Science 101 opens doors

Students and faculty offer university science classes to Downtown Eastside community

by Andy Poon staff writer

For many students and teachers, the summer months mean a well-deserved break away from the classroom.

But 10 UBC graduate students and more than a dozen faculty members have chosen to remain in the classroom as volunteer instructors in Science 101. The pilot program teaches first-year level Science courses to individuals from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside community.

"The goal is to offer people who have traditionally not had access to post-secondary education, barrier-free access to a university-level Science course," says recent UBC Science graduate Jesse Guscott, the Science 101 course co-ordinator.

Modeled after the highly successful Humanities 101 initiative started three years ago by a pair of UBC Arts students, Science 101 provides 19 students with transportation to and from campus, a meal before each class and instruction in disciplines such as geology, physics and chemistry. The program, which started May 2 and ends Aug. 13, is the brainchild of Guscott and Science graduate student Tara Ivanochko.

"Tara got the ball rolling in the spring and secured the funding while I have been mostly hands-on this summer," says Guscott, a former student representative on the UBC Board of Governors.

Funding for the program came from the Alma Mater Society's Innovative Projects Fund, the President's Office and the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology.

Ivanochko started soliciting volunteer instructors for the program in March by e-mailing professors and graduate students in the Faculty of Science.

That's how volunteer instructor Charlie Bank became involved. Bank, a PhD candidate in the Dept. of Earth and Ocean Sciences, was impressed by the pair's proposed multi-disciplinary approach to teaching science to disadvantaged students. He volunteered to help by teaching two of the 30 classes.

He has found it a rewarding and highly interactive teaching experience.

"What you notice is that the students have more experience," he says. "It is not a lecture so much as a guided discussion that I give based on the students' questions."

Fellow instructor Jaymie Matthews, an assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy, agrees.

"For a group of students that are basically getting their academic sea legs back, they are the type of students that we look for--people who are not afraid to ask questions and that have a real thirst for knowledge."

Guscott says that the majority of students in the current class are in their late-30s to late-40s and that the level of enthusiasm for the material taught in class has been very high.

"The topics that the students learn in the classes are the same topics that we covered in my first year of university science," he says. "The major difference is that they don't have exams." While Science 101 is student-administered, Guscott says they often rely on the advice of the Humanities 101 steering committee, most notably Clint Burnham, Humanities 101's academic co-ordinator.