May 12, 2016

UAB APSA partnership with Birmingham YMCA ignites curiosity about science using experiments, hands-on activities

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APSA group largeThe goal for physician-scientist trainees in the UAB School of Medicine to get more local children interested in science has grown into a thriving community partnership with the Birmingham YMCA Youth Center.

Students from the UAB chapter of the American Physician Scientist Association, in partnership with students in Graduate Biomedical Sciences and medical school, travel to the youth center monthly to demonstrate fun science activities or experiments to engage the YMCA after school students and ignite their curiosity.

“We hope to simply get these students interested in the sciences, so that regardless of what they learn during our sessions, they will be receptive to and even eager for their science classes in school,” said Tyler McCaw, UAB APSA president.  

Each visit, the UAB group incorporates foundational scientific concepts in the activities with the kids, such as anatomical relationships. For example, the activity in April included YMCA students tracing an outline of their bodies onto poster paper in order to guess the location where various organs are found. McCaw said this allowed for an interactive opportunity to teach the students the basics of human physiology.

“The children at the YMCA are genuinely curious and engaged with the experiments and projects that are brought their way,” said Hayden Pacl, an MSTP student volunteering with the group. “Their natural inclinations are scientific ones: ask questions, form hypotheses and manipulate variables.

“While it might not look so formulaic to the untrained eye, they are truly being scientists when they want to add more soap to their make their elephant toothpaste bigger, or when they want to add more borax to their slime balls so they bounce better,” Pacl said. “I think it is important to show them that they are already using the scientific method in their lives every day by encouraging their curiosity and helping them answer their own questions.”

The various activities that the students perform take a lot of planning and coordination. However, the partnership has been fortunate to have a dedicated team of student volunteers from various UAB schools to help make the UAB-YMCA partnership a success month-to-month.

“Since I spend most of my time studying, it is actually exciting to go and do something hands-on in the community rather than trusting that my time in the books will serve the community years from now,” Pacl said.

“Spending time with the kids and taking advantage of the opportunity to share how truly cool science and medicine are with them is always an exemplary use of my time,” said Paige Souder, an MSTP student. “I’ve had a lot of people help me get where I am and it’s exciting to be in a place where I can pay it forward.”

Though all volunteers are enrolled in rigorous degree programs, each participant’s willingness to make time for these science activities demonstrates a shared appreciation for the value of investing in the education of the community’s future generations.  

“I’ve found that including the rest of the world in your line of vision not only makes the experience more enjoyable, but really sets you in action to begin the life of service you’ve chosen as a physician or scientist,” Souder said.