Finding Your Scientist

Home with a variety of plants on patio. (Coco Barrett , June 2020)

When thinking of a scientist, the average person may have difficulty relating. Images of a dark laboratory, flashes of light and smoke, crooked and cracked glasses, and a lab coat might emerge from memories. However, this is not the case for all scientists. For example, I just started my research with pathogens that effect grapevines. No dark rooms or explosions in my near future (fingers crossed).

Challenge for the reader: Google a scientist or field that you feel drawn to, and read the wikipedia page about them. You may find some interesting fact about this person, or discover some new interests! It’s important to have a role model, even in disciplines you aren’t always active in!

In my opinion, a very important of aspect of teaching is believing in the potential of every student. That is why an approach aside from lecturing is important for learning in STEM. Using a more relatable and interest driven teaching method, while still incorporating discussion in class is something we discuss during teacher reflections with Outreach360. I stumbled upon the best method for this: a presentation on your favorite scientist. The students lit up when I explained this idea, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my volunteer experience.

Students chose scientists from nearly every discipline and certainly surprised me with their choices. From Isaac Newton, to Thomas Edison, to even very upcoming neuroscientists, these students were interested in very diverse areas of science. Some highlights are found in the next few pictures.

After each presentation, our class would have a short discussion about the scientist or what type of experiments they would attempt, followed by comments and questions by each student. This fostered a sense of openness and willingness to talk in English, something very important to our 40 minute class time. One of the most interesting topics was around Nikola Tesla, an engineer and technological pioneer. I never realized how important this scientist was for creating the framework for telephones and cell phones, in addition to many more technologies. Another scientist that I personally admire, and was covered by a student presentation is George Washington Carver. His work with cotton and peanuts revolutionized the agricultural industry and provided a great deal of infrastructure to the United States as it was rapidly growing. It is important to understand that there are impressive scientists like this that do get recognized, but there are also many others who do not receive this same type of recognition and contribute in ways that are sometimes equally to their field. I think this activity had a great impact on providing a role model for each student as they discovered a little about different fields and the pioneers that shaped how we see science today.

Our last week together we each were able to research a different scientist and share all of their life’s work in a short presentation with class, working on so many skills at the same time. Fun graphics, videos and other advanced presentation skills went above and beyond my expectations for a virtual classroom setting. I’m glad that I was able to share something like this as the pioneer group of virtual volunteers and that it appeared to be very successful! Here’s to many more experiences with Outreach360 and educating the next generation of scientists.

Published by Brandon Roy

Graduate Student at Cornell University

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