Interview with Dr. Matthew Ndonwi - YSP's October Volunteer of the Month
Written by Peggy Ni - YSP Volunteer
Peggy Ni: How did you get involved with YSP in the first place?
Matthew Ndonwi: The very first time I got involved was when Jen Mosher sent out some sort of notice for volunteers for the TRP program, and that was way back in 2007 or so.
PN: And could you talk about what you do for the TRP program as well as Winning Young Hearts and Minds?
MN: For the TRP program, initially I started as a mentor for one of the teachers when I first joined TRP – and actually I did that twice. And then subsequently I joined the Organizing Committee. And since then, I have been part of that committee helping with recruiting teachers, interviewing them, placing them in labs, taking part in all the programs throughout the summer while they are here. Sometimes I also help with the Summer Focus program, like part of the Boot Camp. On the other side is Winning Young Hearts and Minds, a program that I started. I think what really inspired me to initiate that program was the fact that I realized most of our YSP programs are hands-on, trying to bring in these students by hands-on work. But I also felt the need to kind of engage them in dialogue. It's a 1 hour interactive PowerPoint, and I've also adapted it to 30 min. Initially it was meant as 1 hour for high school students but when I started presenting it, then it became so popular that I felt like 30 min. [would be good] for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. It's kind of a 3-part presentation. The first part of the presentation is trying to get the students introduced to science – demystify science from what, at the time I meet them, they think science is, trying to get them to see practical aspects rather than just what they see in movies which is not an accurate presentation. So I walk them through a series of different careers and then somewhere in the middle of the talk I engage them into what the call of science really is, … the different subjects they study in school – math, biology, and physics. And I kind of give them tips on how they can become any of the scientists in those various careers. And finally, I use myself as an example … of what I'm trying to encourage them to do. Despite every obstacle that they might have ahead of them in starting science, it's something that's doable. So I kind of just tell them my personal story of how I became a scientist.
PN: How often do you do this presentation?
MN: So, I wouldn't say it's very regular. Sometimes we'll have high seasons or low seasons. What I would say is for every year I do about maybe 10 to 20 outings since I started. So I present to students who come here for field trips, I go to classrooms, and there is collaboration with the Science Center. … And most recently I was contacted by Harris-Stowe to go present to them, and that was just last week. It's interesting – it started as a high school thing that has gone down to middle-school and now freshmen in college.
PN: Well, clearly the message is broadly applicable.
PN: Can you tell me about your most memorable experience while volunteering?
MN: I would say every year my most memorable experience with the program is when the Summer Focus students present their research. I think that's outstanding – to see them come in kind of naïve and see them go out like almost polished scientists when you listen to them present their talk. I don't think there's anything stronger than that.
PN: You've been volunteering for 4 years. Throughout the years, how do you find the time to still remain committed year after year?
MN: Initially, the main thing that attracted me to the program is the interest in the program. I don't think that interest can be taken away. I'm a full time researcher as well – and I do teach one course in the fall and one course in the summer – but … research is one of those things that are really flexible.
PN: Is there anything new you want to incorporate with the TRP Organizing Committee or with your presentation in the upcoming future?MN: With the Presentation … I think over the past 4 years I've kind of improved it every year but the main thing that I really want to do is to see how I can capture more people … so what I was thinking of is to set up a website where I could incorporate maybe resources for students … [and] a video streaming of the presentation