Binghamton University is initiating an archaeology after-school program for local middle schoolers in an effort to pique interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related fields among young learners.

Funded by a $295,951 grant received by the Public Archaeology Facility (PAF) at the University, two local school districts, Windsor and Whitney Point, will participate in the interactive extracurricular program. The program, which will include members of the PAF, department of teaching, learning and educational leadership, BU Community Schools, BU professors and students, aims to encourage more young students to become lifelong STEM learners.

The grant funding for this project comes from the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program. The grant will be used to cover transportation costs, as well as program evaluators and Indigenous experts, who will critique and recommend improvements for the program. If this initial program succeeds, another grant will be written so more students from other schools can be involved.

Laurie Miroff, principal investigator of the after-school program and director of the PAF, believes this program will serve as a way to solidify young interest in STEM.

“We hope to instill in the middle school students a lifelong interest in the STEM fields using archaeology,” Miroff said. “Research suggests that interest in STEM can be sparked at a young age, and informal learning experiences play a role in generating this interest.”

As a way to keep students engaged and immersed in STEM fields and careers, students will have access to hands-on experiences, such as artifact measurement, typology, experimental archaeology, zooarchaeology and geographic information systems (GIS).

Miroff described archaeology as an exciting field that encapsulates a wide range of STEM concepts.

“The multidisciplinary nature of archaeology makes it a useful vehicle for teaching a wide variety of STEM disciplines,” Miroff wrote in an email. “Its compatibility with hands-on activities, deep thinking skills and scientific reasoning makes it ideal for teaching critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, effective communication and data analysis.”

According to Miroff, this program will include a total of 150 students. 25 students at a time, grades six to eight, will participate in the program at their respective schools, either Windsor Middle School or Whitney Point Middle School. Over the course of two years, there will be three of these groups of 25 students at both schools, all participating in the same activities.

Amber Simpson, a co-public investigator of the project and assistant professor in the department of teaching, learning and educational leadership, said she is anticipating growing her own abilities as a STEM researcher and educator and looks forward to BU student participation.

“We intend to provide an opportunity for BU students to be engaged in the after-school program, working alongside one another and with the middle school students,” Simpson wrote. “Our goal is to support the development of BU students as informal educators. From my own experience, and in working with BU students in similar programs, it is difficult to step outside of our formal ways of thinking about education to support youth in an informal learning environment.”

Will Murdock, a junior majoring in anthropology, specializing in the study of archaeology, expressed excitement over the program and hopes the middle schoolers enjoy this opportunity.

“I would hope that middle schoolers could gain an appreciation for the history of the place in which they live, but also the history of the people that lived there before them,” Murdock said. “I would hope that the middle schoolers would have the same sense of excitement that I did when I visited my first dig site.”

Vincent Gatto, a junior majoring in anthropology, hopes that young students will gain a lifelong interest in the field.

“The field of archaeology is one filled with wonder, awe and excitement,” Gatto said. “I hope they are able to find such a love and respect for those who came before that — maybe some will devote the rest of their academic lives and interests to helping preserve and investigate these cultures and peoples.”

David Mixter, a research assistant professor of environmental studies and anthropology, has high hopes for the program as well, although he is not a direct participant in the project.

“Archaeology provides a window into the past,” Mixter said. “Picking up an artifact that you excavated and holding that piece of the past is a transformative experience. It takes the dry, dusty history of textbooks and makes it relatable. By holding a rusty nail, a broken piece of plate, an old chamber pot, these young students have an opportunity, just for a moment, to inhabit another person from the past. The ability to connect to the lived experience of other people in other times helps young people contextualize how they live their own lives.”