Mount Alumna Set to Empower Refugee Children Through Science

Riverdale, N.Y. – Mount alumna Erika Gillette’06 is about to bring her passion for science outside the classroom, giving refugee children in camps throughout Greece the opportunity to practice science experiments with practical outcomes. Mrs. Gillette is a co-recipient of a $15,000 grant from the Blossom Hill Foundation, a 501c3, international grant-making foundation committed to serving children affected by conflict.

Mrs. Gillette received the grant through Blossom Hill’s fellowship program, which is renewable for one year, and provides social entrepreneurs the opportunity to carry out a bold idea aimed at positively impacting Middle Eastern communities—either in country or displaced due to conflict—by developing a project, program, or product for social good. The Blossom Hill Foundation was founded in 2009 by Shiva Sarram, a former child of war from Iran who fled Tehran in the early 1980s with her family to the United States.

Mrs. Gillette is the cofounder of HYPOTHEkids, an organization dedicated to providing underserved children the hands-on science and engineering skills they need to thrive in a high-tech society. She is driven to help children of all backgrounds and ability levels acquire critical STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills.

“I’m thrilled to work towards expanding opportunities for STEM education,” Mrs. Gillette said. Armed with a master’s degree in education from Teachers College at Columbia University and currently enrolled in its Science Education Program, Mrs. Gillette focuses her teaching on children’s interests and inherent strengths.

The first phase of the fellowship involved curating the kits. The kits contain six experiments covering themes including magnetism and electricity, physics, the living environment, and chemistry. Phase two entails researching and developing a distribution plan to effectively bring the kits to children in refugee camps. “We’ll later pilot programs to see how they’re working and continually refine them as needed,” Mrs. Gillette said.

Blossom Hill Foundation’s Deputy Director Sheila Renovitch said Mrs. Gillette’s application stood out because of its unique science focus. “It’s a way for children, many whose education has been disrupted by [conflict], to engage in an educational activity that transcends culture and language. They are learning vital skills through simple experiments.”

The impact of these experiments is profound. “You don’t need state-of-the-art labs to explore science,” Ms. Renovitch said. “These children, along with their families, are struggling in war-torn regions. Their education is on hold. Our goal is not to have a whole generation lost.”

Blossom Hill Foundation founder and president Shiva Sarram said, “We are thrilled to be able to fund innovative ideas from such incredibly committed fellows like Erika.”