St. Elmo Brady Academy

About St. Elmo Brady Academy 

The St. Elmo Brady Academy (SEBA) program provides project-based learning activities in science, technology, engineering and math for local elementary and middle school students. SEBA addresses racial inequities in STEM fields by encouraging STEM interest and identity for students from underrepresented backgrounds. SEBA also broadens participation through early exposure to STEM, builds STEM literacy, and fosters family and community support systems to encourage STEM learning.

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.

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SEBA is named after St. Elmo Brady, who was the first Black person to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry and did so at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1916. St. Elmo Brady was honored by the American Chemical Society with a National Historic Chemical Landmark in Noyes Laboratory on the UIUC campus. The UIUC Student Chapter of NOBCChE honors his legacy through the St. Elmo Brady Lecture Series.

More about St. Elmo Brady     St. Elmo Brady Lecture Series


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. “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.”

“We wanted to empower these students to make a difference each and every day by choosing to reduce, reuse, and recycle. 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.”

Graduate Student Dani Harrier, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

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

Volunteer Information
Download an overview of the activities with easy-to-follow directions for volunteers. 

Day 1 Download

Day 2 Download

Student Worksheet
Download a worksheet for students to record their results for the various activities. 

Day 1 Download

Day 2 Download

PowerPoint Presentation
Download a presentation to lay the groundwork for the outreach activity.

Day 1 Download

Day 2 Download

Support SEBA

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. 

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