In April, BU invited every Vestal fourth grader on a tour of the Innovative Technologies Complex (ITC) to expose them to the campus and a world of science, part of recent efforts to open doors to local youth through campus field trips and student volunteering.
Rachel Coker, director of research advancement in the Division of Research at BU, has been responsible for organizing youth events for several years. While the most recent tour took place at ITC, Coker has also organized tours to explore the main campus, including the E.W. Heier Teaching and Research Greenhouses.
“The trips first started from National Lab Day, when we opened up our labs and a few people came,” Coker said. “Over the years the trips have grown, and during the [2018-19] year, every Vestal fourth grader was invited. There were 250 kids, and they were split up into groups of 50 kids.”
The groups also had the opportunity to receive a hands-on science learning experience. Coker said many of the children on the tour may not have exposure to research, especially in a college atmosphere.
“Some people have never been to [the] University,” Coker said. “Bringing kids to the lab shows the more academic side of the University — this may be the first time that kids get to see a scientist.”
Before visitors arrive, faculty members from different departments, such as psychology and biology, set up small science experiments for the children. The experiments vary depending on the age group on the tour, but include activities such as a microscope set-up so a group can take turns looking at slides and have a chance to ask questions.
Students have also connected to local youth through other programs offered by the University. SUNY Kids is a club that organizes field day trips for kids every Saturday, the Center for Civic Engagement has a youth initiative that offers opportunities to connect with local youth through volunteering or interning and the Johnson City Mentor Program is open to BU students who want to become mentors at Johnson City Middle School.
In the Writing 111: Inquiry and Academic Writing course taught by Alvin Vos, an associate professor of English, a collegiate professor of Hinman College and coordinator of Hinman College’s Public Service Learning Community, students are expected to volunteer at nearby schools to encourage community-engaged learning.
“I try to incorporate service-learning into as many of my courses as I can, just as I am also an advocate for community and public service,” Vos wrote in an email.
For the course, students volunteer for an hour a week at Horace Mann Elementary School and write journal entries about their experience. Local schools have given positive feedback, saying they appreciate the volunteers.
“Just so you know — we love having your students at Mann,” Peter Stewart, principal of Horace Mann Elementary School, wrote in an email to Vos. “Thank you for giving us the opportunity to work with your students.”
Coker said other local schools that have inquired about participating in her tours, and both Coker and Vos said they plan to continue their efforts to engage with students in the community.