We started off 2023 with 33 Letter Opening Parties in seven states across the country: Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio and South Carolina. Nearly 2,000 middle and high school students learned about possible higher education journeys through their letters from STEM professionals. Students wrote back, then our 33 LPS teachers each facilitated one more Letter Opening Party to close out the 2022-23 school year in April and May. Between January and May, 7,600 letters were exchanged between student pre-scientists and STEM professional pen pals!
The LPS staff traveled to Euclid, Ohio to attend the final letter opening parties in Mrs. Davis’, Mrs. Rapsawich’s, Mrs. Haney’s and Ms. Nelson’s classes. It was magical to see students finally get to open what they had been waiting weeks to receive, snail mail letters from their STEM professional pen pals. At the beginning of class, teachers called student names to come to the front of the classroom to pick up their envelopes one by one. Once every student had their letter, the teachers announced “open your letters!” and a rush of excitement flowed through the room. Students quickly looked at photos and pictures on the pages of the letters and then began reading the words that filled in between them.
As we walked around the room, students shared bittersweet feelings. They were grateful for the correspondence with their STEM pen pals but also sad that the program was coming to the end. Students shared how their pen pals’ jobs connected to topics they learned about in science class, how their STEM pen pals’ journeys inspired them to learn more about different colleges and universities, and so much more. It was special to see the impact STEM pen pal mentors had on their pre-scientists firsthand.
After returning from the trip, we quickly began planning for the 2023-24 school year, motivated to bring the same impact to even more students in 2023-24. Throughout the summer, we added many new teachers to our team, preparing 46 teachers to host the pen pal program during the 2023-24 school year. Read more about them! When the school year commenced, we enrolled 3,100 5th-12th grade students in 13 different states nationwide: Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Wisconsin. Between match days this past fall and winter break, 12,248 letters were exchanged between pre-scientists and STEM pen pals!
In addition to expanding our program reach, we also built and debuted a STEM professional facing web-based app, “The LPS Mailbox,” making it easier for STEM pen pals to participate and engage in the program. Every matched STEM pen pal has an LPS Mailbox profile with personalized information about their pre-scientist and their program schedule. Unlike before, when pen pals relied completely on emails from Program Managers for information about the program, STEM professionals now have a one stop shop with everything they need to participate. Included in the Mailbox is a quicklink to our pen pal Discord server where STEM pen pals from around the world have a chance to connect and ask and offer advice when engaging with their pre-scientists.
Beyond connections happening in Discord, connections are happening in the classroom, too. Mrs. Kwan, a 5th grade teacher in National City, California, has a student who is matched with a pen pal who researches nanoparticles, which her students learned about last year. Mrs. Kwan shared, “It was so cool to see my student realize he had prior knowledge about what his pen pal wrote. I was also SO happy to listen to my student tell everything he remembered about nanoparticles to a classmate as he was reading his letter.”
Ms. Balazs’ middle school class in Homewood, Alabama, values being inclusive, and specifically LGBTQ-affirming. One of her students’ pen pals sent enough LGBTQ NASA pins and stickers for all her students to enjoy. Ms. Balazs said her students were so excited about the swag and immediately put them on their backpacks, water bottles and chromebooks.
In Mrs. Gundel’s class in West Warwick, Rhode Island, an aspiring engineer pre-scientist was presented with a challenge math problem in his first letter from his pen pal. He accepted the challenge and recruited some peers to try to solve the problem. Now, they’re eagerly waiting for the next letter to see if they got it right.
As we finish out the 2023-24 school year, pen pal pairs will deepen their relationships and discover even more connections through their letters. We’re proud to help empower students to discover their STEM potential and are eager to hear more from them as they continue to explore STEM through the experiences of their STEM pen pals.