Reflections on YSP's impact these past 20 years and its exciting future.
As we are approaching the 20th Anniversary celebration of YSP, it seems like a great time to reflect on the impact YSP has and why it is so important to be involved in promoting science. For me, the reason why I've been involved stems from high school. The one I attended was very small; though the learning environment there was wonderfully supportive, it unfortunately meant that science courses I wanted to take weren't available. From that, I became determined in college and grad school to bring science opportunities directly to students who wanted to learn more. Luckily, here at WashU, YSP's teaching teams do just that by going to classrooms and directly engaging students with hands-on demonstrations. While talking to Carl Franz, a teaching team head for chemistry, I discovered his reasons for being a part of YSP. "I enjoy being around young people and feel privileged to have the opportunity to help shape their curious minds," he says. Kasey Wagoner, a teaching team head for physics, cites the positive interactions obtained while working with students as the driving force for his involvement with YSP. "When I was an undergrad I went into a couple of schools to do demonstrations. Every time I put on demos the students seemed to have a great time and to get really excited about physics," he reminisces. It's clear that our reasons for becoming involved in promoting science are diverse, but whatever they are, the benefits of doing so are numerous.
I have had many positive experiences volunteering with YSP. For example, as a tutor last year for the Summer Focus program, I helped a high school student who was working on a research project in our lab understand the biology behind the experiments he was conducting as well as improve his scientific writing skills on lab reports. This experience was so gratifying because I felt that I was making a positive impact on someone's scientific career. Regarding the beneficial effect volunteering with YSP has on us, Kasey sums it up the best. "Every time I work with students they get very excited about the things science has to offer and the cool things that scientists do whether it's in the lab or in the field. This excitement is contagious, I always leave these interactions excited about the world of science," he observes. Dr. Barbara Schaal, a professor at Washington University studying evolutionary plant genetics who is delivering one of the keynote addresses for the 20th Anniversary Celebration, offers a different perspective on the benefits for involvement with YSP. "The [Summer Focus high school] students are wonderful and add to the overall atmosphere of the lab," she says. "And, they have helped generate data, often on projects that might not have gotten done."
I think we can definitely say that in the past 20 years, YSP has positively influenced both the graduate students and post-docs who volunteer as well as the schools it visits and the young, budding scientists that the program mentors. As I'm reflecting on YSP's success, I am also wondering how YSP can grow and evolve to continue its impact on the next generation of scientists. Carl thinks it would be great for YSP to show these students the diverse environments in which scientists could learn and work. "Teaming up with other educational institutions in the area would expose students to alternative learning environments, such as community colleges and Liberal Arts colleges," he says. "The students involved in YSP come from diverse backgrounds and could benefit by encountering the full educational gamut." I asked Dr. Schaal if she had any suggestions. "Perhaps add a school year component," she advises. Kasey's thoughts are on the same line. "I think that prolonged involvement with students is important," he states. Indeed, most of the Summer Focus participants are so incredibly bright and talented that they would have no problem being involved in a year-long project that would really allow them to move beyond learning lab techniques and start honing their scientific thinking and problem-solving skills. And in fact, how great would it be if after a year, they would be the ones tutoring the new students or helping out with demos. With YSP's 20th Anniversary symposium coming up, I am so excited to discuss these science education issues and share mentoring experiences with the day's speakers and participants!