Pi Day is celebrated every year on March 14—or 3.14—as an homage to the mathematical constant, which is equal to 3.14159.
This year Google decided to mark the 30th occurrence of this event with a nod to “the number’s delicious sounding name.” The Doodle represents Pi’s mathematical formula—the ratio between a circle’s circumference to its diameter—in pie form.
Pi Day was first recognised 30 years ago back in 1988 by physicist Larry Shaw, according to Google. And, those wishing to mark to the occasion often do so by enjoying a slice of their favourite pie.
Of course, the pie featured in the Doodle isn’t any old pie. Google got Dominique Ansel—the chap who invented the Cronut—to make the Pi pie.
Oh, and if your mouth is positively salivating at this bit of nerdery, Google’s got you covered. Ansel shared the recipe for the Pi pie.
Let me just warn you that seeing a Michael Scott quote beside a subject you devoted years of your life to mastering is very, very humbling. In some cases, these memes are depressing as hell, but they’re all brilliant.
Since there are quite a few majors, let’s review some of the most impressive, shall we?
The celebrated scientist frets about fame and his brain going off with age in candid, soon to be auctioned correspondence with his sister, Maja
A glimpse at the private, hidden face of Albert Einstein, including the celebrated scientists thoughts on everything from his fears that his best work was behind him to his equivocal feelings about his fame, has been revealed in a cache of letters he wrote to his beloved younger sister, Maja.
The collection, which includes a previously unknown photograph of Einstein as a five-year-old and the only surviving letter written by Einstein to his father, comes from the archive of Maja Winteler-Einstein and her husband Paul Winteler. A mix of letters, postcards and photographs, many of which have not previously been published, the documents range in date from 1897 to 1951.
The morning John Kennedy was set to testify last December, he woke up at 1:30 am, in an unfamiliar hotel room in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, adrenaline coursing through his veins. He'd never gone to court before for anything serious, much less taken the stand.
Some time after sunrise, he headed to the courthouse, dressed in a gray Brooks Brothers suit, and spent the next several hours reviewing his notes and frantically pacing the halls. “I think I made a groove in the floor,” Kennedy says.
By 3:30 pm, it was finally time. Kennedy’s answers started off slowly, as he worked to steady his nerves. Then, about an hour into his testimony, Exhibit 81 flashed on a screen inside the courtroom. It was a map of part of Pennsylvania’s seventh congressional district, but it might as well have been a chalk outline of a body.
“It was like a crime scene,” explains Daniel Jacobson, an attorney for Arnold & Porter, which represented the League of Women Voters in its bid to overturn Pennsylvania’s 2011 electoral map, drawn by the state’s majority Republican General Assembly. The edges of the district skitter in all manner of unnatural directions, drawing comparisons to a sketch of Goofy kicking Donald Duck.
As an expert witness for the League of Women Voters and a political scientist at West Chester University, Kennedy’s job was to show how the state’s map had evolved over time, and to prove that the General Assembly had drawn it specifically to ensure that Republicans would always win the most seats in Congress.
“Mr. Kennedy, what is this?” asked John Freedman, Jacobson’s colleague, referring to the tiny, single point that connects one sprawling side of the district to the other. Or, if you like, where Goofy’s toe meets Donald’s rear.
“A steakhouse,” Kennedy answered, according to the court transcript. “Creed's Seafood Steaks in King of Prussia.”
The only thing holding the district together, in other words, was a single ritzy seafood joint.
“If you were in the courtroom, it was just devastating,” Jacobson says.
Districts like Pennsylvania’s seventh don’t get drawn that way by accident. They’re designed by dint of the centuries-old practice of gerrymandering, in which the party in power carves up the electoral map to their favor. The playbook is simple: Concentrate as many of your opponents’ votes into a handful of districts as you can, a tactic known as "packing." Then spread the remainder of those votes thinly across a whole lot of districts, known as “cracking.” If it works as intended, the opposition will win a few districts by a landslide, but never have enough votes in the rest to win the majority of seats. The age of computer-generated data splicing has made this strategy easier than ever.
Pennsylvania’s map had been so aggressively gerrymandered for partisan purposes that it silenced the voices of Democratic voters in the state.
