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Mad Science: Junior High Students Learn from CNR Mentors

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Each year, the Nathan and Violet David Scholars Program gives a few of Cal’s most talented science students the financial opportunity to participate in serious research as undergrads, with the hope of sparking extraordinary scientific careers.

David scholars put in long hours at the lab bench and are expected to formally publish or present their research results. But the program also aims to sow scientific seeds more widely by dispatching the students to Berkeley’s Willard Junior High School as mentors.

Last year’s four scholars included three CNR students: J. Michael Freudiger, a genetics and plant biology major; Stephen Smith, a molecular and environmental biology major; and conservation and resources studies major Mariam Olivera. The fourth was environmental engineering student Heena Patel.

The group wondered how they could extend the program’s reach even further, and decided to initiate their own Berkeley course called “Mad Science.” Led by the David scholars, a handful of students from all over campus designed and delivered experiment-based lesson plans for the kids in Willard’s after-school programs.

Based on their own experience at Willard, the David scholars advised their students to come up with lessons that were both fun and interactive. “It’s an after-school program, so we can’t lecture the kids or they’ll go find some other activity,” says Smith. “We know we’ve succeeded when a parent says his child came home and talked about the cool experiment they did that day.”

Olivera hopes that the Cal students can “up the coolness factor” of science. As a woman, minority, and first-generation college student herself, she also hopes to show that “science is for everybody.”

-Cyril Manning

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