CityLab and Urban Squash: A New Pathway to Achieve STEM Success

A new partnership unites biochemistry curriculum with urban squash physiology and education programs.
Photo courtesy of the Science + Education Alliance.
  • Project Description

    The specific aims of this project are to:

    1. Build and implement a new laboratory-based exercise physiology curriculum by leveraging the burgeoning partnership among Boston University and Fordham University, three urban squash education programs (SquashBusters of Boston/Lawrence, CitySquash of the Bronx, and StreetSquash of Harlem), and Squash + Education Alliance (previously known as the National Urban Squash and Education Association).
    2. Investigate the role of Science Learner Identity in URM/low SES students as a predictor of sustained involvement in STEM activities.
    3. Train undergraduate and graduate students from Boston University and Fordham University to serve as, near-peer mentors, learn science content and pedagogy, and teach the pre-college students. Assess the impact of these experiences on the university students and pre-college students.
    4. Develop and begin to implement a national dissemination strategy to encourage the other seventeen urban squash education programs to adopt this model, particularly in association with nearby SEPA programs.
  • Abstract

    This project specifically addresses the SMRB’s imperative that “NIH’s pre-college STEM activities need a rejuvenated integrated focus on biomedical workforce preparedness with special considerations for under-represented minorities.”

    Approximately one-third of CityLab’s participants are under-represented minority (URM) students, but we now have a unique opportunity to build a program that will reach many URM students and position them for undergraduate STEM success. We have partnered with urban squash education organizations in Boston (SquashBusters) and New York (CitySquash and StreetSquash) that recruit URM/low SES students to participate in after-school squash training and academic enrichment programs. We have also partnered with the Squash + Education Alliance (previously named the National Urban Squash and Education Association) to disseminate the new program—first from Boston to New York and later through its national network of affiliated squash education programs.

    In order to bring this project to fruition, Boston University is joining forces with Fordham University in New York. Fordham is home to CitySquash so these organizations provide an ideal base for the New York activities. The proposed project will enable us to demonstrate feasibility and replicability within the 5-year scope of this grant. Our shared vision is to develop a national model for informal precollege biomedical science education that can be infused into a myriad of similar athletic/academic enrichment programs.

    The squash education movement for urban youth has been highly successful in enrolling program graduates in college. Since the academic offerings of the squash education programs focus on English Language Arts and Mathematics, their students struggle with science and rarely recognize the tremendous opportunities for long- term employment in STEM fields.

    This project will bring CityLab’s resources to local squash programs in a coordinated and sustained engagement to introduce students to STEM, specifically the biomedical sciences. Together with the urban squash centers, we will build upon the hands-on life science experiences developed and widely disseminated by CityLab to create engaging laboratory-based experiences involving athletics and physiology.

    The specific aims of the proposed project are:

    (1) to develop, implement, and evaluate a new partnership model for recruiting URM/low SES students and inspiring them to pursue careers in STEM and

    (2) to examine changes in the science learner identities (SLI) of the students who participate in this program and establish this metric as a marker for continued engagement in STEM.

    With the involvement of the two urban research universities, three local squash education programs, and SEA, we see this new SEPA initiative as a unique way to pilot, refine, and disseminate an after-school/informal science education program that can have a significant impact on the nation’s production of talented STEM graduates from URM/low SES backgrounds.

  • Additional Information

    Partnering Institution

    Fordam University 

    Community Partners

    Squashbusters (SqB) SqB was founded in 1996 as the first after-school program of its kind in the United States—combining squash, academics, and community service. The organization’s aim was to serve students from Boston and Cambridge Public Schools through the most crucial years of their development, with the goals of building strong personal character, ensuring that students matriculate to and graduate from college, and improving the overall physical and emotional health of its students. In 2003, SqB moved into its own youth center which houses eight squash courts and four classrooms, providing an appropriate setting for the first offering of the newly developed CityLab curriculum. The new facility has allowed SqB to triple its enrollment by launching a high school program, college counseling, and an alumni support program.

    CitySquash (CS) CS is a not-for-profit after-school enrichment program based in the Bronx at Fordham University and in Brooklyn at Poly Prep (although there are no definite plans to expand to Brooklyn within the five years of this grant, Brooklyn will be a possible early site for the national dissemination effort). CS helps motivated and talented young people from economically disadvantaged households fulfill their academic, athletic and personal potential. Founded in 2002, CS currently serves 175 elementary, middle, high school and college students. CS requires an intensive, year-round commitment that includes squash, tutoring, mentoring, community service, travel, culture, college prep, and career support. CS begins working with students in third grade and serves them through college graduation.

    StreetSquash (SS) SS was founded in September 1999 as the second urban squash program in the United States. A comprehensive youth enrichment program, SS combines academic tutoring, squash instruction, community service, college preparation, leadership development, and mentoring for young people ages 11-24. What began as an after-school program with 24 middle school students and 2 staff members has expanded to serve nearly 300 participants from 6th grade through college graduation and entry into the workforce. To support its activities, SS has had significant success in fundraising to support its activities. For example, the StreetSquashCup raised more than $1.1M in May 2015.

    Squash + Education Alliance (SEA) The urban squash education model has been replicated throughout the country and abroad (in Canada, Colombia, India, and South Africa). Today, there are independent urban squash education programs in Boston, Bronx/Brooklyn, Harlem/Newark, Philadelphia, Hartford, New Haven, Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Denver, Santa Barbara, Oakland and San Diego, collectively serving more than 1000 students per year. These independent organizations have satisfied SEA’s strict standards for membership including requirements for academic offerings and fundraising to ensure the vitality and success of all programs (16). SEA’s mission “is to support the creation, development, and improvement of urban squash and education programs across the United States and around the world.” (17) SEA helps to launch new urban squash education programs and supports its member programs by identifying best practices and creating forums to share ideas.

Project Photos

  • Photo courtesy of the Science + Education Alliance.

  • Photo courtesy of the Science + Education Alliance.

  • Photo courtesy of the Science + Education Alliance.

  • Photo courtesy of the Science + Education Alliance.

  • Photo courtesy of the Science + Education Alliance.

  • Photo courtesy of the Science + Education Alliance.

  • Photo courtesy of the Science + Education Alliance.

Project Audience

Middle and high school students, initially focused on those who are enrolled in participating urban squash education programs in MA and NY

Subjects Addressed

Exercise physiology, molecular biology, cardiovascular system

Associated SEPA Project(s)