Until recently, courts have only moved to stop gerrymandering based on race. But now, the law is taking a closer look at partisan gerrymandering, too. On Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a brand new congressional map to replace the one Kennedy testified about. The new map follows a landmark decision last month, in which the three Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices overruled a lower-court decision and found that Pennsylvania’s 2011 map did in fact violate the state constitution’s guarantee of “free and equal elections.” The court ordered the Pennsylvania General Assembly to submit a new map, with approval of Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor Tom Wolf. Following unsuccessful appeals by the General Assembly, the court drafted and approved its own map, which will now be in effect for the midterm elections in November, opening up a new field of opportunity for Democrats in the state.
On Tuesday morning, President Trump urged Republicans in the state to "challenge the new 'pushed' Congressional Map, all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. Your Original was correct!"
According to Jacobson, given the Supreme Court of the United States already declined to stay the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision, it's unlikely they'll take up the case. It's already agreed to hear four other gerrymandering cases this term, which may well re-write the rules on this twisted system nationwide.
The change that's already come to Pennsylvania may not have been possible without the research Kennedy and three other expert witnesses brought to light. They took the stand with a range of analyses, some based in complex quantitative theory, others, like Kennedy’s, based in pure cartography. But they all reached the same conclusion: Pennsylvania’s map had been so aggressively gerrymandered for partisan purposes that it silenced the voices of Democratic voters in the state. Here's how each came to that conclusion—and managed to convince the court.
The Only Bad Restaurant in Town
Carnegie Mellon mathematician Wes Pegden had already written an academic paper proving that the Pennsylvania map was drawn with partisan intent. His challenge in the courtroom was to convince a room full of non-mathematicians. So he came armed with an analogy.
Imagine, Pegden told the court, you’ve touched down in a new city and asked your taxi driver to drop you at any restaurant, something that would give you a sense of the local culinary scene. You give the cabbie a fat tip, go inside the restaurant, and have a terrible meal. Did the driver bring you to a bad restaurant on purpose? Or is it a true reflection of all of the restaurants in the city?
To answer that question, you could always sample every single restaurant, but that would take too long. A more efficient, but still effective option: test every restaurant immediately surrounding the bad one. If they're all bad, the driver really did pick a representative dining establishment. If they’re all really good? The driver screwed you over.
That's essentially how Pegden tested the Pennsylvania map. He developed a computer program that begins with the current Pennsylvania map, then, instead of drawing an entirely new map from scratch, it automatically makes tiny changes to the existing one to create 1 trillion slightly different maps. In the analogy, these trillion maps are the nearby restaurants. The system only draws districts that a court might accept, meaning they’re contiguous, reasonably shaped, and have similar population sizes, among other things.
'It is really one of the most extreme partisan gerrymanders in modern American history.'
Christopher Warshaw, George Washington University
Then, Pegden analyzed the partisan slant of each new map compared to the original, using a well-known metric called the median versus mean test. In this case, Pegden compared the Republican vote share in each of Pennsylvania's 18 districts. For each map, he calculated the difference between the median vote share across all the districts and the mean vote share across all of the districts. The bigger the difference, the more of an advantage the Republicans had in that map.
After conducting his trillion simulations, Pegden found that the 2011 Pennsylvania map exhibited more partisan bias than 99.999999 percent of maps he tested. In other words, making even the tiniest changes in almost any direction to the existing map chiseled away at the Republican advantage.
“You can almost hear the mapmakers saying, ‘No don’t do that. I wanted that right there just like that,’” Pegden says. “It gets at the basic question of what citizens, judges, and courts want to know: Did these people go into a room and design these maps to suit their purposes?”
Until now, researchers have struggled to find truly random maps to compare to gerrymandered maps; the number of possible maps is so astronomically high, it’s impossible to try them all. But Pegden’s theorem proves you don’t have to try every restaurant in town to know you got a raw deal. You just need to take a walk around the block.
The Bright Red Dot
Unlike Kennedy and Pegden, Jowei Chen was no witness-stand novice. The political scientist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor has provided expert testimony in a litany of redistricting cases, including in North Carolina, where judges relied heavily on Chen's testimony in their decision to overturn the existing map.
Like Pegden, Chen uses computer programs to simulate alternative maps. But instead of starting with the original map and making small changes, Chen’s program develops entirely new maps, based on a series of geographic constraints. The maps should be compact in shape, preserve county and municipal boundaries, and have equal populations. They’re drawn, in other words, in some magical world where partisanship doesn’t exist. The only goal, says Chen, is that these maps be “geographically normal.”
