Beyond the Laboratory

Berkeley Connect Physics encourages students to reach out and give back

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At the recent outreach/teaching fair organized by Berkeley Connect Physics, students learned how they can use their knowledge and skills to improve science education, at every level from kindergarten through college.

I first stopped by the table of Community Resources for Science (CRS). A nonprofit based in Berkeley, CRS focuses on science education, particularly in kindergarten through 5th grade. They work with over 950 post docs, graduate and undergraduate students who volunteer time in schools all across the East Bay. “A lot of times, science doesn’t really happen in elementary school classrooms,” Executive Director Teresa Barnett told me. “Our goal is to bring young scientists to these students and encourage them to explore their interest in STEM.” CRS encourages volunteers to come up with their own curriculum and provides them with training and support. Many CRS volunteers lead workshops throughout the year in many different schools. As Sasha, their Program Manager, told me, they also look for summer interns who are interested in working at a STEM-focused nonprofit. (Interested? Contact Sasha!)

Next, I stopped by Science @ Cal. This campus program hosts a number of events, including free lectures by leading scientists and hands-on science demonstrations at local farmer’s markets (which they often do in partnership with CRS!). They also host a regular East Bay Science Cafe  as an informal setting for scientific discussions–you can find them at Cafe Valparaiso on the first Wednesday of every month from 7 pm to 9 pm. Run by a two-person team, Science @ Cal aims to engage people of all ages in science and could use some help! In addition to attending their events, they welcome volunteers to help put on events and to share their enthusiasm.

Cal Teach is a program for UC Berkeley students who are interested in getting involved K-12 STEM education.  This program is trying to re-define what it means to teach STEM and emphasizes the importance of teaching science and math in ways that go beyond the textbook. The program is highly customizable, the peer advisers explained. Students interested in teaching STEM can choose whether they want to take just a few courses, pursue a minor, or apply to be in the credential program. “We are here to support you in the ways you want to help STEM education,” Eric, one of the peer advisers, said.

Another campus organization, Berkeley Compass, works not only to improve science education, but to build community and increase diversity in STEM, particularly in the physical sciences. The students who founded the program felt that there wasn’t a strong connection between graduate and undergraduate students and not enough diversity among them. Like those in Cal Teach, they also felt that many professors even here at Cal teach exactly the same way they have always taught in the past – and in ways that don’t teach the skills needed to be a scientist. One thing that they did immediately was to begin teaching freshman seminars that mimicked the actual scientific process – having students work in “research groups,” for example, instead of doing problem sets. Undergraduates who stopped by the table were encouraged not only to take these courses, but to contribute their own insights. “The goal of Berkeley Compass is to fill gaps, and these gaps are usually noticed by those who are in them,” Jesse Livezey, Berkeley Connect Physics mentor and Berkeley Compass member, said.

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UC Berkeley Public Service Center was also present to offer students opportunities to help their communities in other ways. “There are opportunities for you to use the skills you’ve learned as scientists to help others,” Emily, currently a student in the College of Natural Resources, said. “Public service and science go hand-in-hand. Science is all about innovating, but if scientists don’t understand the context in which they work, they aren’t fully engaged citizens.” By being involved in the variety of service opportunities that the Public Service Center offers, students can better understand the issues they are trying to solve. “For example, learning why millions of people don’t get clean water can help us as scientists decide whether technology will solve the problem or not.” In this way, Emily hoped that her fellow scientists can do good in their communities.

With options ranging from short-term volunteering to long-term career choices, it’s exciting to see all the ways young scientists can make a difference–whether it’s right here on campus, in local schools, or elsewhere in our community.

posted by Katherine Wang
Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant