Jan 22, 2022
URI alumni and fellow college students support disadvantaged school systems with academic resources.
This article was authored by Laine Fischer, a writer for Momentum: Research & Innovation, and adapted here by Victor M. Hunt.
Sprout and S.T.E.M. Vice President and Tutoring Coordinator Weston de Lomba utilizes a multimedia approach to engage a student during a geometry lesson.
When a 2019 review by the Johns Hopkins School of Education painted a disappointing picture of the Providence public schools, two University of Rhode Island (URI) alumni saw an opportunity to intervene.
Concerned by chronic underperformance and a lack of academic resources, Victor M. Hunt ‘19 and Mark Liptak ‘19 established the nonprofit organization Sprout and S.T.E.M. to support historically disadvantaged school systems. With a focus on science and math, the organization has recruited dozens of undergraduate and graduate students to provide a free tutoring service.
“Given the proximity of so many colleges and universities to public schools in Providence, it makes sense for us to connect with local high school students,” Hunt states. “We have so much intellectual talent at these institutions — why not draw from them and reallocate human resources to the schools that need them the most?”
Over several months, Hunt scoured his social and professional networks to connect Sprout and S.T.E.M. with talented individuals who shared a passion for science and a strong desire to help the local community. Now the nonprofit boasts more than 70 volunteers, with the majority sourced from
URI, Brown University, and Rhode Island College.
In addition to his role as the organization’s executive director, Hunt is completing a master’s degree in biochemical neuroscience and is in the midst of applying to medical school.
Biochemical neuroscience master’s candidate Victor Hunt, loads samples of hydrophobic proteins into an SDS-PAGE gel to conduct an aggregation assay.
Liptak, who completed his bachelor’s degree in psychology and joined Hunt as a co-founder in the earliest days of the organization, recalls when Sprout and S.T.E.M. was in its infancy.
“In the very beginning, we would go to Classical High School at the end of the school day and host tutoring sessions in biology, chemistry, physics, and math,” says Liptak. “This is where our passion for helping students really came to life.”
The organization faced its most significant challenges when confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, Hunt and Liptak quickly responded to school closures by adopting a virtual platform. While the organization has since resumed its after school program, one-on-one tutoring sessions continue via Zoom.
Hunt and Liptak have incorporated additional services, including a mentorship program and scholarship fund. The duo has eagerly collaborated with other academically oriented organizations such as Students for Educational Equity at Brown University and the College Crusades.
Presently, Sprout and S.T.E.M. is focused on developing its most recent partnership with the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, a network of small public high schools in Providence and Newport. Volunteers have collaborated to provide intensive and individualized instruction in math for ninth graders at the Providence campus.
Hunt and Liptak are members of a larger executive board that guides the organization and provides administrative oversight. The board includes several URI alumni (Anthony Rampone ‘18, Lauren Szpond ‘19, Christopher Hardy ‘20) and a group of Connecticut College alumni (Weston de Lomba, Noor Kouki, James Murray). Hunt emphasizes that the entire board has been indispensable to the success of the organization.
When asked about the future of the Sprout and S.T.E.M., Hunt hopes to increase the participation of URI undergraduates to ensure the long-term sustainability of the organization and continue supporting students in the greatest need.
“We’re trying to better prepare students with free academic resources and get them the things that they don’t normally have,” says Hunt. “We need more help in order to do that. Moving forward, we hope to expand our services to additional high schools throughout the state and beyond.”