Chen generated 500 such maps for Pennsylvania, and analyzed each of them based on how many Republican seats they would yield. He also looked at how many counties and municipalities were split across districts, a practice the Pennsylvania constitution forbids "unless absolutely necessary." Keeping counties and municipalities together, the thinking goes, keeps communities together. He compared those figures to the disputed map, and presented the results to the court.
The following chart shows how many seats the simulated maps and the disputed map generated for Republicans.
Most of the maps gave Republicans nine seats. Just two percent gave them 10 seats. None even came close to the disputed map, which gives Republicans a whopping 13 seats.
The chart showing the number of split municipalities and counties paints a similarly compelling picture.
Chen used two other metrics to measure the disputed map’s compactness relative to the simulations. The first, called the Reock score, analyzes the ratio of the district’s area to the area of the smallest circle that can be drawn to completely contain it. A district that’s a perfect circle, in other words, would have a Reock score of one. The more distorted the district’s shape gets, the lower the score.
Chen also put the map up to the so-called Popper-Polsby test, which is the ratio of the district’s area to the area of a circle whose circumference is the same length as the district’s perimeter. Again, the lower number, the less compact the district.
Here’s how the disputed map fared on both tests against the simulations:
Chen conducted another simulation with an additional 500 maps, this time, requiring that none of them pit two incumbents against each other. The goal was to see if the General Assembly drew the original map this way not based on partisanship, but based on protecting incumbents. But the results were largely the same. On every metric, the disputed map was an outlier.
“These charts are what really resonated with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices,” says Jacobson. “You see 500 black dots. Then you see the actual plan. It’s way out in nowhere land.”
The results, Chen says, complemented Pegden's evidence perfectly. “It’s not a question of whose metrics and methods do you like better,” he says. “The point is: Here’s a diversity of methods, and they are leading us to the same answer. Maybe that tells us something.”
Another question before the court was whether the partisan map actually impacted representation in Congress. After all, just because most Pennsylvania representatives are Republicans doesn't mean they'll always vote with Republicans. But Christopher Warshaw, a political scientist at George Washington University, showed mathematically that the Republican advantage also meant that the state's Democrats had little chance of having their voices heard in DC.
To assess the map’s partisan nature, Warshaw used a metric called the efficiency gap, which researchers at the University of Chicago Law School and the Public Policy Institute of California devised in 2015. It measures the number of votes that each party “wastes” in a given election to gauge how packed and cracked its districts are. Every vote a party gets in a district that it loses counts as wasted. In districts the party takes, any vote over the total needed to win is considered waste as well.
“You want to get as many seats in a legislature with as few votes as possible,” Warshaw explains. “You want to get zero votes in the districts you lose.”
To determine Pennsylvania's efficiency gap, Warshaw calculated the difference between each party’s wasted votes and divided it by the number of total votes cast in the election. He found that the 2011 map not only gave Republicans a bigger advantage in Pennsylvania than they had before redistricting; it gave them an advantage like few the country has ever seen. “It is really one of the most extreme partisan gerrymanders in modern American history,” Warshaw says.
Warshaw analyzed the average efficiency gap in states with more than six representatives between 1972 and 2016, and found that the vast majority have historically had an efficiency gap hovering around zero.
He also found, however, that since 2010, the last year before districts were redrawn, maps have become increasingly skewed toward Republicans, as the party dominates state legislatures and governorships across the country.
Even so, the slide toward Republican advantage has been far more drastic in Pennsylvania. In 2012, Republican candidates won only 49 percent of the congressional vote in Pennsylvania, but gained 72 percent of the seats.
Finally, Warshaw deployed a commonly used model called the DW-Nominate score to show how partisanship has changed in Congress over time. This score ranks members of Congress on a scale from -1, being the most liberal, to +1, being the most conservative. As the chart shows, both parties have been creeping toward their respective poles steadily over time.
Warshaw doesn’t try to prove that gerrymandering created that partisanship in Congress. His point is merely that in Pennsylvania, where more Democratic votes are wasted, it becomes almost impossible for Democrats to see issues they support turn into federal policy. This degrades trust in government and in elections.
“Representative democracy should be largely responsive to what voters want, and if it’s not, it calls into question democratic bona fides,” says Warshaw. In societies where elections shut one entire subset out of power, he says, “all kinds of bad things can happen.”
