After teaching chemistry to college students for 30 years,Jeanne McHale wondered how to explain solar energy conversion to a bunch of squirmy teens and tweens during a weeklong summer camp. “I had to consider what words I could use to make it understandable, without dumbing it down to the point of nonsense,” she said.
Six days later, amid the whir of a fan, tick of a clock, and hum of a buzzer—all powered by the solar panels her young pupils created—Professor McHale smiled with satisfaction and amazement.
“It just blew me away how smart they were,” she said. “They surprised me with excellent questions—questions that get at the heart of the problems that people in my field are struggling with.
“And,” she laughed, “they really liked to get their hands into it.”
Twenty-two youngsters from across Washington and elsewhere donned goggles, gloves, and lab coats and learned—hands-on—how to turn sunlight into electricity during the two Cougar Quest workshops McHale led on the Pullman campus in July.
Dozens of other powerfully creative educational outreach efforts were led by scores of CAS faculty, staff, and graduate students in at least eight other WSU-sponsored youth programs this summer.
Among the array of topics in arts and sciences explored this year were Aboriginal painting and culture, applications of game theory, human anatomy and health, the pursuit of psychology, and making reeds for woodwinds.
Outreach offers outsized benefits
Arts for Children’s Enrichment (ACE), Math and Science CAMP, andCougar String Camp and Keyboard Exploration are just a few of the programs that extend University research, knowledge, and innovation into schools across the state. While they help prepare young learners for success in college and careers, they also enrich the educators’ experiences, presenting new challenges and new avenues to explore, create, and discover.
For Clinical Associate Professor of Music Mary Trotter, being part of the youth outreach program Las Memorias Performance Project has provided fresh perspectives on a familiar art form, while her experience coordinating the ACE program has taught her about other forms, too. “I come from a theatre background. Most of the ACE kits and workshops we design come from more of a fine arts influence or other specialty. It’s been great to see how accessible these ‘other’ arts can be when presented in the appropriate format.
“I also love collaborating. Any time I can work with other artists to create, I jump at the opportunity. Through the ACE program I have been able to collaborate with other faculty here on campus in a way I wouldn’t have expected,” Trotter said.
She believes part of the draw to engage in youth outreach is the opportunity to work with another age group. “It’s a change from the college setting, and it provides a venue to try something new and express their work a bit differently than they might in a college course.”
Keeping it real
In her youth workshops, McHale capitalized on the chance to explore dyes and materials that were new to her solar energy research. Data collected from the youngsters’ experiments will actually be used to inform further work, she said.
“It’s important to get students not just to sit in a classroom and absorb information, and then spit it back out on a test, but to do things and to learn things by using their hands,” McHale said.
Raymond Lee, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences, agrees. He did more than talk about scientific discovery to young participants in the Honors College Summer of Excellence in June. He brought deep-sea hydrothermal vent research directly to them in real time.
“A novel thing we did was to Skype with an educator on a research cruise to deep sea vents off the coast of British Columbia. The students were able to ask him questions and get the sense of a real link to scientific discovery,” Lee said. “It illustrated how the digital age continues to advance how we conduct scholarly inquiry.”
Like McHale, Lee, too, was impressed by his young students and their questions. “They seemed engaged, intellectually curious, and serious. I think the idea of a summer camp is an excellent platform to change the perspective of these students, so that they get a snapshot into university and the future.”
Reaching out with reason
McHale’s first foray into youth outreach left her exhausted but expanded, she said. “It’s almost like younger people are natural scientists because they’re naturally curious. It’s pretty easy to find and light that spark.”
She recommends faculty engage in youth outreach for many important reasons. “Outreach is something we should all be doing—although it’s not easy, it’s a lot of work, and it doesn’t necessarily pay. The thing is that, while it certainly can help us secure grants to continue our other work, we do it because we need future scientists and future thinkers to solve huge problems in our world.”
Arts for Children’s Enrichment (ACE)
A unique collaboration with the 4-H Youth Development Program to bring arts education to Washington youth through workshops, teacher-training, and materials distribution in several counties.
For college-bound students, hands-on workshops in a variety of topics, such as environmental science, culinary arts, engineering, fashion design, Shakespearean literature, and international cultures.
Honors College Summer of Excellence
High school juniors and seniors experience what an honors program is like at a major research university, with workshops led by faculty from many disciplines.
Las Memorias Performance Project
Combining writing, theater, culture, and performance, participants are nurtured through the process of writing about their life experiences, which are then converted to a theatrical performance.
Math and Science CAMP
The College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) helps migrant youth make real-world connections in math and science through an interactive, hands-on approach.
Summer Music Camps
Cougar String Camp, WSU Oboe & Bassoon Camp, and Summer Keyboard Explorations enable young musicians to learn from award-winning WSU faculty and participate in various ensembles.
A federally funded academic support program that prepares and motivates low-income, first-generation, and academically at-risk high school students to successfully pursue a college education.