Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Importance of Public Outreach for the Younger Generation

  A photo of my siblings and I during the holidays where I gave a talk at their school. This was during my sister’s grade 6 class where they are learning about space. Hailey is 10 here while Arden is 8.

 By Charissa Campbell

One good thing about being a scientist is not only trying to learn about how the world works but being a good role model for the younger generation to encourage them to study science as well. This can be done by taking part in public outreach or, as in my case, encouraging your younger siblings to always be interested in science. I could do both of those things due to the significant gap in the age between my siblings and I. I took part in a public outreach program with a local science center teaching kids about astronomy in an observatory. Nothing was more satisfying than seeing little kids say “wow” or just to see their eyes bright up when I would show them Saturn or even just the moon. 
Not only is public outreach important but reassuring young females that science is still a degree that they can take a part in even though most scientists are male. I remember at a young age I always knew I wanted to study astronomy but it seemed daunting when the majority of scientists in that field are male. However, in recent decades, this has slowly been changing due to more outreach programs encouraging elementary female students to still take a part in scientific activities. One example of this is the Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science & Technology (WISEST) program in Alberta, where I did my schooling. This conference invites promising females from elementary to junior high to take part in a two-day conference to learn more about science and what they can do with that type of degree. There are several female scientists that talk about what they do and what could benefit from getting that type of degree. Another important feature is they have a hands-on day where you learn about problem solving head on. This program is what encouraged me to continue in the sciences as I was invited a few times to participate. The best part about this is, now that my younger sister is in grade 6, she has been invited to take part as she is interested in becoming a forensic scientist and this made me extremely happy to hear.
The best part of going home during the holidays, besides unlimited food, is to visit my brother and sister who are significantly younger than me. Our love for each other is endless and luckily, we don’t have the constant bickering that normal siblings have due to our large age gap. Now that I am in graduate school, however, I can’t take the summers off from school to be with them which will be difficult. However, every time I am with them, especially with my new work with Mars, they are always asking me scientific questions and I am happy to answer them. In my opinion, I am simply encouraging them to continue to be curious about different types of degrees they could get. Being a big sister is always challenging for being the perfect role model but it is even harder when you throw science in the mix.
Now that they are getting older, they are learning more science in school and so when I travelled home for the holidays this year, my sister really wanted me to come to her school to talk about NASA and Mars to her grade 6 class. Of course, I agreed because I firmly believe that outreach is important to students in elementary school especially since they were starting their science subject about space. One interesting topic that came up while they were asking me questions was about the “spiders” on Mars. At first thought I knew this could not be true as they were going on about how real spiders were there. After considering this topic more I realized that news outlets were naming a type of terrain on Mars after spiders due to their features looking like spiders, as shown in the figure below. This made me laugh because it meant that these students were actively finding articles about space topics but not quite considering it more than they should. In my opinion that is fine because they might not lack the needed knowledge to understand what exactly was meant by “spiders” on Mars and at least they are gaining exposure about scientific findings. It was a great experience to talk to the grade 6 class about Mars and answer the questions they had and the best part was to see my sibling’s big smiles at the back of the classroom as I knew how proud they were of me.  

Image showing the ‘spiders’ on Mars. It may appear as if the veins appear to be spider-like. Image taken from

One thing that I have always tried to be with my younger siblings is a good role model as a big sister as well as a scientist. Their curiosity for the sciences, especially with me being so involved with it, has always been huge because I love to talk about it at home; not just because I want to but to also keep them interested in this very important issue. Science has always been around but now with technology and such, getting a degree in sciences may be more accessible for everyone, all it takes is a little curiosity.

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