Brookhaven Lab and Boys & Girls Club of Shinnecock Nation Team Up for DIY STEM Program

Connecting concepts in STEM to the world around them, Shinnecock youth become engaged in the science of energy, the environment, and more

Scott Bronson engages participants from the Boys & Girls Club of the Shinnecock Nation in a less enlarge

Scott Bronson engages participants from the Boys & Girls Club of the Shinnecock Nation in a lesson about cosmic rays using a cloud chamber.

The word ‘science’ often conjures up images of people in white coats, complex instruments, and pristine laboratory spaces, and while this is often the case, science can look very different depending on where it’s happening. At the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, we strive to incorporate the perspectives and experiences of the people we collaborate and work with to broaden our own understanding of how science and technology touch the world around us. As we’ve partnered with schools and organizations in the local community to create engaging STEM curriculums, we’ve also gained insight into what that has looked like in the lens of different histories and traditions.

“We often don't realize the connection that our Shinnecock ancestors had to their understanding of the universe,” said Dyashwa Sylvester, director of the Boys & Girls Club of Shinnecock Nation. “They knew that everything was connected, and when you talk about scientific concepts like electricity, atoms, molecules, and everything in between, you realize how much of an understanding that they had back then because of the way that our culture is set up right now. Things that were passed down to us and embedded in our culture were based on experiences that our ancestors already had with the world around them. These science outreach programs are acknowledging the connection that we’ve had for many, many, many years.”

Sylvester is an integral part of the small team engaging Shinnecock youth in The Boys and Girls Club of America’s DIY STEM program. The organization’s Native Service’s division has adapted this activity-based Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math for Native 9- to 12-year-olds to help them make connections between scientific principles and real-world application. The DIY STEM Native Adaptation also features history, achievements, and current news related to STEM applications in Native culture to increase youth interest in activities and future career aspirations.

“There are actually over 225 Native American Boys and Girls Clubs across the United States, which is pretty amazing,” explained Sylvester. “They have different native adapted programs, and one that they approached us with was the DIY STEM program. At the time, Skye Kujawski was our program coordinator, and she knew Scott Bronson from the Office of Educational Programs (OEP) at Brookhaven Lab from her days as an intern there. Scott was able to come in every week and incorporate the STEM parts of the sessions and a man by the name of Shane Weeks assisted in incorporating the native cultural component of the workshops. For example, when Scott was discussing electricity, Shane related the lesson to the Thunderbird.”

The lessons were all highly interactive and gave students a chance to take a closer look at the way everyday things in their lives work. They built homemade light bulbs and battery powered electromagnets, they took binoculars out to gaze at the night sky, they learned about their environment and the way the climate interacted with it. All of these lessons built a positive relationship with concepts in STEM, as they weren’t as far removed from the day-to-day as they may seem and brought them even closer with deeply rooted cultural and historical ties.

Scott Bronson visits the Boys and Girls Club of Shinnecock Nation for an interactive lesson on magnets.

“The kids loved what we did and all of the examples that Scott brought in were amazing. If we didn't partner with the laboratory, we wouldn't have access to a cloud machine. Having those types of experiences sparks an interest within them that they didn't even know they had, they always came back for more, so just giving the kids the opportunity is really beneficial to them,” said Sylvester.

With the success of this collaboration, more of these mutually beneficial programs are in development. In an effort helmed by Brookhaven Lab, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Long Island Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission, students from school districts all over Long Island work alongside environmental professionals to collect scientific information and analyze samples to capture a snapshot of the environmental health of these ecosystems. Building on the experience from the Day in the Life of the Peconic River, the Shinnecock Nation are now working with OEP to adapt this program for a site on their territory, as part of a new estuary location in the Shinnecock Bay.

“This adapted program will involve the Shinnecock Nation’s Boys and Girls Club, as well as the Shinnecock Nation’s Environmental Department and the broader Shinnecock Nation community,” explained Bronson. “The first pilot for this Shinnecock Nation ‘Day in the Life’ program is scheduled for late spring 2023. We anticipate the student participants will present their scientific data at the Shinnecock Nation’s annual Earth Day and Water Day celebrations.”

“We need different adults in the Community to take on these careers, that will help us monitor water quality and take a catalog of our plants and our animals and what's going on within our community and how it affects what we do, environmentally, as a nation. This partnership has been amazing and I'm looking forward to more opportunities and building a stronger relationship for the years to come. Everything that I do, we do, is done carefully with consideration for our children. We really have to embrace them and let them know that they're loved, obviously, but also instill in them the pride that they need to walk this earth as strong Shinnecock people. It’s valuable for them to have these different experiences and for us to have a different means to help them get to the level that they want to reach to be successful, productive, caring citizens.”

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

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