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Science grant brings experiments to kids’ club

Thirteen science majors from John Brown University will take science experiments to the children at the Boys and Girls Club in Siloam Springs beginning Feb. 19.

The idea for this began when Carla Swearingen, assistant professor of chemistry, went to a conference on chemical education last year. A professor from the University of Wisconsin spoke about his students who received a grant from the National Science Foundation and were participating in a science education outreach, called SCIENCountErs, at Boys and Girls Clubs in their area.

“I’d been looking for a while for some sort of outreach for our students to do service learning,” Swearingen said. “I thought this was a great fit because we have a Boys and Girls Club that is so close to the campus, and we have a lot of wonderful students with great hearts who really want to serve.”

As Swearingen discussed her interest with the presenter following the session, she found out that the grant included money to fund the start-up of the same project at other universities. Those funds were still available.

After further inquiry, Swearingen and the University received $1,000 of grant money to begin the project at the local Club. Most of the money will go towards supplies for the science experiments, with some leftover for incentives such as an end of the year party to reward the kids.

The eight-week program will be split evenly between life science and physical science. Half the University students will go each time and do experiments with 20 selected elementary students.

If it is successful, Swearingen hopes to continue the project, but she will need to seek out further funding, since the grant from the University of Wisconsin is a one-time thing.
“I don’t think we will have a problem finding other sources of funding for it; we’ll just have to go out and look,” she said.

Late last semester, Swearingen began looking for volunteers. She pitched the experiment project idea to a small group of 21 freshmen and sophomores known as SUCCESS scholars. These students receive scholarship money through another National Science Foundation scholarship grant, and also receive additional benefits such as mentoring, tutoring and faculty support to encourage them to remain biology, chemistry or biochemistry majors.

Sophomores Kevin Bell, Lissa Hirsch and Christin Garrison heard about the idea through this pitch. They were not the only ones excited about it; Swearingen got all 13 student volunteers she needed from the SUCCESS group.

Bell was asked to help take charge. Now, he is responsible for the 12 student volunteers, including helping facilitate the experiments while at the Club and figuring out scheduling. Swearingen is in charge of developing the content, but while at the Club, the project is completely student-led.

“It’s a group of students looking to invest in kids,” said Bell. “We get to show them that learning is tangible, not just memorization. We’re going to try to turn their lights on to learning and invest in their lives.”

Hirsch and Garrison are SUCCESS scholars who work regularly at the Boys and Girls Club. They are excited to be able to combine their love for science with their love for the kids through the program this spring.

Hirsch said, “I already work at the club, so I get to play with the kids a lot. What I am most excited about is the experiments. I haven’t done things like that since elementary school.”

For example, the curriculum includes dissecting owl pellets, making ice cream to demonstrate phase changes, learning about germs by using powder that glows under UV light, building structures and raising butterflies.

When Garrison works in the homework room at the Club, she often finds herself attempting to explain and share her love for science.

“Actually showing them how exciting science is will be fun,” she said.
Hirsch agreed, “Science really can be fun, not just formulas.”