Last week, we were privileged to meet one of Pennsylvania’s most accomplished educators and science advocates. Adelle Schade, founder of the Science Research Institute (SRI), visited AFFT’s office in Harrisburg and spoke to our team about her move from teacher to R&D rock star.
After 24 years of teaching science at Conrad Weiser Middle School in Robesonia, PA, Adelle realized that a standard high school education could only take her students so far. So she took a big risk on something new: a professional research laboratory where high school students could design their own inventions and file their own patents.
Adelle’s Science Research Institute solves an important problem with standard science education: conventional classes cramp kids’ creativity and kill their love of learning during their most imaginative and inventive years. Building bridges with toothpicks and marshmallows or baking soda volcanoes won’t provide students the industry-level tools or real-world experiences they deserve. If we want students to succeed after school, we need to unleash their creativity.
Her passion project soon became more successful than her wildest dreams. By focusing on material science—a major gap in conventional science education—the brilliant students at SRI developed some incredible prototypes, including organic glass synthesized from plentiful Pennsylvanian chicken manure. Several of her students started receiving offers as high as $50,000 for their science projects! Together with a team of attorneys, Adelle facilitated some of the first intellectual property contracts for minors in Pennsylvania history.
Since its inception, SRI has attracted 90+ business partners, hundreds of students, teachers, and interns, and millions of dollars in investment. That’s the very definition of success—and it’s amazed those who said it couldn’t be done.
For all her tenacity and next-level thinking, Adelle is very humble about her organization’s victories. She prefers to give credit to her fellow teachers and administrators, communities like AFFT who have supported her along the way, and of course, her students.
The typical applicant to SRI isn’t a 4.0 student. The program is off the beaten path. Kids who struggle in standard subjects feel at home in SRI’s atmosphere of outside-the-box thinking.
Adelle doesn’t just channel the energy of students who are already successful. She offers an unconventional path to success.
Adelle recently did an interview with SRI 7th-grader Alaina Giffing, who is studying the effects of vegetable extracts on cancer cells. Alaina has lost several family members from cancer, and is eager to test whether nature holds the cure.
She hasn’t made much headway yet—bacteria began growing on her cell models, resulting in an initial failed experiment. “I had a lot of trial and error with this,” she says, but she’s more optimistic than ever. At SRI, experiments aren’t meant to achieve a particular result—because that’s not how science works. Failure is the first step on the road to success.
When Adelle came to visit our office in Harrisburg last week, she reminded us that young science students are used to being told “no” and instructed how to color inside the lines. But the Science Research Institute enrolls risk takers and creative thinkers, and tells them to “try it.”
It’s a good thing Adelle decided to “try it” too—because she leads by example. Her open-mindedness and tenacity has clearly rubbed off on the students! We’re grateful to have her as an AFFT member, and we thank her for her visit last week.