“Ultimately, people think why are we even having elections?” Warshaw says. "There’s nothing inevitable about democracy.”
The Evolution of Maps
Though by far the least technical expert in the case, John Kennedy was perhaps the most compelling. In preparation for his nerve-wracking two hours on the stand, Kennedy, an expert in Pennsylvania elections, dug through decades of old maps dating back to the 1960s to assess how the shape of districts and their partisan outcomes have evolved over time.
He methodically walked through how Pennsylvania’s first congressional district, comprising much of Philadelphia, has been packed with Democrats, while Democrats in Harrisburg have been cracked between the fourth and eleventh congressional districts, creating Republican majorities in both places.
But it was the seventh congressional district—and the single seafood restaurant holding it together like a piece of Scotch tape—that clinched it. He showed the court how the district had morphed from a squarish shape to today's sprawling, cartoonish scene. “How do you justify the seventh congressional district?” Kennedy says. “It’s absurd.”
Where Chen and Pegden laid out the mathematical proof of partisanship, and Warshaw demonstrated how that partisanship translates to policy, Kennedy showed in the starkest terms just how obviously gerrymandered these maps looked even to the untrained eye.
As gerrymandering cases proliferate across the country, there’s been some talk in research circles of the need for one true metric to measure it. Overturning Pennsylvania's gerrymandered map, though, required detailed analysis from all angles. “Metrics are just evidence," says Jacobson. "It’s always helpful to have more evidence not less.”
In the Pennsylvania case, Judge P. Kevin Brobson of the Commonwealth Court agreed that Republicans had obviously and intentionally given themselves an advantage, but stopped short of saying they had violated the state’s constitution. In January, the Supreme Court disagreed, striking down the old Pennsylvania map.
In a matter of months, Pennsylvanians will head to the polls once more to elect 18 representatives to Congress, based on an entirely new electoral map that leans far less in one party’s favor. For Kennedy, an academic who spends most of his time studying history, it’s been a rare opportunity to make history, instead.
If our supersmart tech leaders knew a bit more about history or philosophy we wouldnt be in the mess were in now
One of the biggest puzzles about our current predicament with fake news and the weaponisation of social media is why the folks who built this technology are so taken aback by what has happened. Exhibit A is the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, whose political education I recently chronicled. But hes not alone. In fact Id say he is quite representative of many of the biggest movers and shakers in the tech world. We have a burgeoning genre of OMG, what have we done? angst coming from former Facebook and Google employees who have begun to realise that the cool stuff they worked on might have had, well, antisocial consequences.
Put simply, what Google and Facebook have built is a pair of amazingly sophisticated, computer-driven engines for extracting users personal information and data trails, refining them for sale to advertisers in high-speed data-trading auctions that are entirely unregulated and opaque to everyone except the companies themselves.
The purpose of this infrastructure was to enable companies to target people with carefully customised commercial messages and, as far as we know, they are pretty good at that. (Though some advertisers are beginning to wonder if these systems are quite as good as Google and Facebook claim.) And in doing this, Zuckerberg, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and co wrote themselves licences to print money and build insanely profitable companies.
It never seems to have occurred to them that their advertising engines could also be used to deliver precisely targeted ideological and political messages to voters. Hence the obvious question: how could such smart people be so stupid? The cynical answer is they knew about the potential dark side all along and didnt care, because to acknowledge it might have undermined the aforementioned licences to print money. Which is another way of saying that most tech leaders are sociopaths. Personally I think thats unlikely, although among their number are some very peculiar characters: one thinks, for example, of Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel Trumps favourite techie; and Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber.
So what else could explain the astonishing naivety of the tech crowd? My hunch is it has something to do with their educational backgrounds. Take the Google co-founders. Sergey Brin studied mathematics and computer science. His partner, Larry Page, studied engineering and computer science. Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, where he was studying psychology and computer science, but seems to have been more interested in the latter.
Now mathematics, engineering and computer science are wonderful disciplines intellectually demanding and fulfilling. And they are economically vital for any advanced society. But mastering them teaches students very little about society or history or indeed about human nature. As a consequence, the new masters of our universe are people who are essentially only half-educated. They have had no exposure to the humanities or the social sciences, the academic disciplines that aim to provide some understanding of how society works, of history and of the roles that beliefs, philosophies, laws, norms, religion and customs play in the evolution of human culture.
