepting applications for the coming academic year.
According to David Morgan, who is returning to Ross after 10 years teaching undergraduate science courses at The New School, the program is being developed for those students who have already demonstrated an early passion for scientific innovation. Primary fields of study will include mathematics, engineering, media and technology; though within those realms Morgan said instruction and lab work will ultimately be attuned to students’ particular interests.
“The idea is that students will come with an interest in one of these fields,” he said. They might not be absolutely sure precisely what they want to pursue, he added, “but they’ve identified that this [path] is what they want.”
Ross has also announced a scholarship for local students hoping to be part of the Innovation Lab. The deadline for the award is Tuesday, June 12, and information can be found at www.ross.org/scholarship.
Like the Ross tennis academy, the innovation lab students will take the same core courses as students in the regular school for the first half of the day. During the second half of the day, however, instead of playing tennis, students in the Innovation Lab will have hours to devote to science, focusing on “in-depth projects, independent research and labs that are two- to three-hour blocks,” Morgan explained.
“There’s a huge desire in today’s world for students to be connected to these fields,” added Patty Lein, Ross’ Director of Academics and Professional Development (also former chair of the science department). “A lot of professors are jazzed about the idea of bringing that innovative thinking into Ross; these students will be leaders in the field at some point.”
Morgan further impressed that the Innovation Lab would not only foster an environment where scientific exploration would be supported, it would give students a certain business sense, teaching them how to bring their ideas into the marketplace. The idea is for students to learn how to write grants, and even apply for science grants during their time at Ross.
“What we need to do is give students the skills to do independent research and be able to work with a mentor,” Morgan explained.
The Innovation Lab will tap into a list of well-established science researchers who will be available to consult with students throughout their time at Ross. These mentors include professors Morgan himself already has working relationships with, as well as professors from around the world.
These resources include mathematics professor Dr. Ralph Abraham of the University of California — Santa Cruz; professor of neuroscience Dr. Antonio Damasio of the University of Southern California; Dr. Kurt W. Fischer of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, mathematics professor Dr. Victor Katz of the University of the District of Columbia; and researcher Dr. Hideaki Koizumi of Tokyo, Japan, among others.
Of course, local scientists, like famed environmentalist Carl Safina, have agreed to participate on a consulting basis as well.
Ross is currently accepting ninth and tenth grade applicants ($49,850 base fee for day students, $66,150 for boarding students) with what both Morgan and Lein referred to as a demonstrated passion for science.
“The most important thing is an indication that the student is passionate and curious about something,” Morgan said. Although a track record of high achievement and good test scores will be considered as well, Morgan emphasized, “We want students whose eyes light up when they find out that they’ll get to spend part of their day with free time [to research, or conduct lab work].”
Morgan said the focus of the program is still evolving, and will continue to morph based on students’ interests. However, he anticipates putting a lot of energy into robotics and engineering, as well as 3D design and fabrication. (The school will be purchasing a 3D printer and scanner, which will allow students to create a digital prototype of a part — a robot claw, for instance — and the “printer” will essentially create it.)
“It’s a pioneering program,” Lein continued. “We want the voice of the first student body to help design the program’s next steps.”
Morgan agreed, adding that he’s excited to see how the program evolves over time.
“My greatest hope is that three years from now there will be students doing what I can’t even imagine now,” he stated. “My job is to make sure I can make that possible.”