Hana Kucera, a PhD student at the University of New Brunswick, needed an outlet to help share her passion for science.
So she founded New Brunswick's first chapter of the Let's Talk Science Partnership Program, a national graduate student organization dedicated to bolstering science literacy amongst Canada's youth.
Through the program, which operates at 26 universities across Canada, graduate students are partnered with educators in the community. The graduate students visit the educators in their classrooms and provide schoolchildren with hands-on science-based activities that are usually based on research they're involved with at university.
“Grad students benefit by learning how to communicate their research to a lay audience and by getting a renewed enthusiasm for their research when they see the kids get excited,” says Kucera. “The teachers and children benefit because they gain access to people who are doing front science.”
Fostering scientific curiosity
Kucera volunteered with the Let's Talk Science program during her undergraduate studies in British Columbia and thought it would benefit New Brunswick's youth.
It's also a lot of fun, she adds.
“There's just something about the curiosity of kids that you just can't get anywhere else. They're just so amazed by the natural world,” she says.
“That's something I remember feeling as a child and want to inspire in others.”
The Let's Talk Science program is a wonderful resource for educators, says Lisa Holyoke-Walsh, head of the science department at Fredericton's Leo Hayes High School.
"It is a great way to create community connections and provide students with an innovative hands-on learning opportunity that they might not get in the classroom," she says.
The partnership between the Let's Talk Science program and educators helps more than just the students - it's also a great resource for teachers, she adds.
"It's a great way for teachers to learn concepts that they are uncomfortable teaching or unfamiliar with and it allows opportunities to learn new labs, teaching methodologies and a chance to ask questions to people who have strength in unfamilar areas."
A life-long passion for science
Kucera’s fascination with science began when she was a child walking along the beaches of British Columbia. As she strolled along parts of the beach exposed by the receding tide, known as an inter-tidal zone, she became enthralled with the wide variety of creatures and plants.
Her fascination turned into a passion for biology, one she pursued through high school and into university. During her undergraduate studies at Simon Fraser University, she took a field course at the renowned Bamfield Marine Science Centre in B.C.
“The diversity of seaweed we saw in one weekend just blew my mind,” she says. “I never imagined that there could be that many different kinds of seaweed.”
During her time at Bamfield, she met Gary Saunders, a UNB biologist. Saunders was teaching a field course and invited Kucera to complete her graduate studies in New Brunswick.
Kucera says she's glad she took Saunders up on the offer.
“I really couldn't ask for more in a supervisor. He's supportive of new ideas and new directions in the lab.”
In the spring, Kucera received the 2008 Graduate Student Award of Merit from the Senior Women Academic Administrators of Canada for founding the Let's Talk Science program in New Brunswick.
A new generation
Kucera has now handed the reins of UNB's Let's Talk Science Partnership Program to two other graduate students, Katy Hind and Kim Edmondson.
The four-year-old program continues to thrive on campus and across the province. It is supported by funding from the national organization as well as the generous support of the dean of science and the biology department.
“It makes me really happy to see that the program is in good hands.”
Want to learn more about Let's Talk Science? Check out the UNB chapter website.