Category Archives: Students

Mentoring Youth by Making Science Fun

Junior Science ClubFour years ago, Northwestern University graduate students Julianne Hatfield and Stephanie Rangel began volunteering with Science Club, an after-school science education initiative for underprivileged youth. The club has been run since 2009 by Science in Society, Northwestern’s science outreach and public engagement program. Given their positive experience with Science Club, Hatfield and Rangel launched Junior Science Club last summer, a new branch of the program serving 4th to 6th graders in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood that meets after school twice a month. Hatfield and Rangel reflect on how these volunteer teaching opportunities have perfectly coalesced with their Ph.D. programs and inspired their students to be more engaged in learning about science.

We are in a room filled with 15 buzzing elementary school students trying to isolate DNA from strawberries. We are teaching them about biology as part of an after-school program we recently started. But we aren’t elementary school teachers; we are Ph.D. biomedical research students at Northwestern University. So how did we end up here?

After four years of refining our teaching and mentoring skills, we wanted to take our involvement to the next level and deepen our knowledge of how to develop a science outreach program. Science in Society program director Michael Kennedy and assistant director Rebecca Daugherty offered us the opportunity to create a Junior Science Club program for 4th-6th grade students at General Wood Boys & Girls Club of Chicago (BGCC) in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago.

In addition to the strawberry DNA experiments, the students at our new club have been chemists creating baking soda-vinegar explosions and engineers designing bridges out of drinking straws. For each lesson, we focus on one key aspect of the scientific method, such as forming a hypothesis, identifying a variable or analyzing data.

So far we have had the privilege to meet and work with more than 40 students at General Wood BGCC. As the weeks go on, we are excited to see students arrive earlier and earlier for the start of Science Club. One very bright 4th-grade student, Emily, whom we met during the summer months, would arrive in the Science Club room the moment we walked through the door so she could help us set up that day’s lesson and ask us questions about being scientists. These unique, personal bonds that we form with individual students make this type of outreach work extremely rewarding, and we are excited to see the program grow and expand to include more students like Emily.

Adopting Northwestern University’s ideals of connecting with our community and extending our training experiences beyond the lab, we originally joined Science in Society’s Science Club program in 2009. Developed in partnership with Northwestern, Chicago Public Schools teachers and the BGCC, the program’s broad mission is to inspire underprivileged Chicago youth to learn scientific skills and pursue science and engineering careers.

As Science Club mentors, the training and professional development we received was broad—covering topics such as science communication, teaching, program development, evaluation and even writing grants. Being in Science Club almost since its inception, we were able to see how the program grew and flourished. And we were proud to share in Science Club’s recent 2013 Afterschool STEM Impact Award.

In addition to the amazing impacts on youth, neither one of us realized how just three hours a week in Science Club would benefit our research. Mentoring elementary and middle school students is a crash course on effective science communication. These skills translate to many aspects of our Ph.D.s, including data presentations in informal and formal settings, working with collaborators and training new lab members. Teaching students critical thinking skills has strengthened our own skills, which translates to the lab bench. Additionally, being a mentor in Science Club has reinvigorated our love of science (something that can get clouded in the day-to-day motions of Ph.D. work). Our Science Club experiences have unquestionably contributed to our success as Ph.D. students.

As we approach our final year as graduate students, we have begun focusing on our futures. Since starting the Junior Science Club program, we have taken on full roles in curriculum design and execution. This has allowed us to learn the philosophy behind developing hypothesis-driven curriculum that can translate to teaching at any level—elementary or college courses. In addition, we had the opportunity to attend the National Institutes of Health SciEd Conference, which highlights other programs funded through Science Education Partnerships Awards (like Science Club). This opened our eyes to a whole world of informal STEM education careers, as well as the opportunity to meet people at the forefront of the field. These opportunities have allowed us to build our teaching portfolios and gain leadership experience in preparation for careers in science education and outreach.

