Sarah Stark, a second-year Master's student in the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, wowed the audience in a Grad Slam preliminary round as she introduced her idea for using new media in education to change the world ... one student at a time. As Sarah prepares to graduate this spring with a Master's of Environmental Science and Management (MESM) and a specialization in Coastal Marine Resources Management, she took some time to respond to a few questions for the GradPost.
Read on to learn about Sarah's Eco-Entrepreneurship project, Smarty Pants, and how she hopes to launch it as a business after graduating.
Tell us a little about your research and how you came to choose the topic.
At the Bren School, every student is part of a Master’s Group Project, rather than a traditional individual Master’s thesis. These Group Projects consist of students working together to solve a problem for a client. We also have the option of pursuing the Eco-Entrepreneurship (Eco-E) focus, where we can propose our own Master’s project, but we treat it as though we are creating a business.
All Eco-E projects must solve a significant customer problem while providing an environmental benefit. I chose to go down this path after taking a few classes about entrepreneurship. I didn’t have any sort of business background as an undergraduate student studying science, so I thought I would expand my horizons. As an undergraduate student, one of my best friends and I had talked about creating a television show that taught science to kids, so I began exploring this topic at Bren, and my Master’s project eventually evolved out of that idea.
I never thought that I would actually be able to take my idea of a science television show for kids and run with it, especially as a basis for my Master’s project. I feel extremely fortunate that the Bren School has allowed me to research a topic that is so near and dear to my heart.
Tell us a little about your project “Smarty Pants.”
Smarty Pants creates educational media that teaches environmental science to students in grades K-8. It is presented in the form of webisodes, or web episodes. It is designed as a tool to save teachers time (e.g., preparing lesson plans) and to help them teach science in their classrooms. The webisodes are entertaining and informative for the students and they come with lesson plans and assessments for the teacher to use.
Our webisodes are episodic in order to feel more like a television show and less like a boring educational video. Each episode features our main characters going on an adventure to learn about an environmental issue in their community. Along the way, they learn the science behind the issue, so each webisode aligns with the required academic standards for each particular grade it is targeting.
We use live-action characters and local settings so students can relate to and look up to the characters. We want the students to feel empowered to solve environmental problems in their own backyards. We reach out to students that are often underrepresented in science by featuring students like them in our webisodes.
The ultimate goal of Smarty Pants is to increase environmental stewardship in youth by giving them the knowledge and self-efficacy to take care of the environment. Knowledge is power and we think that our media can inspire this next generation of students to save the planet.
What has graduate student life been like for you?
Busy. Extremely busy, but also extremely rewarding.
What has been a source of motivation or drive for you in your graduate studies?
I never thought that I would actually be able to take my idea of a science television show for kids and run with it, especially as a basis for my Master’s project. I feel extremely fortunate that the Bren School has allowed me to research a topic that is so near and dear to my heart. Also, the entire Bren community has been so supportive of our idea.
Name an accomplishment you are most proud of and explain why.
Smarty Pants recently competed in the International Business Model Competition at Harvard. We were one of 28 semifinalists, out of about 1,400 applicants. We were extremely proud that we got into the competition! While we did not move forward to finals, it was a great experience overall, and it was great for Smarty Pants to make connections on the East Coast.
What do you do to relax? Any hobbies, collections, pastimes, favorite places to go, favorite things to do?
I like to watch a lot of really bad TV shows because they help me zone out. I really enjoy baking treats and going out for good meals with my friends. I love going to shows, especially at smaller venues. I love relaxing at the beach as long as I have my SPF50 with me at all times!
What do you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?
I would really love to see Smarty Pants get off the ground as a business and ideally we would already have our products in some schools by then. In one way or another, I hope to be educating people about science and the world around us, because I think science can solve so many important issues these days.
Do you have any advice for current grad students?
Learn a lot, and work hard, but don’t forget to have fun!