P8: Inspiring Excellence - Engaging students in meaningful science experiences

Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 10:30am to 12:00pm
Let's Talk Science

The importance of nurturing science-based talent has been stressed in numerous international and national studies into science, technology and innovation. Canada has made gains in the past few years but much more can be done to encourage students at all ages to pursue science learning. Barriers to youth engagement include a lack of role models, lack of awareness of career opportunities, and constraints on school science and technology programs, including equipment and resources. Engaging students in “real” research projects and connecting them with researchers and innovators helps to addresses many of the known barriers. It also informs and engages young adults in complex issues related to science policy.

This panel will discuss initiatives that encourage scientists and innovators to engage students in joint projects and explore complex issues in contexts that are relevant and meaningful to participating youth. The following projects will be showcased, along with others, and used to drive a broader discussion about success factors for such engagement projects:
i.RaDI-N2 & You, a national research project in which hundreds of classrooms documented their exposure to neutron radiation at the same time as Astronaut Chris Hadfield conducted the same experiment at the International Space Station and Jazz pilots monitored exposure on flights;
ii. DNA Day, during which students participated in real-time online chats with Canadian genetics and genomics experts, and with science communicator, Jay Ingram;
iii.StemCellTalks, a pan-Canadian suite of symposia that bring secondary students together with world-renown scientists to explore the science and ethical complexities of stem cell research;
iv. Market fraud study, in which students worked with genomics researchers to analyse fish samples and determine the prevalence of product mislabelling;
v.DNA Barcoding at the Zoo, in which high school students developed QR codes related to habitats at the Toronto Zoo, under the advice of genomics researchers.

Panel members will briefly describe the projects and discuss various issues such as: i) the importance of engaging youth with researchers; ii) key elements of successful projects; iii) constraints and challenges; iv) developing effective partnerships; v) assessing and showcasing results.


Professor in the School of Environmental Sciences and Director of the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF) and program
University of Guelph

Dr. Mike Dixon is a Professor in the School of Environmental Sciences and Director of the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF) and program, University of Guelph. He served as Chair of the Department of Environmental Biology from 2003-2008. Dr. Dixon joined the University in 1985 as a NSERC University Research Fellow after earning his PhD from Edinburgh University in Scotland and holding a post-doctoral position at the University of Toronto. As project leader for the Canadian research team investigating the contributions of plants to life support in space, Dr. Dixon formed the Space and Advanced Life Support Agriculture (SALSA) program at the University of Guelph. This program currently represents Canada’s prime contribution to the international space science objectives in life support and the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF) currently leads the world in technology developments and research dedicated to studying plant and microbial interactions in advanced life support systems. Dr. Dixon is also the project leader for the research team at Guelph investigating the biofiltration of indoor air as a method of alleviating what is commonly known as “sick building syndrome”.

University of Guelph

Tawsha Murray will begin postsecondary studies at the University of Guelph in September 2013. During secondary school she participated in a biotechnology club at Donald A. Wilson school. While in Grade 12, Tawsha participated in a unique student-led project that brought genomics to life through a partnership between the school, Let’s Talk Science, Ontario Genomics Institute and the Metro Toronto Zoo. Students developed posters that are accessible through QR codes to CurioCity (www.ExploreCurioCity.org) connecting genomics science to the animals habitat.

PhD candidate
University of Guelph

Amanda Naaum graduated with a BSc in molecular biology and genetics from the University of Guelph in 2008. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Guelph studying molecular methods for food traceability and authenticity. Amanda has been a volunteer with Let's Talk Science for three years and the University of Guelph Site Coordinator for two years. She is interested in science education and outreach, particularly in giving students a more comprehensive understanding of the scientific process. Amanda has led several DNA barcoding projects with high school students, including a seafood market survey involving over 1000 students.

Stem Cell Network

Paul joined the Stem Cell Network (SCN) in January 2012 as Scientist-in-Residence, and is responsible for the smooth administration of the scientific and training programs, and for managing relationships with training partners. Prior to joining the SCN, Paul was a Stem Cell Network trainee working in the field of Integrative Genomics and Stem Cell Biology during his PhD at the University of Toronto. As a Stem Cell Network trainee, Paul was actively involved in the promotion of science literacy, and was site coordinator for the Let’s Talk Science Outreach program. Paul is the co-founder of StemCellTalks, a public outreach initiative designed to facilitate knowledge transfer between the stem cell community and senior level high school students across Canada. He holds a B.Sc from McMaster University in Biology & Pharmacology, and during his undergraduate training, Paul spent nearly two years doing research as a co-op student at AstraZeneca R&D Montreal.

Director of Corporate Communications
Genome Alberta

Mike Spear is currently Director of Corporate Communications for Genome Alberta, a non-profit genetic research funding organization based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Prior to that much of his career was spent as a Producer, Executive Producer, and Program Manager with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. While there he received a CBC President’s award, a Farm Writer’s Award and his newsrooms and current affairs programs received several CBC Peer Awards and RTNDA Awards. He has worked in broadcast news, current affairs, music and drama and was a media trainer with the National Democratic Institute in Croatia. He has launched the conservative world of biotechnology communications into the 21st century with the creation of GenOmics, a news aggregator based on an Open Source platform Genome Alberta has supported with U.S. based partners. He and Genome Alberta are heavily involved in the Fall 2013 launch of Science Borealis, a new Canadian Science blogging network.

Let’s Talk Science

Dr. Bonnie Schmidt is the founder and President of Let’s Talk Science, an award-winning charitable organization that she started while completing a PhD in Physiology. Let’s Talk Science helps children and youth fulfill their potential and become productive citizens and innovators by supporting their learning and engagement through science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Well over 2.6 million youth and educators have been reached by Let’s Talk Science during its twenty year history. A key strategy is connecting the STEM and education communities to help young Canadians explore the relevance and importance of science in our everyday lives.

Bonnie has been active in many national and provincial organizations and initiatives. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Ontario Genomics Institute, the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and on the advisory panel for Impakt: for social purpose. Bonnie was the founding co-Chair of the Science & Technology Awareness Network. She has served on several federal granting review panels and on the 2010 Coalition for Action on Innovation in Canada led by Rx&D and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. She was also a member of the expert panel that developed Ontario’s Early Learning Framework.

Bonnie has organized sessions on science learning and outreach at national and international academic conferences and has been an invited speaker at many events, including the National Space Science Summit, the Leader to Leader Program for 21st Century Skills, the Canadian Science Policy Conference, and the OECD Conference on Global Science, ‘Declining Student Enrolment in Science & Technology’. She chaired the national panel that developed the Spotlight on Science Learning benchmarking report. Bonnie has also published several papers and reports about science learning, which can be accessed through www.letstalkscience.ca.

For her efforts in education, Bonnie has received several awards, including the Top 25 Women of Influence; Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award; Queen’s Golden Jubilee Award; Top 40 Under 40; Ontario’s ‘Leading Women, Building Communities’; YWCA’s Woman of Distinction; and Western’s Young Alumni Award.