Emily Halstead volunteers to teach science to children

Tyra Wu ’19
Features Editor

Emily Halstead ’19 has been spending her time volunteering in an afterschool program teaching science to local elementary school students. The Sophian sat down with her to hear more about the programs she works with.

What is the program you’re volunteering for?

It’s called the Smith College Science Center Outreach program. It’s run through the Center for Community Collaboration. I’m what you’d call a STEM Ambassador, and we go to a lot of community places and teach activities. We do a lot of our work at Homework House in Holyoke doing activities ranging from teaching about cell biology to basic engineering activities. We’ve also done activities with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program.

How did you get involved in this program and what is the goal of the program?

I met Thomas Gralinski, who oversees the Science Outreach program at the Student Activities Fair in the fall. Over the course of the semester there’s probably around 50 Smith students involved. There’s a lot of need in certain communities — they do before-school math tutoring at local schools; they help people get their GEDs. These programs tend not to have as many Smith students as they really need. Mostly the programs that I’m personally involved in tend to work with students that are pretty young, usually six to eleven years old, and typically a few years behind grade level so the activities we do tend to be pretty basic, for example, the cell cookies. We tried to give them an overview of basic organelles, plant cells and animal cells. The point we’re trying to make is just to associate learning science with a positive experience, like making cookies with friends.

Why are you interested in this program?

I’m pretty interested in education, in general, and science, as well. I’m thinking about being a neuroscience major with an education minor or a [concentration] in community and social change. I definitely think that education in this country has a lot of problems, and even though my contribution may be small, it’s nice to know there is something that I can do. It’s something that anyone could do. You certainly don’t have to be a science major to be involved in the program. Even if you don’t feel like you can help with the science aspect of it, it’s always helpful to have people watching out for the students and encouraging them to learn.

How often do you volunteer?

It really varies. What’s nice about the Science Outreach Program is that it’s completely up to you to make the commitments that you want to make and you can make. You get a list of activities emailed out to you, both long-term and short-term. You can sign up for whatever number depending on what commitment you want to make. They’re always looking for more people, even if you realize last-minute you can go to something that’s totally fine.

What have you learned by volunteering?

I’ve definitely learned how important it is to be teaching science at a young age. Also, I feel like at Smith we’re kind of in a bubble, and a lot of people don’t realize that even just over in Holyoke there’s a lot of discrepancies with the education system and a lot of people that are very far behind in education. All it takes is a van ride over to Homework House to help these students.

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