Once a week, local schoolchildren can get their hands dirty and their minds engaged during sessions with the Temple University Chemistry Society.
TUCS began weekly trips to the Eighth and Diamond Recreation Center as part of a process to revamp its organization.
Beginning in October 2012, any members of the group available make the short trek every Thursday afternoon to the center for about an hour, where mostly elementary-age students are supervised after the school day is done. Simple experiments demonstrated by TUCS expose the local students to basic science in a fun, interactive way.
TUCS President Ashley Gilman, a senior chemistry major and business minor, said the volunteering got off to a tentative start in the past academic year, but has now become a routine for the group. A grant from the American Chemical Society gave the group a starting point to fund their instructive time at the recreation center. As president, Gilman organized a community service committee to keep volunteering structured and organized.
“It was our big success last year, and now that I’m president this year, I obviously want to keep it going, because it’s awesome,” Gilman said.
Sarah Carson, a senior biochemistry major and vice president of TUCS, stepped up to organize the volunteer efforts when the first coordinator lost touch with the group last year and got the community service outreach on its feet. After coordinating with the Eighth and Diamond Recreation Center to set up visitation times for TUCS, she started planning interesting experiments for the kids to expose them to science in an exciting way.
Some of her experiments included creating a cloud in a bottle by changing air pressure with a bike pump, and the well-known Mentos and Coca-Cola explosion, all with a significant amount of effort on her part.
“You have to test [the experiment] out so that it doesn’t flop, because the kids will be disappointed,” Carson said.
She said she remembered long nights finding the perfect setup for an experiment so that kids would be impressed and engaged as they attempted the process.
“We want it to be interactive, and stuff that the kids can do themselves,” Carson said. “Something that can react into stable things that they can touch – all kid-friendly.”
After her success heading the volunteer activities, she now participates as vice president as often as her busy schedule permits when TUCS goes to the recreation center.
Yasaira Rodriguez, a junior biology major in TUCS, who said the teaching trips were her favorite activity, assumed the head of the community service committee this academic year.
The new focus on volunteering efforts has led to a strong relationship with the community, members said. As TUCS entered the recreation center, kids quickly gathered around a large table to hear instructions from Rodriguez. Her explanation of a simple, two-step experiment to make plastic was accompanied by a short scientific explanation of polymers, a long chain of molecules.
“I think that it helps them a lot, and even if it’s not something they have memorized forever, if it’s brought up in school they can say, ‘Oh, we learned this with the Temple students,’ and that makes me really happy,” Rodriguez said.
She added that even when it’s hard to keep the attention of the whole group of students, the children at Eighth and Diamond Recreation Center are excited and receptive to the lessons she leads.
Not only does TUCS offer young, local students a colorful, hands-on approach to scientific experiments, but it also offers the potential for mentorship by Temple students. Science is portrayed as something students can pursue, not a foreign or unattainable subject best left in dry textbooks.
“It’s a good thing to integrate with the community around us. We’re trying to give Temple a positive look in the nearby community,” Lauren Kline, a senior biochemistry major and committee member, said. “At that age, you start making up your ideals about stuff, like ‘science and math suck,’ so we’re trying to make it fun.” She added that she always feels refreshed after working with the kids at Eighth and Diamond.
Rodriguez said being a positive role model is the main motivation for her involvement with community service.
“We can show them, ‘Hey look, we made it to college, and we’re of all colors as well, like we’re here to show you that it is possible,’ and make sure that science isn’t left behind,” Rodriguez said.
With budget cuts to the Philadelphia school system, local schools have a difficult time providing all of the necessary materials for science experiments, which can be costly. TUCS hopes to combat that not only with their teaching efforts at Eighth and Diamond, but also through upcoming fundraisers to help local teachers and students.
A Temple alumna and TUteach member now employed at Kensington High School reached out to Temple when she didn’t have enough money to purchase equipment for science experiments. This prompted TUCS to start organizing a volleyball tournament fundraiser, Gilman said, that she hopes will take place in April.
“If they get to college and that’s the first time they’ve seen a lab, they’re not going to know what to do,” Kline said. TUCS hopes to raise $1,000, Rodriguez said, and all are welcome to participate, not just TUCS members or science majors.
“If we just get the word out there, I think good things will come,” Carson said.
Erin Edinger-Turoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.