Science Outreach club gives back to Montreal youth

Close your eyes, and remember the moment that first ignited your fiery interest in science. Maybe it was an episode of Bill Nye, a baking soda-vinegar volcano eruption in your sixth grade classroom, or, perhaps, it was a visit from a guest speaker inspiring the next generation about science.

In an effort to motivate the scientists and STEM professionals of tomorrow, Let’s Talk Science Outreach at McGill (LTSOM) has made it their mission to give back to the local community, by using their experience and knowledge as science students in master’s and PhD programs to organize hands-on activities with a fun twist for elementary and secondary students in the greater Montreal area.

Established in 1998, LTSOM aims to educate youth in STEM activities and engage them in various workshops, competitions, and learning opportunities. Functioning as a chapter of the Let’s Talk Science organization, a national charitable initiative that boasts a network of 40 post-secondary campuses and outreach sites across Canada, McGill’s branch has provided meaningful on- and off-campus educational activities for the last 20 years. These activities promote positive attitudes toward careers in STEM, and provide a platform for motivated science students or enthusiasts to volunteer and connect with youth.

Jasmin Chahal, a third-year PhD student in Microbiology and Immunology and LTSOM coordinator, described her first memories with the club as a rewarding experience. Chahal communicates the needs of surrounding communities and schools between the national organization and the McGill chapter. The incredible community response the chapter has received is her favourite part of the job yet.

“It would have to be the appreciation that you get,” Chahal said. “Not just from the students or the parents you encounter at a public event, but also when you’re talking about what you do [with] your colleagues. They think it’s so great what we’re doing.”

While the club hosts a number of events throughout the year, their largest is the annual Let’s Talk Science Challenge. Students from grades six to eight spend a few months preparing for either a STEM-based trivia challenge, or a design competition. Ethan Yang, a second-year PhD student in Analytical Chemistry and one of the Let’s Talk Science coordinators, told The McGill Tribune that while the event aims to expand STEM beyond the curriculum, organizers aim to make it a fun experience as well.

“[At these competitions], we give out prizes for team spirit, and most of the kids will either dress up or come up with team chants [to make it more engaging for participants,]” Yang said.

One of the club’s newest initiatives has been to establish Indigenous outreach programs for communities in the farther reaches of the province. Last year, volunteers travelled to the rural Quebec townships of Kawawachikamach and Odanak. They performed in-class, hands-on STEM activities for students, and participated in the Quebec Aboriginal Science Fair.

Relying on volunteers, LTSOM is always looking to recruit passionate individuals to join their ranks, including undergraduates.

“We’ve started to actively reach out to undergrads,” Yang explained. “[We’re] hoping to have a greater undergraduate presence in the club.”

Volunteers can expect to attend training sessions on how to create cool experiments and engaging STEM activities for the students they work with. Past workshops the club has put on have incorporated fingerprinting kits for crime lab activities, or marshmallow towers in engineering workshops.

“Right now, we’re trying to make an effort to do more events, go to more classrooms, get more funding, and raise more awareness,” Chahal said.

All Let’s Talk Science Outreach volunteers attend a training session that focuses on how to create and deliver impactful, engaging hands-on STEM activities. To learn more about becoming a volunteer, contact Susie Taylor, Program Support Coordinator, Outreach.

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