By Tin Lok Wong, Universities of Shady Grove
Dr. Stephanie Mathews (Scientific Program Manager, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases) asked the audience, “Do I look like I’m a scientist?” Her question drew the audience’s attention as she demystified the public image of a ‘scientist.’ Her story was like many of those who spoke over the six Young Adult Science Cafés (YA) held during the 2014-2015 academic year.
A program of the Rockville Science Center, YA is organized and operated by the ASBMB Student Chapter at The Universities at Shady Grove. YA is career-oriented, giving middle school through college-level students an insider-perspective on science from local STEM professionals. Speakers share stories of their personal journeys, giving insight into the many roles they play, obstacles they have overcome and choices they made. They provide valuable lessons by introducing their research, captivating the audience with humorous stories and even providing sneak peeks into potential breakthroughs.
YA aims to create a dialogue between young adults and scientists to promote interest in STEM, raise awareness about current issues in STEM fields and to provide opportunities for undergraduate students and members of the scientific community to engage in discussions.
Developing the program
The road to success can be challenging. In 2012, under sponsorship of ASBMB member Edward Eisenstein, Zubia Khan (president of YA) and other students started the ASBMB USG student chapter, organizing the first YA in 2013 for high school and college students. Meanwhile, recognizing an opportunity to increase its public outreach, the ASBMB awarded RSC a seed grant to expand science cafés in Montgomery County.
At the end of the 2012-2013 academic year, the chapter encountered crisis — the founding members graduated, and there was no one to continue the program. Due to the nature of the campus, USG’s student population changes every two years as a large number of undergraduate students transfer from Montgomery College (MC), the local community college, to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Dr. Eisenstein again approached the USG community to recruit a new class of juniors from the biological science program, and meetings were set to revive the promising program.
However, with limited guidelines from the original group, confusion reigned. We had to reestablish connections, brainstorm topics and attempt to schedule speakers. This became our greatest challenge. With little success, participation flagged and we struggled to envision how to execute the mission of the program. The year was almost over before we were able to secure our first speaker, Dr. Daniel Nelson (Department of Veterinary Medicine, Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research). We raced to schedule a room and inform the public. Despite limited advertising, students came to the presentation, “Are bacteria smarter than us?” This first taste of success energized and reinforced our determination to succeed.
A lack of structure also made it difficult for us to take up the chapter’s responsibilities. We approached RSC for the 2014-2015 academic year to help identify potential speakers and advertise events. Maizie Cummings-Rocke at the RSC mentored us, providing guidance to improve the program’s structure and organization. Thus we focused on one goal: to develop a YA program that could be sustained once its current members graduate.
We created a chapter constitution, instituted dues to pay the ASBMB annual membership, outlined responsibilities, assigned tasks and set a budget. Each semester, we met to schedule dates for the two-hour program. During the spring semester, we recruited juniors to take over once the current leaders graduated. We developed evaluation forms for each event, allowing attendees to provide input for future events. Realizing there was considerable interest from middle school students, we expanded the program to include them. We requested that an adult accompany them since we didn’t feel it was appropriate to invite unsupervised 6-8th grade students to the campus. We also revised the initial guidelines to permit Power Point presentations when appropriate and included an RSVP system through Eventbrite. After a trial session, we developed a flier template and modified the Eventbrite registration form to collect statistical information and help plan for space and refreshments, thus greatly improving logistics.
Procedures to invite speakers, speaker guidelines and a script that covered opening remarks, directions to the rest rooms, a request to complete the session evaluation and an introduction of the speaker were developed. We also learned that preparing questions to facilitate a dialogue between the students and speaker was imperative to the success of each event as it helped ‘break the ice.’
At events, we asked registered and walk-in attendees to add their information to an email subscription list to advertise future programs. While we advised speakers to include a break in their presentations, they often flowed so well that people didn’t wish to stop. At the end, speakers received a thank you gift and a letter requesting additional speaker recommendations. Evaluations were synthesized, and the information was given to RSC for its reporting purposes.
Looking to the future
Our successor group ran their first event in June 2015 with co-host Dr. James Sniezek, campus-wide Dean of Chemical and Biological Sciences at Montgomery College, for a special ‘Talk and Tour.’ This included a talk by Dr. Lakshmi Pidugu about x-ray crystallography in “The X-Ray Eye” and a tour of the new premier labs at the Montgomery College Germantown Campus. With transition documentation and training, we know next year’s YA will succeed. Members are already looking to expand the YA series to the three MC campuses.
A word from the next president
Jeffrey Clark, incoming president for 2015-2016, shared his experience with the program: “This semester, I was looking to get more involved in extracurricular activities at USG. Tin Lok Wong (my teaching assistant for statistics) introduced the Young Adult Science Café program to me. I was amazed at how many high school and middle school students attended Dr. David Spiro’s talk about the influenza virus and vaccines. I’ve always thought that people should really be more exposed to science while growing up. I think that the YA program is a great way to reach out to students in the community and get them excited about science. All of the chapter members are looking forward to the challenges of growing YA over the next year.”
The success of the ASBMB Student Chapter at USG would not be possible without contributions from many individuals and organizations. First, the chapter would like to thank the ASBMB for the “Community Partnerships for Science Outreach through an Expanded Undergraduate Affiliate Network of the ASBMB” grant. The chapter would not be able to enjoy such success without the support of the ASBMB. Secondly, the chapter would like to thank Dr. Edward Eisenstein, RSC trustee and chapter sponsor, for continuously supporting the chapter and making the program possible at USG.
The chapter would also like to thank all the passionate scientists and STEM professionals who spoke at the program series for their engaging presentations, valuable advice and eagerness to recommend the program to colleagues. Lastly, the chapter would like to sincerely thank Maizie Cummings-Rocke, RSC program mentor, for going above and beyond and believing in the chapter’s ability to succeed. Chapter officers made tremendous progress under her valuable comments and recommendations, filled with encouragement, kindness, patience and care.
For more information on ASBMB funding for outreach, visit: