Generating excitement about science
By Sharon Gray
Let’s Talk Science co-ordinators (L-R) Natalie Nichols, Victoria Windle and Shannon Obradovich. (Photo by HSIMS)
Volunteer graduate students in Medicine and Science at Memorial University go out of their way to share their excitement about science with students in schools throughout the province through the Let’s Talk Science Partnership Program, a national program with partners in most provinces of Canada.
For the past two years Victoria Windle, a graduate student in Neuroscience in the Faculty of Medicine, has been one of the co-ordinators of the program. As she will be retiring this year, the leadership of the program will fall to two new co-ordinators who joined the program in the fall of 2004 Natalie Nichols, a graduate student in Biochemistry and Shannon Obradovich, a graduate student in Biology. “We’ve been trying to incorporate graduate students in more areas of the university and having Natalie and Shannon as co-ordinators has been a big help in this area,” said Ms. Windle.
Ms. Obradovich said that the past year was one of growth for the program, thanks to the work of all the co-ordinators. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of volunteers to about 40 from many disciplines. There have also been increases in the number of teachers involved and the number of students reached.
“Last year we reached 800 youth in high schools and elementary schools in the province, but this year we have already reached about 2,000,” she said. “We also usually do some work with Cubs and Girl Guides and at school science fairs.”
Ms. Obradovich said one of the major challenges for the Let’s Talk Science volunteers is reaching children across the entire province. “We are committed to doing this, as we are the only site within the province. Other provinces have at least a couple of universities running this program.”
Ms. Windle elaborated on how this commitment was fulfilled during her time as a coordinator. “Because of the geography of the province, volunteers do some whole school visits in order to maximize the number of students they see. In March, Jared Clarke also a graduate student in Medicine and I visited Wesleyville, Centreville and Fogo for two days and did science activities with 500 young people.”
Because the weather affects travelling, most school visits are done in a short time frame in the spring. “We generally send out a fax at the beginning of the year to all schools and then try to pair volunteers up with requests for visits. We can’t meet all the needs but this past year we managed to reach at least seven communities that we had not visited before,” said Ms. Windle. “Overall, during the 2004-05 school year, graduate students from Memorial visited six communities outside the Avalon Peninsula, traveling 4,500 kilometres and bringing activities for 1,500 children in six different schools from Fogo to Burnt Islands, near Port aux Basques.”
Ms. Obradovich said Let’s Talk Science had so many requests for visits outside of the Avalon Peninsula region during the past year that volunteers were unable to meet them all. In the next year, a major goal of the program is to send graduate students to Labrador to run hands-on activities in schools there.
“Recruiting graduate students and teachers to the program begins in September,” she said. “We would like to see an increase in the participation of Physics, Engineering and Earth Science graduate students this fall. This would allow us to introduce new programs, like a hands-on robotics workshop for students of all ages.”
Graduate students interested in being involved with Let’s Talk Science can contact Natalie Nichols at email@example.com or Shannon Obradovich at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Let’s Talk Science program at Memorial is supported with funding from the Medical Graduate Students Society, the Graduate Students’ Union, Research and Graduate Studies (Medicine), the Dean of Medicine, the Dean of Science and the School of Graduate Studies.