We are now beginning to see the consequences of the dominance of this half-educated elite. As one perceptive observer Bob ODonnell puts it, a liberal arts major familiar with works like Alexis de Tocquevilles Democracy in America, John Stuart Mills On Liberty, or even the work of ancient Greek historians, might have been able to recognise much sooner the potential for the tyranny of the majority or other disconcerting sociological phenomena that are embedded into the very nature of todays social media platforms. While seemingly democratic at a superficial level, a system in which the lack of structure means that all voices carry equal weight, and yet popularity, not experience or intelligence, actually drives influence, is clearly in need of more refinement and thought than it was first given.
All of which brings to mind CP Snows famous Two Cultures lecture, delivered in Cambridge in 1959, in which he lamented the fact that the intellectual life of the whole of western society was scarred by the gap between the opposing cultures of science and engineering on the one hand, and the humanities on the other with the latter holding the upper hand among contemporary ruling elites. Snow thought that this perverse dominance would deprive Britain of the intellectual capacity to thrive in the postwar world and he clearly longed to reverse it.
Snow passed away in 1980, but one wonders what he would have made of the new masters of our universe. One hopes that he might see it as a reminder of the old adage: be careful what you wish for you might just get it.
When Rabeetah Hasnain teaches, she resists telling her students what to think.
There’s no need to just drill them on facts they memorized.
Instead, she loves to witness her special education students’ eyes light up with understanding and growing confidence in her fourth- and fifth-grade classes at ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy in New Orleans.
Her students think for themselves and learn how to solve problems — but in a fun, free-spirited way that mirrors the celebratory, artistic culture of their city.
All images via Turnaround Arts New Orleans/ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy, used with permission.
For Hasnain’s math classes, she choreographs the fluid movements of a mathematics dance to help her kids learn how a decimal point moves when multiplying by 10.
For English, she has them create a three-minute improv theatrical scene to review their reading comprehension of the “Matilda” chapter she assigned for homework.
Older students even learn U.S. history through rap battles inspired by the mega-hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.”
That’s because at this academy, art isn’t a separate subject tacked onto education — it’s ingrained in the school’s culture, just like it is in the city of New Orleans.
It makes sense that their education style is as unique and jubilant as their surrounding city. After all, if you take a walk through New Orleans, you’ll see artists lining up their original artwork every day along the sidewalks and fences of Jackson Square. You’ll see Dixieland jazz musicians roaming the streets, playing for those that pass by. From its Cajun and Creole cuisine to its multicultural artistic population to its historic architecture, this is a city where beauty and expression in all its forms are celebrated.
The school, then, takes its cues from the spirit of New Orleans, infusing art, music, and performance into many aspects of the learning experience.
They do this with the help of Turnaround Arts, a national program that aims to transform low-performing schools by using arts education as a strategic tool to boost confidence, creativity, and academic achievement.
“Arts integration doesn’t have to be this extra crazy thing that teachers do,” Hasnain says. “It’s just good teaching.” Especially when you can connect students with a city’s vibrant arts community.
Take Preservation Hall, for example. Situated deep in the heart of the iconic French Quarter, this music venue is known for its unforgettable jazz concerts, which further a living tradition of New Orleans jazz music and culture citywide. It’s also known for its music groups, like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and it is those very band members who are orchestrating the future of this storied musical tradition through Turnaround Arts.
Twice a week, Preservation Hall sends professional jazz musicians to ReNEW Academy to work with the school band, so the students can learn jazz and marching band styles that mirror the jubilant streets and famous venues of their city.
And the kids get to take their art outside the classroom too.
Band students also perform in the city’s Mardi Gras parade, further connecting these students with the local arts scene and allowing them to be part of one of the city’s most famous creative traditions. That’s a big deal for anyone enchanted with the city’s defining music.
At this New Orleans academy, their approach to the arts is creating a whole new generation of young artists that are both inspired by and shaping the culture of their city.
Just last January, the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center (just north of St. Charles Avenue) hosted “I’m Glorious,” a collaborative installation featuring works from the city’s three ReNEW schools.
A month later, local artists visited homeroom classes at ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy to help them design a mural or art installation around the theme of growth. And the New Orleans Museum of Art donated banners and frames for the project.
In New Orleans, providing children with the space for thinking creatively and for free expression isn’t just to improve academic performance.
It’s about furthering this spellbinding city’s legacy.
