U of G Scientists Reaching Out to Kids

September 29, 2009 - News Release

Back-to-school means back to business for two off-campus organization that enlists University of Guelph students, faculty and staff to deliver science outreach programs for children.

A recently restored Guelph branch of Let's Talk Science (LTS ) - a national organization based in London - hopes this year to double the number of U of G graduate student volunteers offering science activities to children and youth.

This year also saw the opening of a local office of Scientists in School (SIS), a 20-year-old province-wide program that now sees several U of G members helping to deliver science activities to elementary classrooms.

Both organizations offer kid-friendly programs designed to improve science literacy and to help dispel negative stereotypes of science and its practitioners — not to mention giving academics and students at university campuses a chance to share their own love of the topic.

"I'm very passionate about science and think it's important to share that enthusiasm," said second-year DVM student Joanna McPherson. Last year, the pathobiology master's graduate became Guelph site co-ordinator for the Let's Talk Science partnership program for elementary and high schools.

Returning to campus in 2008-09 after several years' hiatus, the program attracted about 30 graduate student volunteers from all four science colleges and reached almost 600 youngsters in southern Ontario. McPherson hopes to double the number of Guelph participants this year.

She will hold training sessions for volunteers Oct. 1 and 20, 6 p.m., in Room 1713 of the Ontario Veterinary College.

She has also promoted the program with campus liaison officers and taken part in campus activities such as this year's inaugural Science Olympics for visiting high school students.

Offered since 1991, the LTS partnership program connects university and college researchers with youth groups across Canada. It's one of several programs for children and youth offered by the charitable organization.

LTS provides resources to help volunteers develop programs. Volunteers can visit schools or host class visits, lead classroom activities, provide resources, help judge science fairs and act as mentors. Besides that ferryboat sleuthing trip, last year's Guelph activities involved human body demonstrations for Girl Guides visiting campus and workshop visits to schools in southern Ontario.

McPherson asks LTS volunteers to devote at least 10 hours a year to the program. "As grad students, it's nice to become involved in other ways."

Early this year, Scientists in School based in Ajax, Ont., opened a new branch in Morriston, south of Guelph. Volunteer presenters — university students, faculty and staff — visit elementary schools to conduct workshops in science, math, technology and engineering. The program reached more than 91,000 youngsters in Guelph and Waterloo last year.

Philosophy professor Andrew Wayne, associate dean of the College of Arts, has helped lead SIS physics and chemistry sessions at his children's school in Guelph.

"It's important to get kids excited about science," said Wayne, a former physics student who now studies and teaches the philosophy of science to Guelph undergrads.

Scientists in School presenters still use a number of workshops developed initially by Fernanda Svaikauskas, a Guelph physics grad who is now a research associate in Food Science. Besides writing content, Svaikauskas led workshops for the group for almost a decade, doing almost 100 presentations a year in area schools.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, at 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338 or lhunt@uoguelph.ca, or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982 or bagunn@uoguelph.ca.

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