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UBC Reports | Vol. 51 | No. 6 | Jun. 2, 2005

Faculty Make Science and Medicine Friendly

By Hilary Thomson

A gateway to what the future may hold is how Jane Roskams describes a web-based centre that connects elementary and high school students with university mentoring experiences.

Called the UBC Mentor Centre, the resource has been operating as a pilot project by the Faculties of Science and Medicine since 2002 and offers opportunities that include guided group visits, supervised use of lab equipment, one-on-one shadowing and project development, visits to schools and e-mentoring.

The only program in Canada to offer such a centralized resource, it is attracting attention from U.S. universities wishing to establish similar programs.

“This is a way to show students that a lab is a lively, interactive place and that scientists are real people, too,” says Roskams, an associate professor of zoology, who originated the idea of the centre. “We’re encouraging these students to find someone they can talk to who can help them realize their potential.”

More than 50 students in grades 5-12 have connected with the centre since its inception, and upwards of 60 faculty, post-docs, grad students and undergraduates from the faculties of medicine and science have volunteered mentoring experiences. Many mentors -- including Roskams -- have their own school-age children and know how valuable mentoring experiences can be for young people.

Patricia Lau was 16 when she spent a day shadowing Roskams in her lab at the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics. Now a fourth-year UBC science student, Lau has worked during the past three summers as an undergraduate researcher in the lab and is described by Roskams as a driving force in UBC undergraduate science.

“Working and volunteering at the lab has been an amazing experience,” says the 21-year-old, who is now a mentor herself. “A research lab is vastly different from my other labs. It’s opened my eyes to the world of research and academia and I’ve really gotten a feeling of what it would be like to be a grad student.”

Shadowing a science or medicine researcher is one of the most beneficial and popular activities, says Dave Thomson, of the Michael Smith Laboratories, who co-ordinates the program. Students have participated in harvesting research plants; witnessed a CT scan and were introduced to topics ranging from bioinformatics to applying for research grants. They also learned about resources such as science and nature societies in the area, recommended readings and online databases.

“These experiences do make a difference in a young person’s life,” says Teresa Milden, Vancouver School Board (VSB) district resource teacher for gifted / enrichment education, who has helped co-ordinate UBC mentoring experiences. “Besides the opportunity to see a lab first-hand, students also become a class expert, which can build self-esteem. Mentoring is more than a social relationship -- this is a very powerful experience.”

Students also witness voluntarism and teamwork, make valuable contacts and are able to add research experience to their resumes, she adds.

The centre’s web site also links students and parents to resources such as UBC’s Let’s Talk Science program; Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology mentoring opportunities for young women; Science World’s outreach programs and even a site that offers interactive online frog dissection.

The Vancouver Foundation provided initial funding for the pilot, with VSB and UBC providing additional support for personnel. The centre’s current focus is to find additional funding to maintain the centre and expand it to other faculties.

For more information on the UBC Mentor Centre, visit www.mentorcentre.ubc.ca.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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