I AM A HUDSON VALLEY PARENT: SUSAN CIANFRANI



Empowering young minds through math and science

Susan Cianfrani, Oakwood Friends School, science and math camp, girls only math camp, girls only science camp, STEM day camps
 
It was the birth of her son that inspired Susan Cianfrani to reconsider her 12-year engineering career with IBM at the Fishkill campus.

"I realized that I was more excited about starting a family than I was about going back to work there," she says.

So, she started to look close to home to see what she might do next.

"Home" was then, and still is, the Oakwood Friends School campus in Poughkeepsie, a 220-year-old college preparatory school for grades 6 through 12. Cianfrani's husband, Charles, previously the physics and robotics teacher, was named head of school last year.

An idea is born
Cianfrani's work at the school began when she was brought on to tackle a massive database project. It was during that time she became more familiar with the school's faculty, as well as with the one-week camps held at the school during the summer.  

"The camps... were very art-centered, with crafts and singing and nature," she says.

In thinking about how the curriculum of the camp might be changed up, Cianfrani said she was informed by her own experience of having been one of two female engineers in a room full of male engineers. She also was aware some research found that it's during a girl's middle school years that she either embraces math and science, or veers away from those subjects.

READ MORE: Math and Science games your kids will love

"So we went to the chair of the math and science department," she recalls, "and said, 'What about a math and science camp, but just for middle school girls?'"

 The lab meets the world
With that suggestion, the SAM Camp (Science and Math) was born.  
"I want to pull girls back into the fold and encourage them, to stick with it, and make it more fun for them," Cianfrani says. "I want to encourage more girls to pursue at least further studies in these fields, if not outright careers. And we just received a grant to set up a scholarship. We want to make the camp open to any young girls, whether they have the means to pay for it, or not."

The camp features guest speakers and field trips to various locations around the Hudson Valley, from a trip to the Walkway over the Hudson to study structural engineering, to Vassar College to learn about the science of art restoration. After that, it's back to the lab for a project based on where the campers visited.

"So after we went to the walkway, we built our own bridges with popsicle sticks," she says. "We visited a sewage treatment plant, and then when we got back to campus, we filtered our own water to see which materials worked best."

READ MORE: The importance of starting STEM lessons early
 
At the end of the week, the girls put on a science fair to make presentations to their parents and the public. It's on that final day that Cianfrani gets a glimpse into the changes that even a week of camp can bring about in a young girl's life.

"On Monday when they arrive and they don't know a lot of people, they're very shy," she says. "But on Friday when they're front and center, presenting what they learned, you see the spark that's going to motivate them to keep going throughout the year. Seeing that excitement and motivation to want to do more is what I love about this camp."

Sharing lessons at home
She uses the same methods of exploration and discovery at home with her two sons, 7-year-old Henry and 5-year-old Andy. In a sense, she treats parenting like the scientist she is and the kids' education as a kind of ongoing experiment. 

"With my kids at home, we'll learn about math or science and I'll say 'And that's how this works, too,'" she says. "I try to make those connections, introduce new things to them so I can see what it will be that sparks their interest; seeing those little wheels turning in their heads, figuring it out."

The family especially enjoys building with Legos and letterboxing, an outdoor activity that entails looking for clues online that lead to hidden letterbox caches stashed throughout local parks.

"The kids love it because it's basically a treasure hunt," she explains.

READ MORE: Former IBMer shares love of math with local kids

Working from the same campus on which she lives allows Cianfrani to merge her home and work life together. And that will continue when her boys are old enough to be enrolled at Oakwood.
 
"I can't wait. And honestly, they can't wait either," she says.

Brian PJ Cronin is a freelance writer whose work appears throughout the Hudson Valley.


Other articles by or about "I am a Hudson Valley Parent"


  • I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Sarah Omura

    A momtrepreneur in a community of makers

    Sarah Omura used her creativity to turn her son's handmade play mats into a business that kids love and parents appreciate. read more »
  • I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Pastor Jeromey Howard

    Drawing inspiration from parenting

    Pastor Jeromey Howard is making a new home for himself in Orange County and a family within his congregation at First Presbyterian Church in Montgomery. He turns to his young daughter when he needs inspiration and to get a glimpse of how humanity should be. read more »
  • I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Melissa Banks

    Making every day like Christmas

    Melissa Banks's generosity spreads to families throughout Ulster County each year through her organization Christmas Wishes. See how she turned hardship into an opportunity to give back. read more »
  • I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Allison Conti

    Advocating for families with special needs

    Dutchess County mom Allison Conti has always been an advocate for her own family's special needs. Now, she is known as an advocate for other families and stands with those in her community and beyond. read more »
  • I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Dan Hoffman

    Parenting with a 24/7 career

    Dutchess County dad and New York State Trooper Dan Hoffman makes sure his children know that police work never stops. He is lucky to have a supportive wife and a troop of officers beside him that can be there for his family when he is working. read more »
  • I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Amal Ishak

    Turning sweet dreams into reality

    Orange County mom Amal Ishak turned daydreams of a trendy boutique into a successful business that brings flare to the city that she loves. She counts on her "Liberty Street family" as a support system. read more »
  • I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Randi Zinn

    Going beyond being a mom to start a movement

    Randi Zinn is the author and founder of Beyond Mom. Her book has turned into a movement that helps other moms push themselves to live fully and drop the mommy guilt. read more »
  • I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Chris Hewitt

    Learning from the land and raising happy teens

    With a newspaper, a regional currency and an estate caretaking business, how does Chris Hewitt find time to raise two teenagers? read more »
  • I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Amy Dooley

    Finding a balance as a family

    Amy Dooley is a mom above everything. She balances going back to school and starting her own business while still making time for her daughters and their artistic interests read more »
  • I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Kristen Brown

    Raising her family on the farm

    Family farming has always been a part of Kristen Brown's life. The Orange County mom now shares her love of cows and agriculture with her growing family and with her community. read more »