Beyond acquiring data and publishing results, the graduate school experience should be more focused on being able to learn and understand new things from our daily experiments. It is also our responsibility as scientists to be able to share this knowledge to the public.
For the last few years at Johns Hopkins University, I am very happy to have had the chance to be a part of volunteer programs geared towards helping young people in Baltimore’s schools. Two of those are specifically for promoting STEM (that is, science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in elementary and high school students: STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools (SABES) and Women in Science and Engineering Program (WISE). I think both are really good programs.
I’ve met mentors and staff that are very dedicated to running these programs, and I highly recommend that graduate students participate in these mentoring opportunities. Seeing the students’ output at the end of the program and how they developed their skills within a short time is very fulfilling. It’s also surprising how I learned so much from teaching them, because it somehow requires me to be able to explain my research to these kids.
SABES, a five-year project that involves nine Baltimore City elementary and elementary/middle schools, is aimed at improving the city’s STEM curriculum and delivery in third through fifth graders. Mentors come to afterschool programs, and help students in their inquiry-based projects. The goal is to help the kids think in both a scientific and engineering way in the projects.
It’s so nice to see that the kids are very excited, and it’s very easy to get them involved in all the activities. I was surprised at first as to how competitive they are with each other, which I think drives them to be more interested and perform better in the assigned activities. I like how the program provides hands-on experience to the mentors in teaching the kids and how the structure of the program lets the kids think on their own rather than dictating what they should do.
The WISE program started in 2005 as a collaboration between Garrison Forrest School and Johns Hopkins University. The goal is to encourage female high school students from Baltimore to pursue their interest in science and engineering. The program allows these students to work in a research lab in Hopkins with their graduate student mentors. At the end, they were asked to give a presentation about their work in front of the other students, graduate student mentors and professors. I had a chance to mentor one student last Spring, and she is now accepting admission offers from colleges and universities and is planning to major in biology.
Overall, I think these programs are helpful to both the students and the mentors—students get more exposure to STEM activities while the mentors get to take a break from research by talking to the kids and sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm in science with these students. Usually, grad students would have a couple of coffee breaks within a day; why not be a mentor for a few hours per week and spend time with young kids to talk about science? Who knows, you might be helping a child become a future scientist or engineer from these simple things. It’s definitely, worth your time.
Herdeline Ann Ardoña is a fourth year INBT graduate student in the Johns Hopkins Department of Chemistry working in Professor J. D. Tovar’s lab. She is co-advised by Professor Hai-Quan Mao.
Media inquiries should be directed to INBT science writer Mary Spiro at mspiroATjhuDOTcom.