Thursday, May 23, 2019


After years of waiting, the Boys & Girls Club of Richland County moved into its new building in March. Amid the pristine white walls, shiny steel kitchen, and ample programming space there sparkled a host of hopes and expectations for what we would accomplish free of our previous limitations. In May, the last month of school, I planned to channel these goals into my art program—to take full advantage of our new resources and involve our entire club community in a collaborative project.
I decided the project would take the form of a village; in an attempt to engage the interests of as many members as possible and to encourage creativity, I didn’t set any stipulations on what was made—just that it had to fit on the allotted space. The result was a middling motley of creations that varied greatly in effort, construction, and style: a Cenex station with no cars to fuel, a number of one-walled houses, and only one lonely person to enjoy it all.
I was a little disappointed in the end. Should I have been more structured and strict in my requirements? Would that have just made the kids lose interest in the project? I struggled to find a balance between agency and instruction; I didn’t want to dampen the students’ imagination and creativity, but I also wanted to give form, shape, and a definite lesson to the project. For example, though I tried to push kids to make more buildings and to put more effort into their creations, they often wanted to make a small animal sculpture or quickly move on to something new.
Ultimately, around 20 members participated, which is about a third of our daily attendance. There were definitely bright moments of the collaboration and creativity I hoped to achieve: discussion about the layout and placement of the village, cooperation between grade levels on unique ideas. It’s hard to measure what the kids learned and how much fun they had doing so (which is more important than the end result), and I’m not entirely sure what I learned myself—maybe there’s some deeper lesson about community buy-in or the eventual futility of gasoline—but going forward into summer camps, I hope to educate in a way that’s both informative and fun.

Monday, May 13, 2019


When I was little, I didn’t have the normal childhood most kids have growing up. I was diagnosed at age 5 with chronic pancreatitis. I was the youngest case Vanderbilt Hospital had, so they didn’t really know how to fix my pain. I had multiple surgeries and hospital stays throughout those years. It is kind of surreal to think about now. Yet, despite these struggles, I did learn that I had a love for science and serving people. I saw my doctor, Dr. Wallace Neiblit, constantly thinking outside of the box to help me. He also had a crew of resident doctors that would come in, read off my case like on Grey’s Anatomy, and brainstorm with Dr. Neiblit. My doctor was devoted to helping me and was able to do so (put simply) through science.

Fast forward to present day, and I am an AmeriCorps Senior Leader serving with MTCC. I get to serve students and help spread my love for STEM Education. Especially due to my past, STEM Education is close to my heart. Now, I want students to understand their potential and see how much fun STEM programs are. As such, I treasure any chance I get to work with students and cultivate their appreciation and love for science.

The most rewarding experience I have had thus far in this pursuit was creating science fair projects with students at Hot Springs School. Each student got the chance to show their personalities in each project. One had a love for animals and did a project testing bacterial growth of her dogs’ mouth compared to her own. Another project was focused on water quality of lakes in the surrounding areas. There was such a wide range of ideas and interests among the four projects, but, at the end of the day, it was brought out through having a passion for science.

Seeing all of their projects on display at the SKC Science Fair Festival helped remind me that making science fun can show students that STEM careers are fun. It reminded me how Dr. Neiblit used science to help me get better and why I eventually chose a STEM career in Agriculture. I hope to continue to spread my love of science to students wherever I go. You never know how students will respond to your lessons, but sometimes it can be the best surprise.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019


As the spring floats in briskly with the cloud spotted sky, Missoula slowly waves goodbye to winter. In with the sun through the windows of EMPower Place, we find ourselves at the after school club, on a Thursday evening. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, EMPower Place hosts programming with cooking classes for kids, science activities and much needed post formal education play. Thursdays are my favorite day of the week, because I get to host the science activity. These children usually go bananas over the activity, it gets a little out of hand. 
 A couple of weeks into April, we were running an activity on DNA extraction of strawberries. This is one of the more difficult activity for the small ones, who are usually the crowd at EMPower Pplace. Mind you, most of the kids that come to after school club are preschool to second grade. The DNA activity also requires patients, which we all hopefully get to learn throughout life.  As you may remember, being cooped up in school all day, doesn't make listening very easy. Our poor parents can probably attest to this claim. 
So, how do we make sure everyone receives a positive experience before heading home you ask? We’ll I have to be prepared and it helps to have my colleagues back me up when I’m struggling, which I was that day.  
DNA from strawberries? You mean you want to make Jam with second graders? So the process is, have the kids put previously frozen strawberries in a landfill bag. Ok, now, zip the plastic closed and mash up those berries with a solution of water, dish soap and a bit of salt. The kids love this part.  Next, you put the strawberries in a coffee filter and wait for the mixture to drip through to the bottom of a beaker. Ok, add isopropyl alcohol and wait. Essentially you are breaking down the strawberry to a more basic form. If you actually want to do this, you can find videos on YouTube for precise measurements. 
After a few cycles of kids extracting DNA, one of the children that had been assisting me, asked me a question that I wasn't ready for. She paused on her tenth extraction of the hour, while also helping other kids and exclaimed, “Are you a real scientist?” Some of the other kids around the table became apparently aware of the conversation and awaited my answer. Before I could even think of a response, that same second grader who asked the question said, “I think you are a scientist.” She smiled and went back to what she was doing. It's almost as if she could tell I was stressed that day and I needed a confidence boost. It reminded me, how a simple encouraging comment can mean so much. Sappy? I know right? I didn’t feel like a scientist, with my liberal arts degree and my zero hours of lab work. She reminded me that we can be whatever we want to be in life, that we just have to believe in ourselves and others. 
As much as I would like to say that I am serving this community with my forty hour weeks of service, I feel as though sometimes, I am the one being served. I look forward to Monday mornings, because I get to hang out with curious growing toddlers. Science Tuesdays, I get to hang out with Dr. Amanda. Wednesdays are easier to get through when I can conversate and receive life advice from mothers, post Tiny Tales. My colleagues are some of the sweetest and understanding people. Honestly, every day of the week has its appeal, sometimes it just takes a little reminder.