Science camps, museum workshops, facility tours. These are all ways that young people can be introduced to science. I have been involved in outreach both as an undergraduate student, and now a PhD student. It has been near and dear to my heart because of lessons passed down from my mother who is at the forefront of early childhood education in the state of Pennsylvania. She taught me from a young age to follow my dreams and take on anything with a passion and determination. This is something I want every child to have the opportunity to experience. You never know when the next person will come along who changes the face of science forever. That is why through outreach I hope to provide encouragement and facilitate immersion into the world of science.
For the past eight years I have helped organize the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science (PJAS). This competition helps to promote science through a statewide competition. First place winners get the chance to compete at the championship held at Penn State’s University Park campus. Students from middle and high schools are able to enter. In fact the earlier the better. I have seen students begin competing in 7th grade and I see how their passion ignites well into their senior year of high school. I have helped organize, judge, and distribute scholarships to these up and coming scientists. It is through this competition I began my involvement in outreach.
After starting my job full time in Melissa Rolls’ lab I was asked to be a part of Higher Achievement. Scholars from middle school come to tour multiple labs at Penn State for exposure to a variety of sciences. In our lab we give a short talk and then we move quickly to a fun hands on exercise. We show the students different cell types under the microscope. These are things that they would never have the chance to see. This helps to accomplish one of Higher Achievements’ goals. To bridge the gap for people from communities that would not normally get to experience these opportunities. We show the scholars what they could work on and what their future jobs may be.
My most involved outreach program has been conducted over the last year. Last summer we brought a middle school teacher into the lab through the Research Experience for Teachers program (RET). Lori Piper a middle school science teacher from Altoona Junior High School came to conduct some research and help translate it into a classroom exercise. This experience ended up being much more than I realized. After Lori was done with her summer research she took some ideas back to her classroom to expose her students to research and how careers in research work. I traveled to Altoona to conduct experiments fully developed by her students on traumatic brain injury in neurodegenerative disease models. The students became so engaged and encouraged they wanted to enter the TSA Middle School Competition Event to show off their results. Both Lori and myself felt a wonderful feeling of pride when one of the groups took 2nd overall and stamped a bid to the regional championship. At the end of this semester the students will come to visit the lab to complete their introduction to science on a professional scale. It is through this immersive environment I hope that some of these students will be inspired to seek careers in science. Ultimately, the outreach programs I become involved with help inspire the next generation of scientists and bring science to some of the people who matter most: young minds.
Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) used in TBI
Links to these programs if you are interested in getting involved: