14 August 2018
This post was originally posted on our From the Prow blog here.
By Claudia Corona
When you’ve been a student for longer than you’ve been able to tie your shoes, and when you’ve been uttering words that would be considered a gem on a Scrabble board for at least a quarter of your life, you gain special powers of scientific enunciation which should be used for good. Such thoughts dawned on me two summers ago, when I was introducing the rock cycle and its respective rock types to a class of eight to 10 year old kids at a Boys and Girls Club in San Francisco, CA.
I had recently graduated with a master’s in geosciences from San Francisco State University and I was weighing my options of applying to Ph.D. programs or starting a career in the private sector. As I debated my next step, I applied to a youth coordinator position at a local boys and girls club (BGC) in San Francisco with a high participation of disadvantaged youth. Having had the opportunity to be San Francisco State University’s 2016 graduate commencement speaker, I was determined to continue reaching out to disadvantaged youth to help foster their curiosity and confidence in pursuing science. The BGC would be a good first step.
At the BGC summer session, kids experienced a wonderfully diverse schedule with activities that varied daily. I had proposed and been allowed to start a science lab where I encouraged kids to conduct science experiments. Experiments spanned science subjects and time. In one experiment, kids picked up Skittles with different utensils like plastic forks, knives, chopsticks and toothpicks, as an introduction to biological adaptation and evolution. In another experiment, kids created two-ingredient water bottle lava lamps and witnessed first-hand the laws of liquid density. In another, the gooey gak experiment, kids learned to listen to instructions and measure correctly (a good intro to the lab environment). in the hopes of succeeding at creating a slime putty that they could play with and take home.
In another experiment, the students observed and studied different rock types, in the process gaining the experience in field/lab note-taking, critical analysis and asking confident questioning). It was when I asked the students to list the types of rocks that make up the rock cycle, that something special happened…
“Metamorphic rocks, sedimentary rocks, and eggos rocks,”one student said “Almost,” I said. “Iggy Azalea rocks?” giggled some others. I chuckled, “Igneous rock”. Cue the blank stares. I looked at each of them, “when you say it, think like this: IG – KNEE (pointing to my knee) – US (waving my hand in their and my direction) rocks”.
“IG-KNEE-US rocks!”, they repeated, laughing as they followed my example. I held up some pieces of pumice and obsidian. “These are both igneous rocks. In middle school and high school, you’ll have a chance to learn more about them. So…what kind of rocks are these?” “IG-KNEE-US rocks!”, they shouted excitedly, anticipation in their eyes as I passed the rocks around for them to see, touch, and most importantly, wrap their minds around.
I have moved on from the Clubhouse, but I think about back often about how the kids’ experienced the new concepts that I introduced to them. What is an igneous rock? Why should anyone care? And perhaps most urgently, how can we, as scientists, encourage kids―especially underrepresented kids― to remain curious about concepts, objects and ideas that they have little grasp of, let alone have trouble pronouncing? It seems to me that, beyond the use of mere textbooks, scientists sharing their knowledge by reaching out to kids in their own communities can be among the most effective tools to communicate the beauty and power of science. We as scientists can be examples of success for our youth.
In honor of International Youth Day and with this experience in mind, I urge you to take a moment to reach out to your local youth groups, especially our underrepresented and disadvantaged youth, and make yourself visible and approachable. With the advent of email, a connection between you and a teacher you wish to connect with for volunteering purposes may be only a few clicks away. Here are some ideas:
- Reach out to teachers and volunteer to teach a science classroom for an hour.
- Reach out to your local non-profit organization or afterschool program (think LA’s Best, Boys and Girls Club, any outdoor youth group) and ask to be a guest scientist.
- Call/email elementary/middle/high schools and inquire about the possibility of being a chaperone for classes going to see science museums/planetariums/arboretums/you-name-it.
- Volunteer at any high school to be a science fair judge, a career day speaker, or a human book for anyone that has questions about your field.
- Establish a connection with a science class about your research. Perhaps consider doing a “before/during/after” presentation about what you did, why it’s important, what you’ve learned and what you’re hoping to do moving forward.
Anything you do has the possibility to make a world of difference a child who may stumbling through school but can really use a helping hand as they reach for their dreams in the sciences. And, as scientists, it is up to us to ensure that the geosciences community evolves into a strong network of diverse voices. For in diversity lies the key to the challenges that face us today and tomorrow. I hope you will join me!
-Claudia Corona is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Colorado at Boulder and an AGU Voices for Science Advocate
 Female rapper. Not very PG-13.