Students volunteer as science emissaries

A new program that will see Science students acting as a bridge between the university and the community has triggered a response from hundreds of Faculty of Science student volunteers interested in serving as mentors and hosts both on campus and in the community.

"We want to create an environment where student ideas and energy have a significant effect on how the university grows and changes," says Dean of Science Maria Klawe. "We also wanted to create a faculty community that spans across disciplines. I'm thrilled at this level of response -- we've heard from students in every department."

Dubbed the Dean of Science Ambassadors, the group of second- to fourth-year students will serve as a core team of volunteers for a wide range of activities including mentoring, promoting science in high schools, hosting visiting groups of students, giving research demonstrations and helping with high school science competitions and contests. They will also develop links with employers.

Student ambassadors will receive free workshop training in areas ranging from public speaking to diversity awareness.

Klawe initially tested the idea with Science students serving as volunteers with Imagine, UBC's first-day orientation program. Their endorsement led to an e-mail message to second-, third- and fourth-year students. More than 500 students expressed an interest in being a Science ambassador.

The program may be unique in Canadian universities, although connecting with the community is part of the culture in science, according to Klawe.

"Science for society has become a common theme in the last 30 years," she says. "These students are eager to celebrate science, to make our work understandable to the public and to get input on what questions we might be exploring."

Students will report their activities back to Klawe and program organizers who include Paul Harrison, associate dean of Science, Julyet Benbaset, director of the Science One program, Shona Ellis, a sessional lecturer in Botany and others in Science's 300-member faculty.

There will likely be some form of recognition for volunteers, says Klawe, who is building the program around student feedback.

UBC's Faculty of Science has almost 6,000 undergraduate students.