A Chat with YSP Student Director, Kate Chiappinelli
Written by Peggy Ni - YSP volunteer
Kate Chiappinelli graduated from Haverford College in 2007 and is currently a fourth year student in the Developmental Biology Program here at Washington University. Kate has also taken on the duties of YSP Student Director since August 2010 and recently spoke with us about what she does for YSP and about volunteering in general.
Peggy Ni: As the YSP student director, could you describe what you do?
Kate Chiappinelli: I run the monthly Steering Committee Meetings and the Community Advisory Board Meetings, which we hold twice a year. The Steering Committee is made up of Washington University student volunteers involved in YSP and each month we review changes, suggestions, and feedback from specific programs and events. The Community Advisory Board is made up of YSP volunteers as well as Washington University faculty, St. Louis Public School teachers and administrators, and other community members. I present a "semester-in-review" to this group and we receive helpful advice and feedback.
I also oversee the various YSP Programs and am involved directly in several. This year I started a Funding Committee to explore both federal and corporate support for YSP. In addition, I am working on a publication on assessment of YSP's Summer Focus program with two other YSP volunteers and our faculty advisor, Dr. Tom Woolsey. Lastly, I am the Co-Head of our Summer Focus program for 2011.
PN: Why did you become involved with YSP in the first place?
KC: I became involved with YSP the summer after my first year of graduate school. I volunteered to help with the Writing Course and spoke to groups of students about their Summer Focus projects every week. I was very impressed by the positive attitude and talent of the students and realized that this was a program that could get students excited about doing real scientific research. I then co-taught the Writing Course in 2009 and 2010 and really enjoyed interacting with students and teaching them how to communicate science and craft their research papers. I have been involved with Teaching Teams, interviewing SF students, science fairs, and now administration of the program. I love teaching students about science, whether in a long-term interaction such as a summer project or a shorter one-hour Teaching Team Demo. It is gratifying to see the students' enthusiasm and confidence in themselves grow after they have done scientific experiments themselves.
PN: What is the top goal you hope YSP will achieve while you are here?
KC: My main focus this year is on funding. Our five-year HHMI grant that covers 80% of our operating budget ends in 2012, so we are researching new avenues of funding. We have doubled the Endowment for Science Literacy, Benefiting the Young Scientist Program this year and look forward to seeing it grow more. In addition, the Funding Committee will be applying for NIH grants and exploring opportunities with corporations in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area.
PN: Do you think that enough students volunteer to promote science in the community? I would assume that for students, being able to commit to a volunteering opportunity is a challenge given our busy and often unpredictable lab schedules. How do you think students can still be involved despite this difficulty?
KC: I am very grateful for our fabulous YSP volunteers, but on the whole I do not think enough students volunteer for YSP activities. I believe that a crucial part of doing a Ph. D. in science is being able to explain difficult scientific concepts to others who may not have the same scientific background. I also believe that, as "experts" in our chosen fields, Ph. D. and M.D. students have an obligation to show younger students how fun and exciting science can be. Many of the schools we work with are under-resourced and do not have the time or money to do involved biology laboratories. Thus, we as graduate students can supplement the high school science curriculum with hands-on science experiences. For high school students, reading about biology in a textbook and memorizing vocabulary words is much more boring than actually isolating DNA from bananas with our Genetics Teaching Team.
While we all have difficult and busy schedules, YSP has many activities during the evenings or weekends that students can participate in if they are busy during the day. In addition, many of our activities are two hours or less. It is time very well spent.