SUP Summer Science: An Integration of Service & Science

From Thang Diep, Sally Chen, and Ellen Zhang

During the summer of 2017, the Summer Urban Program’s Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment Program (BRYE) and Harvard summer research village (PBPSS) collaborated to bring science into youth classrooms. Read more about the experiences of Thang Diep ’19, Sally Chen ’19, and Ellen Zhang ’19 to find out more!

From Thang Diep ‘19…

As a BRYE director, I was excited to welcome Summer Science into our program! BRYE Summer serves immigrant youth from under-resourced communities who are not often exposed to new experiences in schools and their communities. When Sally Chen, the point person for Summer Science, reached out to me about the opportunity, my Co-Director and I were eager to provide our campers with new learning opportunities. Studies have shown that all students in elementary school have a vast variety of interests; however, by the time they are in college, female students are less likely to go into the sciences. I believe that this trend highlights that there is something inherently wrong with the way we are teaching sciences, in regards to representation or gender biases within the classroom. As a director, it is my responsibility to encourage all of our campers to follow their dreams or ambitions and express that all options for their future are open to them!

Through a collaboration between BRYE and the summer research village at Harvard, we catered science experiments and activities to ELL youth ranging from 6 to 14 years-old. We came up with four interactive activities that were engaging and educational for our campers. The four activities included making ice cream, cookies excavation, creating lava lamps, and making home-made lemonade.

One of my most memorable experiences this summer was working with Summer Science. The day that summer science came in, one of our campers was acting out because he was not really interested in what was going on in class. However, when the Summer Science volunteers ran the workshops, he paid full attention to them and this might partially be because he was interested in the sciences. Rather than taking him away from class for being disruptive, we decided to have the volunteers work one-on-one with him through these workshops. At the end of the day, he walked way learning something new about the science behind lava lamps and got to bring TWO lava lamps home for himself and his little sister!

From Sally Chen ‘19…

During the summer, the Harvard Summer Undergraduate Research Village (HSURV) hosts a variety of research fellowships, the largest of which is focused on science and engineering. For the past few years, one of the lead events organized by research fellows each summer was our collaboration with SUP to bring some of the excitement we have for our own work to the next generation of young scholars.

This summer, I was a research assistant in the newly piloted Program for Community Engaged Research. Given my background with community work and public service, I was particularly excited to take on planning for the event with BRYE. In coordination with another summer researcher, Jonathan You, we brainstormed activities that would be informative and fun for all the campers. We settled on a general theme of food/science—consuming delicious knowledge that is also educationally nutritious!

 Drawing on some of the classics of our own childhoods, we listed out activities for volunteers to lead. With the vital stabilizing force of Thang and Aileen and their SUP senior counselors, we were able to come on site into the classrooms to then implement the workshops. Joy Li led fizzy lemonade making by mixing baking soda and lemon juice to give a crash course on PH levels. Radhika Goyal led cookie excavation as an introduction to archeology. Ellen Zhang led ice cream making to teach some basic chemistry, and I led campers in lava lamp making in a lesson on liquid density difference between oil and water.

It was really wonderful to work with the campers and witness their energy and excitement: campers furiously removing raisins from oatmeal-raisin cookies with unparalleled focus, outrageous reactions to the bitter fizz of the lemonade, vigorous shaking and tossing of lava lamps, and sheer delight at having ice cream form before their eyes on a hot summer’s day. While HSURV research projects are slightly different in nature, the passion and investment is something that starts at an early age. We hope this day was as memorable for the campers as it was for us and that one day they might in turn think fondly on these activities, wherever their passions take them.

From Ellen Zhang ‘19…

Two summers ago, I had the incredible opportunity to co-lead the first collaboration between the summer research village (as a PRISE fellow conducting research in the laboratory) and SUP (as an active PBHA member). As a student whose parents are both scientists, I’ve seen how much my education has been shaped by opportunities, many provided by my public school education. As a STEM major, I’ve seen the challenges in this field, its growing potential, and increasing importance. As an individual, I’ve learned the value of shaping the lives of others by combating systems, such as the education system that often fails the most vulnerable populations. Thus, this collaboration was a perfect opportunity to do two activities I loved in a fun and engaging way.

Last summer, I was on campus again, and excited to participate in this collaboration for the second time.  The day started off early. A group of us gathered the necessary equipment for fun experiments to do with the BRYE students. Arriving at the site, Thang greeted us and showed us to the classrooms. There was no doubt that the kids were full of energy. Personally, I was making ice cream with the students to help them learn about chemistry concepts, specifically heat transfer. As I set up the station, kids gathered and jumped around with excitement. The most common question I received was, can I have vanilla or chocolate? Smiling, I would point to the chocolate syrup that could easily change the former to the latter

Throughout the day, rotations of students came to put ingredients into a bag that went into a larger bag filled with ice. Through shaking, ice cream could be formed. Students were engaged in making the ice cream, and as they ate, they listened to my explanations of chemistry. There were some exclamations of “cool” and “wow” amid their mouths covered with their treats. At the end of the day, the ice had melted and the ingredients were all consumed. As I cleaned up the mess, the room was quiet as the students had gone home for the day. On the ride home back to campus, we all agreed on some facts (1) the students had so much energy (2) we were utterly exhausted and (3) the day was meaningful – one of those things you can never truly formulate into words.   

Thinking back, I honestly think that day was one of the best days of the summer. On top of that, it was much more tiring than going to lab – having an energetic tone, projecting my voice over the noise, and trying so hard to make sure the students took away not just ice cream, but the chemistry behind it, was full of much more multitasking than a normal day at lab. Sure, some days at labs lasted for 8 hours and even required me to go back and continue working after dinner. Yet, being with the students was even more tiring. But, in that same vein, it was just as meaningful. In lab, I am trying to solve questions, find solutions, and enhance the world through numbers and facts. Doing service, I am trying to touch someone’s life, consider every one of my words and actions, and create a sense of belonging for the campers I am teaching. In both settings, I am constantly learning and trying to make a difference. It is for this very reason I love science and service so much. It is for this very reason why Summer Science was such a memorable experience.

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