Science Club has shown us that the Ph.D. track at Northwestern can be so much more than just research. Helping the underserved youth of Chicago has been extremely rewarding and has allowed us to show students that the scientific method can be applied in many different situations, not just when they are isolating strawberry DNA.

An Experiential Harvest with One Book One Northwestern

Weinberg senior Tracy Navichoque joined nearly 200 Northwestern students in exploring issues of nutrition, food policy, urban agriculture and other topics in nine faculty-led “learning excursions” to Chicago and Evanston locales as part of NU’s First Season, a day of experiential learning organized by One Book, One Northwestern. The One Book program encouraged the NU community to read Roger Thurow’s “The Last Hunger Season” and organizes programming related to the themes of the book. For the First Season activities, Navichoque led a group of students in the Refugee Resettlement track to learn about assistance available to refugee communities in Chicago. Read her recap of the experience below.

One Book One Northwestern
On Saturday, Sept. 28, Northwestern students traveled into Chicago to explore nine different tracks relating to social change. As a Northwestern University Conference on Human Rights member and One Book ambassador, I was able to lead and participate in the Refugee Resettlement Track. The Refugee Track not only provided students with an introduction to basic terms (such as the difference between a mutual aid association, forced migration, internally displaced people and a refugee agency, to name a few), but we also learned about the history of Bhutanese and Burmese citizens, their status as refugees and their reasons for seeking asylum.

We traveled to a city-owned lot in Albany Park that is now home to the Global Garden Refugees Training Farm. A failed condominium development project–an extension of Ronan Park–was transformed into a one-acre organic farm. The garden project began three years ago with funding from the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Project, a program administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. While the program helps recent refugees to develop sources of income and promote healthy eating, the Global Garden has become a center for cultural collaboration and integration. Farmers yearning for saag, kyang ka bitter melons and other produce unfamiliar to the American market can comfortably grow and sell reminders of their homeland.

After our time at the garden, the Refugee Resettlement track headed to the Chinese Mutual Aid Association in Argyle. Nothing can quite describe the conversations over sweet bubble tea in Argyle after learning about refugee communities and aid efforts. The hour-long discussion with the director of operations provided us with knowledge of the community’s needs and the evolution of local planning work. The Chinese Mutual Aid Association operates under a misleading title because its services go far beyond aid and are not limited to Chinese immigrants and refugees.

Saturday’s trip through Chicago communities allowed me to explore new areas of the city, learn about prominent local organizations and meet new students as well as faculty members. Both organizations offered us occasions to return, volunteer, intern and learn beyond the daylong visit. The Global Garden and the Chinese Mutual Aid Association are always seeking English teachers and conversation partners. The opportunity to interact and engage through global topics and local efforts should continue to guide NU’s events in the future.

Read more about NU’s First Season learning excursions.

Loving Northwestern All Over Again

For the past week, more than 200 students served as peer advisers to the incoming freshmen class and transfer students. After a week of training, the PAs spent the duration of Wildcat Welcome making new students feel at home at Northwestern: helping them move into their residence halls, answering questions about college life and shepherding them to numerous orientation events and activities.

Orko Manna, a 19-year-old Medill sophomore from Libertyville, Ill., reflects on his experience as a first-time peer adviser.

Orko MannaLast spring, I wanted to be a peer adviser because I enjoy mentoring people and I absolutely love Northwestern. But over the course of the past two weeks, I realized being a PA is more than just being a leader for new students and a cheery person wearing free t-shirts.

Being a PA reminded me of how much I love Northwestern.

It is often said that a PA is a new student’s first impression of Northwestern—someone who will set the tone for the next four (or three, two, etc. for transfer students) years. One of our goals is to get them excited about Northwestern, its people and everything it has to offer. But, ultimately, I think it does something much greater than that. Being a PA has re-energized my own passion for this school. It’s hard to describe or explain, but the past several days have reminded me of the day I found out I was accepted to Northwestern. When the moment came, there was such a rush of exhilaration and joy that I could hardly contain myself. I was smiling uncontrollably. I had options, but I knew NU was the place for me.

