What was the motivation behind volunteering at the McWane exhibit?
Gregory: As part of the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Student (BMEGS) Organization, one of our primary areas of focus is community outreach and community service. So when Dr. Wick told us that the McWane Science Center was interested in having graduate students staff the “Starfish” exhibit, we all felt it was a perfect fit for our group. We saw this as an opportunity to partner with the McWane Science Center to get kids excited about science, teach the public about tissue engineering, and highlight some of the amazing research that’s happening right here at UAB.
Katie: The overall motivation behind getting our students interacting with visitors to the Tissue Engineering exhibit was to enhance the experience of visitors to the McWane Center. The basic principles of Tissue Engineering are sometimes difficult to grasp, and our being at the McWane center facilitated conversations about science with kids and adults alike. Being able to talk to these children of all ages and show them how cool Tissue Engineering and science in general can be may serve to spark an interest in science at a young age.
How has this experience affected your own research?
Gregory: My research doesn’t directly involve tissue engineering, but my interaction with the McWane Science Center visitors has helped remind me about the ultimate goal of biomedical research – to advance scientific knowledge, to educate our communities, and to improve public health. When you’re in graduate school it can be easy to become enveloped in doing experiments, publishing papers and writing grants – you can quickly lose focus of the big picture. I felt like this experience gave me a renewed sense of my research as a public service.
Katie: Spending time talking with visitors to the McWane Center really allowed me to step back out of the very specific field I am usually adsorbed in to look at the big picture. This big picture mentality has allowed me to think of new ideas and concepts that I would have maybe missed otherwise.
Has the experience brought out any teaching/mentoring skills for you?
Gregory: For me the greatest challenge I faced while volunteering at the Tissue Engineering exhibit was figuring out how to effectively communicate to the wide variety and background of the museum visitors. To share our research in a manner that was captivating enough for the adults, but not too advanced for the younger kids to understand, was no easy feat. At first I found myself talking to the adults and children separately, but over time I found the right balance that engaged all age groups. That’s the key to teaching – reading your audience and adapting to it.
Katie: personally think getting our graduate students into this program was a huge step forward for the Biomedical Engineering Department. For so many of our potential job prospects teaching and mentoring is likely to be a big part of what we do and a skill we need to master. Personally, this opportunity has allowed me to hone my skills of using learning aids and easy to understand language to keep the children's attention and interest.
Looking back on the project, is there anything else you would like to say regarding the experience?
Gregory: In talking to all of the BME graduate students that volunteered at the exhibit, the one thing I kept hearing was how much they enjoyed it. We certainly were not short of volunteers because after the students came back from McWane, they just kept signing up to go again.
Katie: Overall this experience has been a positive one for our graduate students and department. I am hopeful that it has made an impact on visitors to the McWane Center as well. I hope we were successful in helping the exhibit to "come alive".