“In New Orleans in particular, you’re not only a musician, you’re a culture-bearer,” Hasnain says.
“That’s why we bring so many community partners here. … It would be horrible to be in a city that has so much culture and the kids not be part of it.”
It’s a culture and a legacy recognized around the world — from the dazzling parades, to the sweet sounds of jazz music in the French Quarter — shaped every day by the youth who live and learn there.
When Dr. Jennifer R. Cohen was working as a molecular biologist, she often wondered why no one else in her sector looked like her.
As a black woman, Cohen is not the typical face you’d see in a biochemistry lab. The sad reality is science and technology careers are still predominately assumed by white men even though there is a large reservoir of untapped talent among women and people of color.
The reason for the disparity seems to lie in a lack of resources to help talented but underrepresented students reach higher academic levels. While some colleges are currently looking to diversify, it’s often difficult for these students to get on their radar without some sort of assistance.
Cohen knew how much underrepresented talent there was out there just waiting to realize their full potential, so she joined the SMASH program.
SMASH, or Summer Math and Science Honors, is a subsection of the nonprofit organization Level the Playing Field Institute. It’s a rigorous, three-year summer program that provides settings and resources to students who are underrepresented in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) free of charge. The courses take place at colleges, like UCLA and UC Berkeley, that are leading the way in these fields.
By throwing these students headfirst into an environment stocked with resources, SMASH is giving them all they need to totally “own” STEM.
Students learning computer science in the SMASH University of California at Davis program. All photos via SMASH.
The movement, however, is not just about bolstering science skills. It’s about creating a pipeline into colleges that will help students launch a life pursuing some of the coolest, most sought-after and most impactful STEM-related careers out there.
But they have to get in first.
Aside from helping to eliminate the barriers to a college degree and subsequent career, SMASH’s teachers are doing all they can to give their students confidence. The STEM fields aren’t exactly handing out positions to women and people of color, so they’ll need all the conviction they have to get ahead.
UCLA’s SMASH program, for example, is brimming with teachers who are women of color, and experts in their fields. Pre-calculus instructor Patrice Smith got her Bachelor of Science from UCLA in Mathematics/Applied Science and specializations in Business Administration and Computing. Having role models like her likely encourages the 53% of young women who populate the UCLA program.
Students at SMASH UC Berkeley working in a lab.
“We help them to see that they belong and that they have what it takes so there’s no question in their minds that they can be successful,” Cohen explains.
Having been the only woman of color in the room, Cohen feels she can be especially helpful to the young women in SMASH. Her experience working in STEM shines a light on the inequality and need for change.
But, thanks to SMASH, change is happening, and its students are walking, dissecting, coding, algorithm-solving proof.
Leilani Reyes at SMASH Stanford.
Leilani Reyes, a first-generation college student from Fairfield, California, is studying computer science at Stanford University and was recently a software engineer intern at Medium. She’s forever grateful to SMASH for opening up this world of opportunity to her.
“Academically, it granted me rigor and, more importantly, support from teachers and staff who empowered me to be curious and socially conscious in STEM exploration,” writes Reyes in an email. “Professionally, it granted me resources to develop essential skills like public speaking and connections to mentors and role models who I look to for advice and inspiration.”
Michael Pearson, who attended SMASH UCLA, blossomed into one of the most accomplished computer science students, often helping others with their homework after finishing his own. He’s now pursuing a career in Cognitive and Computer Science at the University of Pennsylvania.
And Thomas Estrada, who went through SMASH UC Berkeley, was awarded the Regent and Chancellor’s Scholarship, which helped fund his undergraduate tuition there. He majored in computer science, and is now pursuing his doctorate. This summer, he landed a coveted internship with Google.
Moises Limon, a first year at SMASH UC Berkeley.
In terms of overall numbers, 78% of SMASH students declare STEM majors as freshman and 79% of that percentage graduate with a STEM major. That’s huge compared to the national average of STEM graduates, just 22%. Obviously the program is doing something right.
In the last 17 years, SMASH has helped over 500 alumni hit their academic and career goals.
The program is rapidly expanding into a national institution. One of the first east coast schools they’re partnering with is the prestigious Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. There’s no telling how far SMASH’s influence will go now.