As my freshman year went on, I went through many emotions. Sometimes when you’re thinking about classes, extracurricular activities, friends, family and basically everything else in the world, it’s hard to remember that feeling of joy and pure happiness. I rediscovered that feeling during PA Camp and Wildcat Welcome. Being surrounded by the most amazing Northwestern students and leaders—who are now good friends of mine—it’s hard to think of a time when I was happier. PA Camp was wonderful because all the peer advisers spend a week preparing for Wildcat Welcome and forging a connection to one another. Our biggest connection? We all love Northwestern.

Wildcat Welcome came immediately after camp, and it was a blast because of the new students. They are truly exceptional. I can only really speak for the freshman and transfers in my PA group and those I have met in my residence hall, but I can tell they are pretty special. Watching the students in my group get excited about this amazing place—from the academic opportunities to the lakefill to the city of Chicago—reminded me of why I was so excited about Northwestern.

Even though Wildcat Welcome is over and I am no longer wearing those snazzy peer adviser t-shirts, my experiences with other peer advisers, new students, and NU faculty and staff will stay with me forever. Their passion and interest makes me even more passionate and interested in everything I am doing.

As I begin my sophomore year, I can’t wait to see my students do great things on campus. It’s hard to believe that I was in the same place they are just one year ago. So much has changed, and definitely for the better. Good luck to everyone on the start of a new academic year, and GO ‘CATS!

PA Group

Spring Break at NU-Q

Qatari flagPhoto by Syed Owais Ali

Darcy Coussens (Communication ’14) joined 15 other students from Northwestern’s Evanston campus on a spring break journey to NU’s campus in Doha, Qatar. This is the final installment of her blog posts documenting the group’s adventures in the Middle East. Read more posts here.

Greetings from Chicago! Now that I have slept quite a bit and readjusted to Central Standard Time, it seems amazing how much we fit into just four and a half days of break. I am extremely fortunate to have been flown halfway around the world for spring break, and while my days in Doha included a lot of sightseeing and tours, I am glad it was not just a tourism trip. Besides the falcons, camels, and that cute puppy I got to hold at the souq, what stands out the most are the times I spent with the NU-Q students. We had a lot of fun and some great discussions, and what surprised me the most was how similar our student experiences are.

Sure, there are some differences. I don’t see many thobes and abayas around campus in Evanston, and not many NU-E students own land cruisers. Evanston also definitely does not see as many eighty degree days in March.

Yet I found it fairly easy to adjust to life in Doha and Education City. After all, class is still class. Students at both campuses come from all over the world, work hard on film, theatre, and writing projects and have a lot of school spirit. We did not meet all 150 or so NU-Q students, but I found those we did get to know to be very open and energetic. Northwestern is much smaller in numbers over there, but combined with the rest of Education City, NU-Q feels like one community within a larger group of students.

Easily the most valuable part of the trip for me was having the unique opportunity to spend time talking with native Qatari students and expatriate students about all kinds of things. They were curious about American perceptions of the Middle East, and we were interested in their perceptions of the U.S. I have never so comfortably discussed democracy in a nation that is not one. Journalism students there have ongoing conversations about balancing Medill’s teachings with Qatari laws, and their passion for a free press takes on new meaning given the various Middle Eastern and African countries most of them are from.

Some of these discussions may not have come about in Evanston, nor would they have had the same context or diversity of background. I certainly returned home with a new perspective on America, Qatar, and the Middle Eastconvincing me that one must visit a place and talk to the people there in order to really understand it. It just would not have been possible to teach this experience in a classroom.

Doha is a really exciting place to go to college. So much change is happening there and it is easy to see: in the education system, the rapid growth of Al-Jazeera, and quite literally in the construction all over the city. Everything looks shiny and new, and in a way it was strange to visit a city that is younger than I am. The diversity of Doha is also visible in the variety of thobes, abayas, hijabs, jeans, and other clothes people wear. Qatar is rapidly moving forward and I am glad Northwestern is one of the universities that gets to be part of that.

On our final bus ride together from O’Hare Airport to the Evanston campus, the other NU-E students and I discussed our impressions of NU-Q and made plans to drink karak together soon. We had been briefed on a few legal and cultural differences before we left, such as advice on what to wear or where to avoid taking photographs, so we are curious about what they heard about us before we arrived and what they will be told before some of them visit in May. It surprised us all that we could get to know each other and the students in Qatar so quickly, but we are already keeping in touch and I can’t wait to show them around Chicago.

Cool ‘Cats: Dan Donohue (Comm ’14)

Communication junior Dan Donohue recently fulfilled a lifelong dream by competing in Jeopardy’s College Championship. Check out his behind-the-scenes reflection on the experience.
Dan Donohue
I got the phone call on Feb. 18 while I was in an RTVF-330 lecture.

Sorry. I’ll start over. What is I got the phone call on Feb. 18 while I was in an RTVF-330 lecture?

“Maybe it’s Jeopardy!” my friend Hannah suggested when I didn’t recognize the area code.

A few people in the class knew I had tried out for the Jeopardy College Championship because I had asked our professor Max Dawson if I could write my final paper on the Jeopardy audition process. (Incidentally, he told me I couldn’t because the focus of the class was reality TV, and if I wanted to write about a game show, I’d have to write about a game show from the era of reality TV — like the far lesser Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.)

My one unheard voicemail was indeed from Robert James, a contestant coordinator from Jeopardy. Professor Dawson told me I better have something funny to write down in case I don’t know the answer to Final Jeopardy. No hard feelings, but I think maybe that ended up cursing me.

The Audition

I was as surprised as anyone to get that call. I wouldn’t go so far as to use the word “disaster” to describe my audition the previous October, but I wound up stranded without a hotel room in Cleveland (the audition city) because under-twenty-ones can’t check into hotels in the Rock and Roll Capital of the World.

For the audition itself, I was grouped with 20 other hopefuls who had all, like me, passed Jeopardy’s online test in March. When you’re in a situation like this, I think you can’t help but mentally size up your competition. And the general feeling in the room seemed to be that if any one of us was going to get a spot in the College Championship it would be the uniformed cadet from the Air Force Academy.

So how did I — and two other people from my same audition — get on the show? If there are any College Jeopardy hopefuls reading this, remember that the audition is an audition. It’s not an interview for that prestigious internship or research assistant position.

They’re going to ask you about the anecdotes you would have for Alex Trebek, so work on your skills as a raconteur. Have some funny, self-deprecating lines ready. And smile a lot. As I told a hopeful applicant on Twitter a few days ago, “Everyone that tries out for Jeopardy is a librarian who’s been to all seven continents and does AIDS research. Be different.”

I’ve been asked a lot about why I wanted to go on Jeopardy. I suppose it goes back to one specific incident in seventh grade. Instead of teaching us lessons one day, the teachers got the whole grade together in the gymnasium and just started reading us trivia questions for fun. And for every question, all 80 or so of us seventh graders gleefully shouted the answer. But then Mrs. Schmitt asked us “the name of a chilled tomato soup traditionally served in Spain.” The whole gym was silent, and I raised my hand and mumbled, “Gazpacho?” (I had heard it mentioned on an episode of The Simpsons a few years previously.)

The rest of the day was a chorus of “How did you ever know that?” and “Are you a genius?” and the like. That was my first indication that, even though I’m a fairly average student, maybe I remember facts differently from everyone else.

When I got back in touch with Robert, we had to go over some paperwork over the phone. “Do you know or have you communicated with anyone who has ever appeared as a contestant on Jeopardy?” he asked. Uh-oh. Yes. I know probably two dozen people who have been on Jeopardy because of my involvement with Quizbowl.

Quizbowl is a question-and-answer game played between teams from high schools and colleges across the country. I give Robert the laundry list of ex-contestants I know through Quizbowl, including the most recent Tournament of Champions winner, Northwestern alumnus Colby Burnett. Robert said he’d have to call me back after he talks to some producers.

I’m in Jeopardy limbo for a week before Robert calls me back and says I can be on the show. And now my preparation begins in earnest. Quizbowl prepared me very well for the information and facts I need to know to be successful on Jeopardy. But Jeopardy’s a very strategic game, and I need to have a strategy.

The Preparation

For the next two months, I study Jeopardy greats like 74-time champion Ken Jennings and Roger Craig, the highest single-day earner in Jeopardy history. When Jennings played, he would let his thumb buzz in before his brain knew the answer and take a guess. I liked that strategy and decided to apply it to my game.

Craig’s strategy, though, was fascinating. He argues that Jeopardy can ask about so many things that studying a bunch of facts and hoping they come up is inefficient because the odds that any single fact you study will come up are slim. Instead, he says, you should get a sense of how well you know what you already know. That way you can make smart wagers on Daily Doubles, which is where the game is often won and lost.

That’s how I prepare for the next six weeks until I fly out to Los Angeles on April 5 for the taping, and I think it’s going pretty well. I was already planning what kind of car I could buy with the $100,000 grand prize to replace my 22-year-old Toyota.

This Is Jeopardy!

College Jeopardy — unlike the normal, adult Jeopardy — is an all-expense-paid deal. They flew me out to Los Angeles for a weekend, put me up in a hotel and gave me spending money.

I knew nothing about my competition. Our identities had to remain a secret from each other, lest we conspire to cheat or share the prize or something like that, I suppose. All weekend long, I picked out young faces in the hotel and attempted to determine whether they were there for the fitness conference or if they were a Jeopardy nerd like me.

My friend Julian, who’s an actor in LA, showed me around the city to take my mind off things. It was the first time I’d ever been in Hollywood, a place where my radio/television/film degree could very well end up taking me one day. I never did see any of my co-competitors until Monday morning, when the bus arrived to transport us to Sony Studios. Maggie Speak, another Contestant Coordinator, accompanied us on the longest bus ride of our lives. Maggie has one of the most remarkable personalities I’ve ever seen — she took a bus full of 15 nerds and got us to loosen up on the biggest morning of their lives.

Once we arrived at Sony, it was a whirlwind of makeup and microphones and publicity photos and practice rounds. And somewhere in the middle, I got to talk to my co-competitors over a game of Jenga. I truly believe they all have bright futures as doctors and scientists and lawyers and leaders of men, but the experience was probably a little more special for someone like me, since I’m majoring in radio, television & film. I was on a working TV set! There was a case of Emmy awards just down the hallway. I got to shake hands with the executive producer. I ate lunch in the Sony commissary among writers and producers and talent.

On Monday, we taped the five quarterfinal rounds. Jeopardy tapes five episodes — a week’s worth — in a day. Alex Trebek changes suits between episodes to create the illusion that it’s a new day. Jeopardy produces 46 original weeks of programming each year, so Trebek only works 46 days a year. It must be nice.

Because there are wild cards in the College Championship — that is, contestants who don’t win their quarterfinal but still advance to the semi-final round because they have a high score — we couldn’t watch any of the episodes that taped before ours, lest we know how much money we need to get a wild card.

We were sequestered like a jury in the same green room that Ken Jennings practically called home back in 2004 during his 74-game win streak. We even had to turn off our phones all day long, which is asking a lot of college students.

Corina Nusu, another contestant coordinator, kept us company in the green room with a wide selection of DVDs to watch. The others chose “Groundhog Day,” which is possibly the worst movie to watch when you’re completely cut off from the outside world with no sense of time. I’m grateful that I was called to tape the second episode of the day.

The episode happens in real-time, which means they don’t stop taping for commercials. So when you’re at home seeing a 30-second ad for Gold Bond Medicating Foot Powder, contest coordinators Glenn Kagan and Maggie are rushing up to the stage to give us pep talks and bottles of water.

