University of South Carolina

Bringing science to the public

By Marshall Swanson, University Magazine Group,

Students at the University of South Carolina are taking some of the things they find valuable at USC and making them more broadly available to the public.

A good example of this community engagement and service learning trend is Carolina Science Outreach, which lets South Carolina Honors College students and others from the university make science education more accessible to community organizations and middle and high schools throughout the state.

"I'm thrilled with it," said Ed Munn Sanchez, an Honors College associate dean and faculty adviser of the program. Through Carolina Science Outreach students make presentations on a variety of science topics to community groups, while also visiting middle and high schools where they encourage their younger counterparts to pursue science majors and careers.

The organization began four years ago when Honors College students Jim Talbert and Reggie Bain began talking about outreach efforts, and discussed the idea with faculty members in the college. They applied for and received university Magellan and Leadership grants to create the infrastructure of the student organization, which includes a website.

The grants have worked "terrifically," said Sanchez, adding that they've done exactly what they were intended to do because "they've generated a lot of service and a good bit of student research resulting in 10 to 15 presentations with more on the way."

About 40 students are involved in the club, most of whom are STEM majors. The current co-directors are Connor Bain, a second-year Honors College student majoring in computer science and math, and Kali Esancy, a senior Honors College biology and French major.

"The whole idea is to make science and science education much more visible, with the key idea being that science is too much of a mystery to the general public and to the youngsters who might wish to study it," Sanchez said. "They're trying to demystify it."

Included in the group's presentations have been a talk on wind power by Talbert; an appearance by Arthur T. Benjamin from Harvey Mudd College, who is best known as the Math Magician; and remarks by Bain on leadership in science that included an Einstein wig and a German accent.

"I think what has most impressed me and what is the most important is that these are among our best science students," Sanchez said. "They're almost all on their way to careers in research, but they are also developing an early and deep commitment to science education.

"They also were smart about quickly connecting with South Carolina science standards at different levels so that when they talked to teachers they knew what would fit into the standard curriculum. That made them both more attractive and clearly appear much more serious," Sanchez said. "They knew what they were talking about."

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Posted: 08/29/12 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 08/30/12 @ 12:11 PM | Permalink