Nov. 26, 2018
By Mary Anna Sedlacek
Justin Lok is a senior biological chemistry major and has been volunteering with the Chemistry Outreach Program since his sophomore year. According to Lok, the objective of this program is to bring chemistry to the community, and it is largely oriented toward kids. Volunteers visit local middle schools and the mall where they have displays and conduct simple experiments, explaining the concepts behind them. They try to demonstrate how chemistry relates to real life and spark young people's interest in chemistry and other STEM fields.
When volunteers go to local middle schools, they provide students with light and fun educational experiences with chemistry. Lok says the middle school students are happy to be missing class for such events, but they are still learning, and that's the goal. Events are very fluid and students have the opportunity to walk around and see what's going on at each station. University student volunteers get to provide young students with interactive experiences involving chemistry. "It's a whole educational experience. It's like having multiple guest speakers. We're just there to express our ideas and show them why chemistry is amazing."
At the mall, volunteers also provide kids with an opportunity to conduct little experiments and participate in hands-on activities. An activity that is particularly popular with the kids is one that involves ultraviolet (UV) beads. During this activity, volunteers help kids make bracelets with the beads that they get to take home. While making the bracelets, volunteers talk to the kids about how UV light works and other chemical concepts related to the activity. Lok acknowledges that the kids are often more interested in the products themselves, like the bracelets, than the science lesson, but this is a useful way to introduce chemistry to them.
Lok says that it is often easier to learn through visualization and such activities allow students to see the science they talk about in class up close. "I want these kids to have that tangible experience, to understand that a lot of the things that they see and witness every day is due to chemistry and science." Lok has enjoyed exposing young people to chemistry and hopes that they leave the events wanting to learn more about it and even pursue studies in STEM fields. He is enthusiastic about teaching others about science, and he especially appreciates the moment in which someone finally grasps a concept.
Lok is overall passionate about chemistry and the volunteer program that allows him to bring it to others. "It's light science and it's fun to do, and it's nice to give to the community and show what we're doing. I think it's nice to be a representation of the University."
Email the Chemistry Outreach Program Volunteer Coordinator, Vince Van Nostrand, to learn how you can get involved.
Photos: Banner: In addition to the Chemistry Outreach Program, Binghamton University's Chemistry Department hosts the Go Green Institute that brings area middle school students inside the world of STEM. The 10-day camp teaches the children what it takes to create a sustainable living environment. Top right: Justin Lok, Chemistry Outreach Program participant.