Please signify the type of support you are requesting from Life Science Cares:


Programming (existing)


Project Title:


Virtual FirstHand STEM Kits and Programming


Total Project Budget (if applicable):




Requested Amount:




In which Life Science Cares Area of Focus is the requested project’s work?



Description of Need (What is the issue you plan to address? What are the demographics and number of people you plan to serve, if applicable?):


The FirstHand initiative is a signature Out-of-School Time (OST) program of the Science Center and serves as an immersive experience for middle school students who otherwise do not have opportunities within reach to explore STEM-related fields. FirstHand – which is offered by the Science Center free of charge – serves middle school students from low-income underserved communities surrounding UCSC’s West Philadelphia footprint, primarily in the Powelton Village and Mantua neighborhoods, located within a Federally-designated Promise Zone, defined as a “high poverty community where the federal government partners with local leaders to increase economic activity, improve educational opportunities, leverage private investment, reduce violent crime, enhance public health and address other priorities identified by the community” ( These communities are predominantly African American, with a growing Hispanic population, and exhibit deep levels of poverty. The self-reported demographics of students served is 74% Black, 7% Latino/a, and 10% mixed ethnicity, and 52% of program attendees identify as female. All partner schools have a student poverty rate ranging from 80%-100% as determined by the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) for the National School Lunch Program. FirstHand builds upon the Science Center’s existing network of resources—namely, mentors and companies—to create meaningful, immersive experiences that will positively shape Philadelphia middle and high school students’ minds when considering STEM as a viable career path. Since 2014, FirstHand has served over 2,800 students who have collectively attained over 31,000 hours of program engagement. Through this program, we have also engaged over 114 STEM professionals from 44 STEM companies who voluntarily serve as mentors, inspiring our students by sharing their own stories of their unique journeys towards becoming the STEM professionals they are today.

Specific Activities (Please detail what activities you intend to undertake as a result of the grant. Include information about service delivery and timelines.):


Although FirstHand is a place-based program, that “place” rapidly shifted to virtual meeting platforms in March 2020 in response to COVID-19. As we plan 2021, we are building off the lessons learned over the last nine months of fully virtual programming.


FirstHand has worked closely with each of our school partners to engage students through hands-on, virtual programming – filling a key need for interactive learning. Here we briefly describe the virtual offerings we have implemented thus far and followed by how we plan to build on those in 2021.


Hands-on Virtual Programming 

Spring 2020: Piloted our first virtual program as a continuation of our in-person programming with the same students from one of our partner schools by delivering material kits to students’ homes, and then conducting live, hands-on learning through Google Meet. For one of the three virtual sessions, we engaged one of FirstHand’s long-time mentors, Aaron Muderick (founder of Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty), and a chemist with his company to help students make their own commercial-grade hand sanitizer.


Summer 2020: Developed two 3-day (3 hours/curriculum) virtual curricula, “Move into Physics” and “STEM in the Real World”. Packed and delivered activity 61 kits to Philadelphia students. Facilitated curricula throughout July and August.

Fall 2020: Developed two 4-week (4 hours/curriculum) virtual curricula focused on (1) Chemistry and (2) Material Science. Five partner schools (S.E. Mitchell Elementary School, John F. McCloskey School, Chester A. Arthur School, The City School, and KIPP West) participated in fall programing as a supplement to their existing science classes. A total of 89 chemistry activity kits and 115 material science kits were packed and delivered to 104 total students – nearly all students participated in both curricula.

Lunchtime Labs Series: Due to COVID-19 restrictions, students can no longer meet mentors and visit a STEM lab as they traditionally would during in-person programming. In response to this programming gap, we have partnered with Quorum (a program of the Science Center) to offer a series of bimonthly, virtual lab tours titled “Lunchtime Labs,” aimed at bringing the biotechnology labs of Philadelphia into viewers’ homes. The FirstHand and Quorum teams are working with both veteran and new FirstHand mentors to curate engaging, 30-45 minute “visits” that are open to the public but targeted towards FirstHand’s middle and high school students. We offer these on Fridays, the School District of Philadelphia’s asynchronous learning day, in hopes of reaching as many students as possible without interrupting their learning schedule. We also have a student MC who helps bring a teenage perspective and energy to the content. Our debut Lunchtime Labs was with the de la Fuente lab, a microbiology lab at the University of Pennsylvania. We have two more sessions scheduled in 2020 with material scientists at DuPont and a cellular biomarker researcher at GSK. Building on this experience and assuming that virtual programming continues through at least the 2020/21 academic year, we will continue to ship programming kits home to middle school students and curate our Lunchtime Labs series.


Through this grant, we will support the following specific activities:

FirstHand STEM Lab Kits: In 2020, the FH team distributed over 265 kits to 135 students and their STEM teachers. We project that in the spring of 2021 we will distribute 105 kits. (100 for students and 5 for teachers) Kits will include 8-weeks of programming supplies for a BioArt curriculum that is currently being developed. Example activities include Agar Art in which students will “paint” with non- pathogenic, colored bacteria and Cabbage Paint in which students will create and use different colored paints by mixing cabbage juice and various acids and bases; the solution changes colors depending on the pH and once dried can be used as paint. (Note that we will be offering one 8-week program in the spring instead of two 4-week programs as we did in the fall.)

Lunchtime Labs: By the end of calendar year 2020, the FirstHand and Quorum teams will have hosted three Lunchtime Labs sessions with the University of Pennsylvania, DuPont, and GSK. In 2021 we already have three Lunchtime Labs sessions scheduled with Century Therapeutics, Cabaletta Bio, and Amicus Therapeutics – all residents of the Science Center campus. We aim to host at least six more Lunchtime Labs sessions, and will continue them through and, depending on interest, beyond COVID-19 restrictions.


