Carnegie Mellon University
April 17, 2020

Gelfand Center Pivots To Support Parents, Prospective Students

CMU organization connects Tartans with the K-12 community

By Katy Rank Lev

Jason Maderer
  • Marketing and Communications
  • 404-276-1643

In the first week of Pennsylvania's school cancellations ordered by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Carnegie Mellon University’s Leonard Gelfand Center had thousands of hits on their curated list of educational resources for parents. Director Judith Hallinen points out that the internet teems with activities for kids to do online, but parents struggle to find resources that are meaningful, effective and fun. "Our staff members have teacher certifications and vast experience working with children from preschool through high school. We take time to vet each resource," Hallinen said.

The center, funded by an endowed gift from alumnus Mark Gelfand, acts as a bridge between Carnegie Mellon University and the community. Operating under the offices of Vice Provost for Education Amy Burkert, the center supports tutoring programming, professional development for K-12 educators, STEM workshops for children and more.

The Gelfand Center has also partnered with the Division of Student Affairs regarding ways to bring some of these experiences to K-12 and prospective college students, virtually.

"Our tutoring programming with Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) is one of our signature activities," Hallinen said. "We see that as a great opportunity for CMU students to share their expertise and love of learning, and also to help our partner programs enhance their ability to provide individualized instruction." As PPS prepares to resume through remote approaches, the center is working with them to reengage CMU student tutors through remote means as well.

"The Gelfand team has responded well to the current situation," said Amy Burkert, Vice Provost for Education. "They are working to innovative ways to continue to assist K-12 students, teachers, and the community at large through a variety of resources and online programs."

Hallinen says the center had already been well underway in developing a "Meet the Researcher series of videos" — in-depth interviews with undergraduate students and the faculty supporting them, as well as tours of research laboratories and equipment. To build on these, the center is collecting short video statements from current CMU students about their area of study, research and career plans.

Prior to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the Gelfand Center had begun a video series to share information about STEM Career opportunities with future generations of students and show them current research environments. Here, Charlie Andreasen, a current student, and Dr. Rebecca Taylor, offer a tour of the Taylor Microsystems and Mechanobiology Lab.

Other faculty members had been approaching completion of professional development workshops for educators. Their slide decks and materials are more easily translated into online videos, and Hallinen says her team is discussing ways to make these materials more interactive.

"School aged children are going to be sitting in front of a computer screen from now through June," she said. "We want to make our materials more active. Maybe that means sending students boxes of materials to manipulate and assemble with instruction. It's still very new." The Gelfand Center plans to release new math and algorithm development activities for students this spring.

While the center launches their video series and consults with other groups developing complementary options (they've been building capacity to link undergraduate students with the seniors taking OSHER lifelong learning courses at CMU), they've been updating their parent resources page daily.

Of particular interest? "The videos created by Po Shen Loh are just fantastic," Hallinen said. "Parents are home, maybe struggling to remember math concepts and help their children." She keeps CMU resources like Loh's videos and Alice right at the top of the resource page. "We are working to ensure our programs are strong and healthy going forward, after the pandemic."

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