Fuel Your Curiosity.

This isn’t your typical science class. At FirstHand, an educational initiative at the University City Science Center, classroom lessons are brought to life through engaging projects and real-life lab environments. By adding the Arts to the STEM disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, FirstHand provides a gateway to creative, design-based applications of science and technology. Students learn what it means to experiment and determine things firsthand alongside scientists and educators. As a result, they gain personal experiences that allow them to fully grasp the power of STEM subjects and get excited about how to apply the subjects in their own lives.

There’s nothing more impactful for a student than hands-on experience. Through interactive programming, students design experiments, test hypotheses and work toward final projects to share with the community. Programs are supplemented with mentorships from the Science Center’s resident companies, where students learn about and experience real-life STEM entrepreneurship in real-world applications. For educators who are interested in bringing this inquiry-based learning into their classroom, we also provide the opportunity to join workshops and trainings on integrating STEAM practices into everyday education.

Serving Philadelphia youth from under-resourced schools and the teachers, professionals and families from their communities, FirstHand aims to spark an interest in the STEAM disciplines for students to explore and cultivate throughout their lives. By giving students the opportunity to ask more questions, create new solutions and explore science firsthand, we’re opening the doors for the minds of tomorrow.

Our Impact in 2016

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students participated in FirstHand programs for 2,700+ hours.

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program hours in the lab were spent with Science Center residents, allowing students to experience real-world science firsthand.

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educators participated in 1,205 hours of FirstHand workshops.

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professional scientists from 15 Science Center companies mentored students in their company labs.

Who We Are

Ready to explore science and creativity? These energetic, innovative educators are leading the way into the STEAM disciplines through new perspectives and hands-on activities. From outdoor exploration to interactive technology, the FirstHand team has vast amount of knowledge and expertise to ensure each program is an exciting, collaborative experience.

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David Clayton

Director

David Clayton is the go-to guy for exploring creativity and technology through design. As the Director of FirstHand, David leads the development and implementation of community and youth outreach programs. David joined the Science Center in 2008 as the curator for the Esther Klein Gallery and initiated the arts, technology and science community outreach program that has since grown into FirstHand. He has curated over 20 different interactive exhibitions showcasing data visualization, augmented reality, robotics, video-game hacking and 3D printing. Prior to coming on board at the Science Center, David earned a Master of Fine Arts from Syracuse University, and developed K-12 arts-based learning and digital literacy programs that bring digital arts and literacy programming to schools in Syracuse, NY. He also co-curates the Ignite Philly speaker series.

As a curious kid,
David’s grandfather taught him how to weld and use a cutting torch when he was nine.

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Maya Heiland

Program Coordinator

Maya Heiland brings science out of the textbook and into everyday experiences as Program Coordinator for FirstHand. A proponent of the power of the outdoors in experiential education, Maya uses her past experiences to inform her curriculum development. Before starting at the Science Center in 2014, Maya worked with a public transportation agency in Washington, developing after-school programs, STEM classes and a community-run bike shop. She has led students through caves and aquifer systems, up rock walls and onto river islands. She has taught programs for the Austin Nature and Science Center, The Outdoor School, The Schuylkill Center and Talking Stick Learning Center. In addition to teaching at the Science Center, Maya runs a high school biology class at the Mount Airy Homeschooling Cooperative. She received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Drexel University.

As a curious kid,
Maya and her twin sister used to make homemade fireworks.

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Adam Durant

Program Facilitator

Adam brings years of classroom experience as a secondary science educator to FirstHand as Program Facilitator. Before joining FirstHand, Adam taught secondary science for 6 years in the School District of Philadelphia. Through his tenure, Adam developed the middle school science curriculum at Meredith Elementary while sponsoring students to participate in the city-wide Carver Science Fair. Adam has also taught in the University of Pennsylvania’s Upward Bound program, in which he developed and implemented a college prep curriculum for high school students. Adam is involved in a number of local organizations for science education. He is a member of the Pennsylvania Earth & Space Teacher Association (PAESTA) and has participated in the program’s five year partnership program with Penn State University. Adam is a native of Philadelphia and is an alumnus of Central High School, Temple University, and Arcadia University, where he received his Masters of Education.

As a curious kid, Adam took apart a lot of electronics just to see what was inside.

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Melissa Kurman

Program Facilitator

Melissa channels her passions for ecology and STEM outreach towards inspiring future scientists as a Program Facilitator with FirstHand. Prior to joining the team, Melissa taught introductory biology labs in the California State University system for two years, while also participating in extensive STEM outreach. Melissa co-founded the Girls in Science & Technology (GIST) club for middle-school girls in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which continues to flourish since she moved back to Philadelphia. When not in the classroom, Melissa could be found in the lab, on a boat, or SCUBA diving to pursue research on the mechanisms through which marine foundation species (deep-sea corals and marine algae) can adapt to survive a changing climate. Melissa earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Temple University, and her Master of Science in Biology from California State University, Northridge.

As a curious kid, Melissa collected clay from local streams to make arts and crafts.

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Charlie Hale

Program Fellow

As Program Fellow, Charlie brings to Firsthand years of tutoring and research experience in the natural sciences. Charlie joins the team fresh out of Haverford College, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology.  His areas of research in college included ant genetics, E. coli infection models, and the plant microbiome.  Enthusiastic about working both inside and outside the lab, he is eager to help empower young people and advocate for science through his role at Firsthand.

As a curious kid, Charlie was fascinated by street sweepers and would bolt out of the house to watch them go by.