WVDL Staff Making a Difference in the Community

Many WVDL staff members not only perform in the lab, but also take part in outreach events outside the lab.  One such recent occasion involved speaking to local middle school students about the impact schooling has had on your career.  Our very own senior chemist Kate Smith was one of four WVDL personnel to participate in this education program.  She has summarized her experience below.


 School Makes a Difference

Kate Smith, chemistWhen asked to speak in front of a group of eighth graders last year, all of my middle-school anxiety came flooding back, along with plenty of angst and awkwardness (well, perhaps I never grew out of that last one).  Luckily the whole experience went relatively smoothly; so much so, that I readily volunteered again this year.  Plus, working as only one of two chemists at WVDL, I feel the need to jump on any outreach and networking opportunity.  Along with three other scientists: Dr. Cindy Bell (a veterinary pathologist), Carol Hulland and Beth Pfotenhauer (both microbiologists), I ventured out to various Madison Area middle schools to convince kids that their education is indispensible if they want to have a promising career.

The School Makes a Difference Program is sponsored by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and made possible by collaboration with the Madison Metropolitan School District Career and Technical Education Program.  While standing (nervously, in my case) in front of a classroom of students, we discussed our careers; including what we do during a typical work day, how we dress at work (the firefighters and police officers always steal the show at this point!), and most importantly, what skills are needed.  We reminisced about what we wanted to be when we grew up (some early aspirations of ours were quite humorous), and how we eventually ended up where we are today.  Not too many students are excited by their current math and science classes, so I had to make it interesting by letting them try on some lab coats, talk about the details of my animal fluid and tissue-filled days (turns out eighth graders love to be grossed out), and the big finale: passing around some fist-size gallstones from a zebra.  With these methods I was able to convince a group of kids that science is indeed awesome…well, at least for the entire eight minutes that I held the floor.  That, I think, can be considered a successful example of outreach.