Volunteers from Life Science Cares: Lunchtime Labs at Quorum would be a great opportunity to engage volunteers from the Life Science Cares community. If there are STEM professionals that would like to host a Lunchtime Labs to share their journey into STEM, showcase the exciting work that they get to do every day, and engage with Philadelphia students, then FirstHand would work with the professional(s) to curate engaging and inspiring sessions.


Evaluation (What are the anticipated results? What methods will you use to measure your progress? What does success look like?):


FirstHand’s fundamental theory of change is that access to high-quality, inquiry-based, immersive learning experiences, like the ones we offer, spark an authentic interest that students embrace and use to envision for themselves a STEM career that is within reach. Success to the FirstHand team is a student who didn’t like science realizing that it can be cool or a high school

student enrolling in AP Biology after coming to FirstHand. Ultimately, we hope students enter and succeed in the STEM career pipeline. Specifically, FirstHand’s near-term goal is to demonstrate a statistically significant increase in self-efficacy, scientific self-concept and a personal understanding of how science affects everyday life.


Our long-term goal is to help increase the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM professions. 


Evaluation Methods: FirstHand has worked with an external independent evaluator, Dr. Steven J. Holochwost, since the program’s inception to develop our evaluation plan. We currently measure student outcomes based on validated survey measures that FirstHand, Dr. Holochwost, and STEM-learning experts consider representative of program achievement: students’ self-efficacy, scientific self-concept, and perceived relevance of science. In addition to pre- and post-program surveys, we conduct teacher and student focus groups to gather qualitative data about participants’ experiences. Looking ahead, we are working with the School District of Philadelphia to build out a longitudinal evaluation to measure our longer-term impact, which we hope to launch in the fall of 2021. We had hoped to launch this longitudinal study in 2020 but it was delayed due to COVID.


Anticipated Results: In this funding period, we anticipate similar results to our more recent data analysis. However, we recognize that gains may be smaller than expected due to the wide array of extenuating factors facing students and their learning. Among FirstHand participants in 2018-19, 62% exhibited increased self-efficacy (p<0.001) and 48% exhibited increased science relevance (p=0.017). Although not statistically significant, 39% of students exhibited positive change in their science self-concept. Finally, students consistently report “high” or “extremely high” levels of satisfaction (87% of students), enjoyment (90% of students), and interest in recommending the program to their friends (89% of students).

Does this project already have support from life science companies? If so, what is the nature of that support? The Science Center’s FirstHand program has had support from life sciences companies AstraZeneca and Tmunity.

Many life science and biotech companies contribute their time through mentorship, including Amicus Therapeutics, Century Therapeutics, Integral Molecular, Invisible Sentinel, etc. For a full list of 2019 supporters please see:




Is there any other information not captured elsewhere regarding your organization, project, program or initiatives that you believe will help the Life Science Cares team in evaluating your request?

Science Center is hosting its first cohort of free STEM workforce development training” 6/17/2020 Technically Philly article: stem-workforce-development-training/

“FirstHand at Home”: Science Center Flying Slippers Blog, 6/11/2020:

“Study Projects Future Workforce Talent Needs for Cell and Gene Therapy Sector and Connected Health Sector in Greater Philadelphia” Press Release: May 13, 2020.

“Inside the Cell & Gene Therapy Connected Workforce Analysis” Cell & Gene: May 29, 2020. workforce-analysis-0001

“A Look at the Impact of University City Science Center Two Years Later” 2/20/20 Philadelphia

Business Journal Article highlighting the impact of our efforts, particularly in the area of workforce development within the STEM sector


“Workforce Development for a 21st Century Job Market”, Science Center Flying Slippers Blog, 1/23/2020

“Inside University City’s Push to get those without Four-Year Degrees into STEM

Careers” 11/26/2019 Philadelphia article highlighting the efforts of the Science Center and others to bridge the talent employment gap for the underskilled/underemployed.

“Industry Relevant Curriculum Reflecting a 21st Century Job Market” Science Center Flying Slippers Blogpost, 12/12/2019 develop-a-telecommunications-curriculum-for-high-school-students

“Science Center is launching a telecoms education program for teens in 2020”, 12/09/2019 Philadelphia article telecommunications-education-high-schoolers-2020-firsthand/

"Science Center and Crown Castle to Develop a Telecommunications Curriculum for High School Students” 12/4/2019 Science Center Official Press Release center-and-crown-castle-to-develop-a-telecommunications-curriculum-for-high-school-students


How does your organization or program differentiate from other organizations doing similar work? Are you executing or proposing to executive an innovation in program or service?


FirstHand’s model is unique because, unlike other STEM learning programs, the Science Center is well-positioned to leverage all the activity, entrepreneurship, and discovery that takes place through its vast network of innovators and research happening on its campus. In person, FirstHand makes STEM relevant to students by immersing them directly in the day-to-day culture of the Science Center, where students experiment and build alongside researchers, entrepreneurs and start-ups, using the same tools and processes. Virtually, we make STEM relevant by bringing experimentation into their homes where they can share science with their families, take a break from worksheets, and see the inside of cutting-edge research labs. To our knowledge, no other STEM organization in Philadelphia is currently coordinating directly with STEM teachers to support their day-to-day teaching with hands-on experimentation - all free of charge. This innovative pivot retains FirstHand’s engaging teaching style while keeping students, teachers, and staff safe.