Northwestern labs show kids what it’s like to be a scientist

Paige Edmiston
June 24, 2017

In a laboratory classroom deep within Northwestern’s Technological Institute, students take turns peering into microscopes, excitedly adjusting knobs and refocusing lenses to bring the cell samples into sharp relief. 

But these students aren’t Northwestern undergrads. They are members of Science Club, an afterschool science education program for middle school youth. These Science Club members, visiting from the new Family Focus site in Evanston, are on a field trip at Northwestern. 

“Today you’re going to get a taste of the kinds of investigations you’d conduct in a college science course,” explains Rebecca Daugherty, the field trip’s organizer and Assistant Director at Science in Society. She’s been leading Science Club at Family Focus, which opened in fall 2016 to support students from under-resourced schools in Evanston’s 5th ward. The Science Club members each swab their cheeks, collecting cell samples, and proceed to the microscopes for further investigation – a preview of what it’s like to study STEM at a university like Northwestern.

Following this college-like biology course, the youth tour several Northwestern scientific research labs, guided by some familiar faces. The graduate students leading the tours are Science Club mentors: the scientists show up each week at the club to help youth members design and develop scientific investigations. Some scientist-mentors and youth have been working together weekly for almost a year.

Science in Society’s programs, including Science Club, are designed to get scientists out in the community, sharing their research and love of science with the next generation. Primarily, this involves Northwestern researchers leaving the university campus to go where the kids are.

But sometimes, on special occasions like this one, the kids get to see where the scientists work, bringing scientific careers and professionals that little bit closer. 

Each spring, youth members from many of our programs, including Science Club, Science Explorers, and the center’s District 65 initiative, take a field trip to Northwestern to see and be inspired by scientists in action. This year, labs from a wide variety of scientific disciplines opened their doors.*

“[These field trips] make STEM education – and in turn a STEM career – more tangible for students,” said Han Teng Wong, a visiting predoctoral scholar in the Tullman-Ercek Lab and Science Club mentor, who hosted a field trip this spring with Stephen T. Mather High School freshmen from the Science Explorers program. “Giving kids the opportunity to interact with real scientists in person humanizes the person in the white lab coat.”

For kids in long-term, relationship-led Science in Society programs, this opportunity – to leave their neighborhoods for a day and visit laboratories made up of real scientists working at a world-class university – can make a big difference in how they view their own futures and potential. Thank you to all the scientists who opened up their labs this year for Science in Society field trips!

*This year’s laboratory hosts included: Allada Lab, Andersen Lab, Carthew Group, Mirkin Lab, NUANCE, and the Tullmak-Ercek Lab.

 

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