St. Elmo Brady Academy
About St. Elmo Brady Academy
The St. Elmo Brady Academy (SEBA) program provides project-learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math for our local Booker T Washington’s students. SEBA addresses racial inequities in STEM fields by increasing awareness of STEM subjects to support STEM interest and identity for students from underrepresented backgrounds. SEBA also broadens participation through early exposure to STEM, builds STEM literacy, uses project-based learning, and fosters family and community support systems to encourage STEM learning. SEBA is named after St. Elmo Brady, who was the first Black student to earn a PhD in chemistry and did so at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1916.
This program began in 2013 under the same name and has since moved to the University of Houston with the original founders, Ricky Greer and Jerrod Henderson (Phd '10). SEBA at Illinois is a sister program to Houston and is developed with the support of Greer and Henderson.
If you have questions, please email Valerie O’Brien, the Coordinator of Equity and Public Engagement at University High.
SEBA outreach event paints grim future for plastics, bright futures for engineers
Scientists thrive on their ability to piece together the story behind their data and describe something unknown to the world. Academics also thrive in the classroom, where they help students discover knowledge and skills that were unknown to them. It is these twinning motivations that make outreach events that showcase the value of our scientific endeavors while educating and inspiring future scientists so meaningful.
At a recent St. Elmo Brady Academy (SEBA) outreach event, more than 20 graduate students and three chemical and biomolecular engineering professors Damien Guironnet, Charles Sing, and Antonia Statt, who is also affiliated with materials science and engineering, had the opportunity to witness nearly 60 fourth graders at a local elementary school discover the short lifespan—and diminishing supply—of plastic.
SEBA is an outreach program that encourages middle school youth from underserved backgrounds to pursue STEM careers. The Brady Academy was founded by former ChBE lecturer Jerrod Henderson, now an assistant professor at the University of Houston; it is now managed by Valerie O’Brien at the University High School.
“We wanted to empower these students to make a difference each and every day by choosing to reduce, reuse, and recycle,” said graduate student Dani Harrier, who helped organize the event and works with Guironnet and department head Paul Kenis. “More than that, we wanted to show them the kinds of big-world problems that engineers like us—and perhaps one day them!—are tackling.”
The outreach activity showcased both how difficult it is to source the raw materials required for making plastic and the diminishing returns of recycling efforts.
First, the students “mined” for coal (bolts) and oil (paperclips) among tubs full of rocks. Next, they pretended to ship the coal to the power plant and used the remaining crude oil to first perform separations and then build polymers by stringing together their paper clips. Then they exchanged their paperclips for Play-Doh to compare the processes of molding and extruding.
“By the end of the first lesson, the students could figure out how plastic items in their classroom were produced, and they got a sense for all steps involved in the production,” Statt said. “They mastered the material, but what’s more, they got excited about engineering concepts.”
“However, when the students went back to mine for more materials to make more goods, they discovered the problem with depending on limited resources like fossil fuels,” said Guironnet, who organized the event with his wife Sue Guironnet. “They also learned how difficult it is to recycle plastic, as demonstrated by trying to separate different colors of Play-Doh—a concept I’m familiar with both as a plastics expert and parent.”
“It’s easy for us to lose sight of the big picture when we are working in our sub-disciplines and constantly hustling after the next deadline,” Sing said. “These outreach efforts remind us of what we are working toward, who we are working for, and who we want to work with more in the future by making science more accessible and inclusive.”
Download the materials for this outreach activity below!
Outreach Activity Materials
Download an overview of the activities with easy-to-follow directions for volunteers.
Download a worksheet for students to record their results for the various activities.
Support the St. Elmo Brady Academy by contributing to our Partner's Fund, which allows us to allocate funds to bring these valuable experiences to youth and showcase the profession of chemical engineering.