Rockville Centre science education facility awarded $540,000 to fund STEM centers


The Center for Science Teaching and Learning, tucked away in Rockville Centre’s Tanglewood Preserve, is set to receive $540,000 in state funds to create community centers around Long Island geared toward science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM.

The grant was awarded through Round VII of the Regional Economic Development Council initiative, which provided more than $755 million in economic and community development funding across the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Dec. 13. Long Island received $84.3 million, which is set to support 98 projects.

The Regional Councils were established in 2011 to replace the state’s old top-down approach to economic development, with one that is community-based and performance-driven. The initiative empowers community, business, and academic leaders to work with the public to develop strategic plans specifically tailored to their region’s unique strengths and resources in order to create jobs, improve quality of life and grow the economy.

“Thrilled is kind of an understatement,” said Dr. Ray Ann Havasy, director of the Center for Science Teaching and Learning. “This is a project we really believe in based on all the research that we’ve done.”

Havasy, a scientist from Port Washington, founded the CSTL in 2000 as a resource for teachers and families, in an effort to focus more on STEM education, which she said was not being valued enough. The nonprofit organization, which includes camps, workshops and what Havasy has touted as the only science-based nursery school of its kind in the state, strives to make all kinds of sciences — including physics, chemistry and biology — fun and relevant. The grant, she said, will help with that mission.

“The idea is that with all the money we’re spending on STEM education, the number of kids majoring in STEM is not going up,” Havasy said, “and the reason for that, we’re finding, is that STEM has to be more community-based.”

The funding will go toward building community STEM centers in West Hempstead, Franklin Square, Carle Place, South Huntington, Westbury, Central Islip, Wyandanch and Brentwood, These centers will have equipment like 3D printers, robotics equipment and trained staff to teach, mentor and show how STEM can be the pathway for young people to higher education and successful professional careers.

Havasy said corporations, such as National Grid and High Voltage Electronics, are also providing financial support to create these spaces in the coming year. Communities will house their STEM centers in various kinds of spaces, Havasy said, and no two will be the same. The one in West Hempstead will be in its public library, for example, while the one in Carle Place will be built in the headquarters of Big Brothers Big Sisters, an organization that matches adult volunteers with children.

“It’s taking different iterations, which is exciting,” Havasy said. “We want this to be a community-envisioning process, where we work with community folks and say, ‘What would you like this to be?’”

She added that “envisioning meetings” are already being scheduled for West Hempstead and Franklin Square, which will allow the public to identify what specifically their community wants from the space.

The centers will be rolled out one or two at a time, Havasy said, so that the organization can make improvements as they build more.

“Look, Long Island needs more STEM-focused young people,” Havasy said. “… We have to start focusing on science, technology, engineering and math for our kids, and we’re not doing a good job.”