Alex Trebek steps out into the studio audience — which, in addition to our families, contains dozens of complete strangers who happened to be touring Sony Studios that day — and lets them ask him questions during breaks. Alex has a reputation for being somewhat austere on camera, but he’s anything but. “I need a drink,” he joked at one point after misreading a few clues.

The most surreal part was the first time I saw Alex Trebek. Because he has all the questions and answers, we’re completely separated from him until the moment he approaches our lecterns to conduct his interviews with us. I’ve watched him every day for the last several years of my life, so it’s not like being face to face with a very famous person. It’s like being face to face with the most famous person.

My interview went well, which surprised me. My friend Sam, also a religious watcher of Jeopardy, gave me two pieces of advice before I left for LA: “Make sure you have a good interview. Trebek wants you to think he’s there to make you look good, but he’s not. Also, if you get a Daily Double in the single Jeopardy round, bet everything you have no matter what.”

The Quarterfinal Round

The match went by quickly. I bet it all on a Daily Double in the Jeopardy round, and it paid off (thanks, Sam!). I executed my strategy reasonably well the rest of the match, but Jim Coury from Georgetown, with whom I had gone to a Quizbowl summer camp a few summers back, was right on my heels. I led him $15,400 to $14,800 going into Final Jeopardy. The category for Final Jeopardy was CHARACTERS IN SHAKESPEARE, which should be a pretty good category for me. I’ve taken an Introduction to Shakespeare class and an English Renaissance Drama class.

If this were real Jeopardy, the most rational thing to do would be to bet $14,201. That way I would win by a dollar if Jim bet it all. But then again, there are those four wild card spots. I don’t really need to win this game. I had prepared myself for this situation by studying previous College Championships, and I knew my score could very easily get me a wild card. So, I bet small. Only $1,400.

The question was “This character said to represent Shakespeare’s philosophy has a name that means ‘fortunate’ in Latin.” I was stumped. I scribbled down Benvolio, but I knew it wasn’t right. Both Jim and Kristen — who was in third place — came up with the correct answer of Prospero. Of course. Prospero. The main character of “The Tempest,” the play I had just written a 10-page essay on for class.

When the episode ended, I found out that my final score of $14,000 put me in the third wild card spot with three episodes still left to tape. Oh well, I thought. I tried. As it turned out though, the next three episodes were very low-scoring or dominated by one player, so I advanced as the third wild card. That night, I went out with my family — my father, mother and uncle — to celebrate, but I had to be up early the next morning to do it all over again.

The Semifinal Round

I found out I’d be appearing in the first semifinal round. Weirdly, I was used to the routine after only one day. But I couldn’t get into a rhythm with the buzzer. The buzzers only get activated after Alex reads the entire clue and a producer flips a switch, so timing — not necessarily speed — is everything. And I couldn’t find a Daily Double to save my life.

Going into Final Jeopardy, I trailed Trevor from MIT $11,000 to $19,600. Unlike my first game, this was a pretty cut-and-dry situation. Trevor had to get this wrong, and I had to bet big and get it right. Otherwise, I would go home. I risked all but $2 and got the question wrong.

I can’t say I’m too disappointed. I got $10,000 of prize money for being a semifinalist and the experience of a lifetime. I made sure I asked Robert before I left the set, “Would my being an ex-contestant prevent me from working for you guys one day?” I’m glad to report that his answer was no.

The Aftermath

The most difficult part was keeping the outcome of the tournament a secret from my friends in the month between the April 8 taping and the May 7 airdate. I had to sign a lot of scary paperwork from Sony promising I wouldn’t say a word about whether I won or lost, but that didn’t stop my classmates and coworkers from trying to get it out of me. Of course, my coyness had the unfortunate effect of leading them to believe I had won it all.

A few days after my episodes aired, I got a notification from my phone. It was a Tweet from Roger Craig, the man I modeled my game after. He wanted to let me know he guessed Benvolio, too. Vindication. Sorry. What is vindication?

Dan Donohue and Alex Trebek

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