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October 17, 2007
A dozen crickets atop a table: Half of them are crawling and jumping around, while the rest lie still on their sides. Which ones are alive, and which are dead?
Stanford students are asked this question and others in preparation for volunteering as a youth mentor for Science in Service, a program housed in the university's Haas Center for Public Service. Articulating the seemingly simple distinction between life and death proves daunting even for those studying science and engineering, according to program director Kelly Beck. But in the process, they learn how to ask the right questions and how to engage young minds in discussions about the whats and whys of the physical world.
Science in Service is one of many off-campus programs being recognized tonight by the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula. Other Stanford-based youth service programs that will honored—with the Menlo Park-based nonprofit's Leading Community Partner award—include those involving students and staff from Stanford Athletics, the Graduate School of Business and the School of Education. University Provost John Etchemendy is expected to be in attendance.
Also being celebrated at the 2007 Leading Citizens Awards gala are the Oracle Corporation and Applied Materials board chairman James Morgan, along with his family. (Tickets for the event are no longer available.)
First held in 1969, the Leading Citizens Awards program recognizes individuals and entities for outstanding commitment and support of youth. Science in Service has been involved with the Boys and Girls Clubs since 2003 and was developed cooperatively by the Haas Center and Philip Scherrer, a research professor in the Physics Department and member of the Stanford Solar Observatories Group. Scherrer used funds from a grant by NASA to cover the Science in Service's startup costs and Beck's position at the Haas Center.
Throughout the year, between 30 and 60 Stanford students participate in the program, serving about 100 to 150 kindergartners through 12th graders. Most afternoons, groups of five to 10 Stanford students lead highly interactive hands-on science activities at Boys and Girls Clubs in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Redwood City.
Chemical engineering major Joseph Liu is now in his fourth year with Science in Service, and he said he is still amazed by the ideas that children at the clubs have. In a lesson designed by Liu, he asked kids to build miniature skyscrapers out of straws after he demonstrated. One group, to Liu's delight, supported its building by wrapping the straws around in a helical structure. "They were able to take this knowledge and do something that we'd never thought of," Liu said.
"What we really want to do is create a generation of scientists who are civic scientists," said Beck, emphasizing that Stanford students learn a valuable lesson themselves as youth mentors—to see where there's potential, not problems.
"It's not about looking at the things that the community is lacking," Beck said. "It's about looking at their assets."
In addition to Science in Service, the Peninsula nonprofit will honor volunteers from Stanford Athletics who lead team activities at the clubs and students from the Graduate School of Business who helped children with their homework and, last year, raised more than $20,000 to support club programs.
Also to be spotlighted are the efforts of students from the School of Education's John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities, who recently conducted close to a dozen independent research studies on many of the clubs' programs—the results of which prompted feedback that then led to a variety of program revisions and improvements. Through the Gardner Center, the club also became an early participant in the Youth Data Archive project, a database that links information from organizations such as local school districts, county agencies and other nonprofits to help more thoroughly track, compare and evaluate impact.
"What I really value is that this has become a very close partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs and their staff," Beck said. "It's about working with the community."
Science in Service is in its last year of funding from the Stanford Solar Observatories Group, and Beck is pursuing partnerships with various faculty members in an effort to ensure that the program continues. Noting that one incentive for faculty is that participation may help satisfy the outreach component of a research grant, Beck added that faculty can choose their level of involvement.
For information, contact Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Cannon is a science-writing intern at the Stanford News Service.
Kelly Beck, Science in Service: (650) 723-8749, email@example.com
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (650) 723-2558.