He painted his wife without lips. He painted his friend with a spinal deformity. And he painted himself as a ghost in a top hat. Paul Czannes unflinching portraits, coming to Britain this autumn, didnt just astonish Picasso and his disciples. They changed art for ever
In Paris at the dawn of the 20th century, a generation of young artists changed everything. They visited the dusty yet magical galleries of the Ethnography Museum in the rambling Trocadro and some started their own collections of African masks. This fascination with non-European art helped them break with hundreds of years of tradition. Pablo Picasso completed a portrait of his friend Gertrude Stein by giving her a mask instead of a face. He then painted Les Demoiselles dAvignon with its wildly cavorting masked prostitutes. Modern art was born in those bold years, in a glamorous atmosphere of absinthe, drugs (Picasso and his friends dabbled in opium) and sex in the red light district of Montmartre.
There is just one problem with this exhilarating story of the birth of modern art. It is not true.
My doubts began a couple of years ago in Londons National Gallery. I was looking at Paul Czannes Les Grandes Baigneuses, which he started in 1894. He was in his 50s then and did not complete it until 1905, one year before his death. Looking at the bold slashing lines of its landscape and the monumental abstracted nudes gathered under a crystalline sky, I realised something about the faces. Their eyes are dark sharp cuts. Their mouths, too. Their noses are like rigid blocks of wood. These are not faces. They are masks.
Yet they were painted by a man who, as far as anyone knows, had never looked at any African art. As for sex and drugs, he never went near them. The art of Czanne is the fruit of long, focused study by one man in front of an easel through long hot Provenal days. And this is the art that changed everything. This great 19th-century artist invented almost everything we attribute to Matisse, Picasso and Braque. Modernism is all there in paintings he executed as early as the 1880s. Czanne may be the single most revolutionary artist who ever lived.
What do you do if you’re an awesome science teacher and you want your kids to learn about water animals but don’t have water nearby?
That’s what James Jubran was up against as an aquatic science teacher at Alief Elsik High School in Houston, Texas.
“We dont have the ability to go to lakes, rivers, oceans or streams,” Jubran explains. The nearest large body of water is Trinity Bay, which is an hour away. Big field trips like that cost money, and the school doesn’t have the funding to make them feasible.
Elsik is far from being the only school with this problem. Schools nationwide are dealing with massive budget cuts to their STEM programs (science, technology, education, and mathematics). That’s a big obstacle for students looking to have careers in any of these fields.
Thankfully aquatic science enthusiasts at Elsik have Jubran grant writer extraordinaire.
Jubran with some of his students. All photos via Elsik High School, used with permission.
Jubran grew up in Florida surrounded by the ocean, and he was always fascinated by underwater ecosystems. He often went out on boats with his family, and he never missed an opportunity to go snorkeling or scuba diving.
He became a science teacher in Florida 10 years ago, but due to statewide school budget cuts, he lost his job and decided to move inland to Houston, Texas, in 2006. He’s been at Elsik for five years but has always felt somewhat limited by the lack of access to water.
So in 2016, he wrote a grant proposal for State Farm’s Neighborhood Assist Program asking for help in building a gigantic aquarium for Elsik students as well as students at other nearby schools.
State Farm accepted the first 2,000 applicants for the grant, and narrowed that number down to 200. Those proposals were then made public so that people could vote on their favorites. Elsik students made it their mission to vote as much as possible.
The top 40 proposals received $25,000. The grant Jubran wrote came in at #8.
State Farm grant dispatchers and members of the school board.
Jubran immediately began pulling resources to build his dream aquarium, and within a couple months, it was finished.
The aquariumis 12 feet long, 9 feet tall, and 3 feet wide and can hold 1,100 gallons of water.
He decided to create a tropical ecosystem in the tank, home to all kinds of tropical fish. The aquatic residents were added slowly to the tank in order to build up good bacteria, which allows the tank to better handle fish waste. The slow process also helps make sure the fish all get along.
Today, there are 14 different species of fish living in the tank. They include threadfin geophagus, known for their digging skills, Silver arowana, which can grow to two feet long, carnivorous tiger oscars, shovelnose catfish, which look like their name sounds, and Redhooks the vegetarian version of piranhas.
A few redhooks in Elsik’s new aquarium.
The tank is located in the school cafeteria so that all of the students can enjoy it and, well, because it was too big to put upstairs near Jubran’s classroom.
The aquarium’s been in place for two months now, and everyone seems to love it and all its colorful inhabitants.
Threadfin geophaguses hanging out together.
