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Using a "Flat Stanley" to Travel Through The Rockefeller University

By Lizzie Krisch

A couple of months ago, a middle schooler from Kermit, TX, asked the Rockefeller community to partake in her Flat Stanley project. Little did we know, it would be a transformative experience for all!

“How many of you are familiar with Rockefeller University?”. This usually how Dr. Odaelys Pollard begins her LAB Experiences.

“The christmas tree!”, one child exclaims.

“Ooh..the skating rink?” another follows.

We ask this question to our students, not only as a segue into our day of research, learning and collaboration, but also since many students who walk through our RockEDU halls—either for a LAB Experience, RockEDU Presents or even LAB Jumpstart—haven’t actually heard of us.

The Rockefeller University.

We’re the oldest biomedical research institution in the United States. A quick google search can pull up those results.

Founded in 1901 by John D. Rockefeller.

25 Nobel Prize winners. 23 Lasker Award winners. 

But, beyond that. Who are we? What do Rockefeller University scientists, scholars and employees do on a day-to-day basis? And, how does a research institution, with many moving parts remain productive, efficient and successful day in and day out? The answer is: Support. At every level.

In this blog post, we’re going to show you Rockefeller University through the lens of a “Flat Stanley”.


That 1965, Jeff Brown, Children’s book where a young boy is accidentally “flattened”, but finds meaning in his life through his new physical state (such as simple travel!).

In 1995, an elementary school teacher created the “The Flat Stanley Project“, in an effort to encourage students to engage with literature in a fun and tangible way. The basic protocol for the Flat Stanley has remained consistent—students read the book, color in a Stanley cut-out, write a brief story and mail him to a participating class where the receiver takes a photo, details his adventure and sends him back—, however since the project’s inception it has grown to include a diverse array of culturally-inclusive Flat Stanleys and has spread beyond the classroom and across the globe!

Fast forward 24 years, and Flat Stanley projects are still going on in classrooms throughout the United States and beyond! A couple of months ago, a middle school student from Kermit, Texas, reached out out to our RockEDU team, in request of participating in her Flat Stanley project. Our team jumped at the opportunity to show children, and the larger community, a bit of perspective into our work at Rockefeller, and the multiple layers that contribute to our fine-tuned operation!

What began as a middle school project, quickly developed into an institutional-wide, collaborative and eye-opening experience. This not only facilitated an incredible behind-the-scenes opportunity for our middle school student, but also allowed the Rockefeller community to join together and realize our unique and critical roles in the institution.

Ashley Foo is our Director of Occupational Health and a certified Nurse Practitioner!

Our Flat Stanley cut-out took full advantage of her one-dimensional figure, and hopped around Rockefeller—from our laboratories to our human resources, occupational health services, classical concerts, library, custodial, food service, security and everywhere in between!

Rockefeller University classical concerts are free and held every Friday!

This not only served as an excellent reminder of all of the “moving parts” that are responsible for keeping an institution afloat, but also provided a great opportunity to place “faces” on a large and diverse community of professionals.

Flat Stanley received a tutorial on using a micropipette in a real lab!

When we place faces on an institution, such as Rockefeller, it not only humanizes the people behind the university, but also allows individuals to engage with science in a unique way. Experiencing first-hand the diversity of institutional work opens endless opportunities for young professionals to envision themselves as part of the scientific community.

Our flat stanley got the chance to meet our excellent food services team!

Similarly to the goals of our Flat Stanley project, At RockEDU Science Outreach, one of our core objectives is to dismiss the stereotype of what science looks like, how science can be achieve and who can pursue science. By bringing students into our RockEDU laboratory, we facilitate an environment of conversation, engagement and inquiry.

Which one is not the same as the rest?! Our flat stanley slid into numerous laboratories around Rockefeller to learn all about the research happening on a day-to-day basis!

Dismissing the stereotype of what science should look like forces us to recategorize our definitions of science, research and institutions.

Not only is science a diverse mixture of interests, ethnicities, genders and backgrounds, but research institutions are a lot more than just conducting research. To engage with science, and become part of the dialogue, an individual does not need to conduct experiments in a lab, wear a white lab coat, or come from a specific background.

All of us at Rockefeller University engage with science in different capacities and variations based on our role within the institution.

Flat stanley got to meet our Security department and assist in keeping our Rockefeller community safe!

This Flat Stanley project, although generally intended for grade school children, is an excellent reminder of the diversity and community that forms the backbone of our institution, as well as the multitude of outlets that facilitate science engagement. These photos provide a degree of insight that cannot be found on a “quick google search”, yet are arguably most critical in providing a glimpse into who Rockefeller University is!

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