Community Partnership Focuses on Accessibility in Science

August 7, 2017

Tyler Sloan

adults and children working together to build science projects
Students from the Harrison Cultural Community Centre and Oberlin build paper towers outside of the Science Center last week as part of a two-day camp.
Photo credit: Dale Preston '83

A collaboration between Oberlin College and the Harrison Cultural Community Centre is geared toward making science more approachable — and fun — for young students from Lorain County.

Building popsicle-stick boats may not seem like physics at first, but the activity is just one way to make science more creative and accessible — an effort that Associate Professor of Biology Taylor Allen and the Harrison Cultural Community Centre are undertaking together.

As part of a two-day camp last week, Allen and several of his students facilitated approachable workshops for visiting children from Lorain County. Along with constructing boats in Allen’s lab, students from five to 12-years old made paper, explored the Adam Joseph Lewis Center’s greenhouse, and toured the Allen Memorial Art Museum.

“As a center, we want to make sure the kids are developing academically, socially, and otherwise,” says Peter Ogbuji, executive director of the Harrison Centre and former assistant director of the Bonner Center for Service and Learning. “We want to give them hands-on experience to get to know the world beyond the city of Lorain.”

The project, conceived by Ogbuji, was made possible through a Bonner Center mini grant. Audrey Webster, a rising sophomore who helped supervise the camp, drafted the grant proposal after speaking with Allen, Ogbuji, and Tania Boster of the Bonner Center to assess Harrison’s specific organizational needs. Boster called Webster’s proposal an exemplary model of community engagement, reflecting both Ogbuji’s pedagogical perspective and her own research.

Webster’s Oberlin-based research focuses on increasing accessibility to science, technology, engineering, and math, particularly at the introductory level. She says that taking a more creative approach and stepping away from memorization-based learning can encourage people who would otherwise be deterred from studying science to try it out.

“The kids really had a chance to explore their creativity with the different assignments,” Webster says. “We really tried to emphasize if you don’t get it right away, you can start over and learn from what you did wrong. We want to inspire that love for science by making it more about using the creative process versus memorization.”

Moving into the fall semester, both Webster and Allen said they hope to continue working with kids from the Harrison Centre. One idea Allen has for incorporating the partnership is for students in his design-thinking course to create activities that they can then teach to the Harrison youth. Other possibilities include developing relationships between the organization and different groups on campus, such as the engineering club.

“We’re trying to encourage others to see a potential future in engineering and science,” says Allen. “They’re approachable activities that can engage munchkins and even adults.”

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