Who's a scientist? Thanks to Science Camp, a College outreach project that connects Dartmouth students, the Montshire Museum of Science, and the Rivendell Interstate School District, classrooms in Westshire Elementary School in West Fairlee, Vt., and Samuel Morey Elementary School in Fairlee, Vt., are now full of children who know some young Dartmouth scientists first-hand.
Supported by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), Science Camp brings Dartmouth mentors, trained by science educators at the Montshire, into the Rivendell classrooms, with hands-on activities that reinforce the school's science curriculum. Science Camp, which completed its second year last March, is part of a four-year, $1.5 million grant from HHMI that Dartmouth received to enhance science education for undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students. Roger Sloboda, the Ira Allen Eastman Professor in Biology and program director on the HHMI grant says, "It is a terrific match of Dartmouth, the Montshire, and a local school system."
As a teacher of science himself, Sloboda sees much that excites him about the impact of the outreach funded by the HHMI grant: "The Rivendell project does not relate directly to the work I do in cell biology in my lab at Dartmouth. Science Camp looks at a variety of concepts, including magnetism and light. But I like how wonderfully enthusiastic our students are about participating, and I love the fact that the teachers are equally enthusiastic and very grateful for the excitement the program brings to their classroom. The obvious dedication to science education for children shown by all of the Montshire staff I have met is very, very inspiring."
Nancy Serrell heads the College's Office of Outreach, which coordinates Science Camp and other projects like it for the Provost's Office. Serrell's position was created in part in response to the HHMI grant: "Funding agencies, including HHMI, want to be sure that the work they support reaches the public, and creates lasting benefits for society," she says. "With Science Camp, there's a sense of joint ownership. Feedback from Rivendell teachers and our students has shaped this project so it serves everyone's interests." She notes that a new outreach project, called Science Café, at Thetford Academy, an independent school which serves as Thetford, Vermont's public high school, began in May.
As they enjoyed seeing the children learn, the Dartmouth mentors, undergraduate and graduate students from a wide range of scientific fields, found themselves learning a few things themselves. "The most rewarding part of this program for me," says Kathyrn Fay '09, "was creating genuine connections with the Rivendell students. I feel very fortunate to have participated in a program that gave me both concrete teaching skills and an opportunity to develop friendships in the Upper Valley community."
"The project helped to motivate me, because I had to motivate the children. I had to think about what science is and why I chose to do it," said another mentor, in evaluations gathered by Jane Korey, the program's outside assessor. The Dartmouth mentors also valued how Science Camp let them give back to the College's neighbors: "This program is a great way to bring our community into the community around us. Dartmouth College is a great resource of people who want to be involved," one participant observed.
Sloboda, who graduated from a "small, relatively rural school" himself, believes he would have benefited from this kind of program when he was a child. "I recall my time as an undergraduate and graduate student as being incredibly busy, which is why I admire all the more the willingness of our students to give their precious time to participate in the Rivendell Science Camp." The benefits to these Dartmouth mentors, Sloboda predicts, will be numerous: "They are learning how to convey science not as they do now, to an informed group of peers speaking their language, but to children learning the language and thought processes of science. This will certainly make them better able to convey their work to a broader audience, and will help future physicians talk to lay patients about complex medical situations, help future scientists in industry talk to business people on their boards of directors, and help future professors convey science to their college students at an appropriate level."
"One of the best things Science Camp shows children," Sloboda says, "is that scientists, and people learning to be scientists, are actually just regular people, just like they are. I hope the Rivendell students learn also that if Dartmouth students can learn and practice science as a career, they can as well."
By KELLY SEAMAN
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Last Updated: 7/15/08