Students are often seen pressed up against the glass watching the fish swim around and interact with one another.
Jubran doesn’t love the thousands of fingerprints on the glass, but he appreciates the enthusiasm. He even has kids he’s never met before coming up to him saying things like, oh, are you the guy who built the aquarium? Its so cool.”
I don’t know about that guy in the middle. He looks pretty fishy to me. HEYO!
And Jubran’s students, especially the ones interested in aquatic science careers, can’t get enough. Even though it’s the end of the school year, he’s begun assigning special teaching projects on species in the aquarium.
“Next year, students will learn everything they need to know about the fish, then develop and present a curriculum focused on the aquarium,” Jubran says. That way, when students from other schools come by to check out the aquarium, Elsik students can actually teach them about what’s going on inside it.
And Jubran is not finished with his plans to bring water to Elsik he’s got even loftier plans up his sleeve.
Jubran teaching his students about the aquarium.
“I’m going for a $100,000 grant next year to build an even larger salt water aquarium for the other side of the school,” Jubran says.
It might be four times as much as the previous grant, but considering his success at getting that, there’s a very good chance he’ll be filling a larger aquarium with more exotic fish soon enough.
Jubran’s initiative just goes to show there’s enormous power behind one person’s desire to make a difference.
You don’t have to have a ton of money or a fancy upbringing to make huge waves in your community. All you need to have is an idea and the tenacity to see it through.
One teacher can make a school a better, cooler place to learn and grow. As long as Jubran’s at Elsik, he’ll be working on exciting ways to do just that.
If you want to find out more about Neighborhood Assist, and how it’s helping improve communities across the country, check out the program here.
Teaching kids about science can have amazing benefits, but it costs money which is what one small town in Ohio didn’t have.
The city of Springboro operates their schools on a shoestring budget. With a per-pupil cost well below the state average, extracurricular activities in the district have had to be scaled back including those related to STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
Luckily, a group of moms in Springboro decided to take matters into their own hands.
They started STEMfest an annual science and technology festival run entirely by volunteers and funded completely by donations.
“[Parents could see] the limits of the school district in terms of both human resources and capital,” says Karen DeRosa, a STEMfest volunteer and former communications director for Springboro schools. “They really wanted to bring more STEM programs to students.”
The event, sort of a cross between a career day and a science fair, was put together in seven weeks from conception to execution and was a bigger success than anyone could have predicted.
“At first they wanted one large room, thinking they may have 10 or 15 exhibits,” DeRosa recalls. “But they kept calling me and saying they needed more space … they grew to nearly 30 exhibits their first year.”
STEMfest, now in its second year, is officially a local phenomenon.
Exhibitors fill the high school gym and parking lot with interactive stations related to a wide range of science fields and geared toward students of any age.
“They can focus on activities for young students; we could have very complicated high school level, college level things; and we can have everything in between,” DeRosa says. “It’s really kind of a great family event.”
From building with Legos to advanced robotics, music to finger-painting, STEMfest has something for everyone.
All of it is free and not for profit, and DeRosa says that seeing the community engaged with science and tech is a reward in and of itself. “When the organizers look around and see the place is full … it’s exciting.”
The event also offers kids the invaluable opportunity to get hands-on experience with cutting-edge technology.
At one station, kids got to work with 3D printers making small handheld objects. At another, they learned to program basic robots. Since 3D printing and automation are industries on the rise, kids at STEMfest are engaging with the jobs of the future. And since STEM industries in general are some of the fastest growing in the United States, getting to work directly with industry-leading technology is a huge advantage.
According to Education Week, you can’t start STEM education early enough children are naturally curious scientists and engineers, and nurturing that curiosity has a direct connection to kids pursuing the vital science and technology careers of the future.
Karen DeRosa agrees. “We think that natural curiosity is so vital to tap into,” she says. “And the traditional classroom and traditional curriculum cant always reach everyone with the same level of interest or activity. STEMfest gives that opportunity.”
Most of all, STEMfest shows how powerful a community can be when they’re driven to inspire.
Springboro had to overcome a dire lack of funding to pull off STEMfest, and they did it because they worked together as a community. Parents, teachers, students, and anyone else who could spare money or time came together to create a uniquely engaging and inspiring event.
When an absence of federal money leaves gaps in education, communities have the ability to step up and fill those gaps. It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to inspire them and help shape them into the leaders of the future.