Let’s Talk Science

Lab mates volunteer to lead science programs for local kids

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Let's Talk Science Team

From left, Amy Shi, Vince Huang and Linda Jewell say learning science hands-on is better than reading a textbook.

When Linda Jewell went looking for grad students to volunteer to teach science to area kids, she knew where to start ─ with her lab mates in the Bovey Building on campus. It didn’t take much persuading to sign up two new recruits for the U of G chapter of Let’s Talk Science (LTS).

Amy Shi and Vince Huang, both master’s students in the same lab, will don the organization’s signature blue shirts this weekend for their first-ever science outreach session in a local public library.

Now Jewell, a PhD student in the School of Environmental Sciences, hopes to hand out more of those blue shirts around campus. As the new co-ordinator of the LTS local chapter, she hopes to sign up 80 master’s and PhD student volunteers on campus to help run science outreach activities with local kids. As of last week, Jewell had signed up 60 new and returning recruits.

She’s also now lining up events to bring science, engineering and technology to about 1,600 youngsters, mostly around Guelph but perhaps as far as northern Ontario.

Based in London, Ont., Let’s Talk Science is a national charitable organization for improving science literacy. Among its initiatives, LTS runs a partnership program that connects university and college researchers with children across Canada.

Since 2008, a U of G chapter has taken activities to local schools and youth groups. Last year about 60 grad students from all four science colleges on campus worked with about 900 area children.

Several LTS recruits will run hands-on science activities with area children on Saturday, Oct. 23, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Westminster Square branch of the Guelph Public Library. The event will be held as part of National Science and Technology Week. Those volunteers will include both Shi ─ newly arrived in Guelph from China ─ and Huang, who completed his undergrad in Toronto before coming to Guelph this year.

“I think kids should have an opportunity to see what science is about, rather than learning science from a textbook,” says Huang.

This year, Jewell hopes to send a volunteer to Northern Ontario for a week to work with about 400 students around Cochrane, Moosonee and Moose Factory.

She’s also planning an All Science Challenge at Guelph, a science quiz event run by Let’s Talk Science for middle-school kids.

This fall, LTS volunteers have helped at Go ENG Girl and have run a session for home-schooled children in Guelph. Besides arranging classroom visits through local school boards and other community events, Jewell plans to lend volunteers for campus outreach activities such as the annual Science Olympics.

She took over as co-ordinator this year from Joanna McPherson, now a third-year DVM student who helped start the program at Guelph in 2008.

Explaining why the program makes sense at U of G, Jewell says: “Guelph has an amazing sense of community, and I really feel there’s an emphasis on quality of teaching and quality of learning at Guelph. Guelph really puts its money where its mouth is in supporting grad students as teachers.”

Besides LTS funding, support for the campus chapter comes from the office of Prof. Serge
Desmarais, associate vice-president (academic), and from the NSERC/RIM Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, held by engineering professor Valerie Davidson.

Originally from Ottawa, Jewell had volunteered with Let’s Talk Science while completing a master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Ottawa. Recalling sessions with kids from kindergarten to Grade 12, she says: “It was really exciting to share my experiences and my research in the lab. It was so much fun to see them get excited about basic ideas of science. It opens their eyes to the fact that science is all around us.”

Working with Prof. Tom Hsiang, she’s studying a fungus that damages plants from grass to wheat.

For more information about LTS, contact Jewell at uguelph@letstalkscience.ca.