This school year, 350 students and their parents are spending one Saturday morning per month on the campus at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. They peer through microscopes, set things on fire, and share their findings as Saturday Gene-iuses, an effort by the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources to generate interest in science-related fields. The Saturday activities stimulate interest among grade-school, middle-school, and high-school students, but the goal is not the science itself. Rather, program director Dr. Ania Wieczorek and her team hope to ignite lifelong curiosity and passion for learning, through hands-on, multisensory, experiential learning.
The Saturday program began in 2008. Originally aimed at elementary-schoolers, it has expanded so students may continue from year to year. In the fall of 2017, it welcomed its first high-school learners. Now students participate at all grade levels, and this is just one of three outreach efforts headed by Wieczorek, CTAHR’s Interim Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs.
During the school year, in the original Gene-ius Day program, students from grades 4 through 8 participate in one-day field trips connecting genetics and agriculture to their school curricula. Through lab activities with plant cells and DNA extraction, as well as interactive lectures and discussions, our future innovators envision themselves as university scientists, gaining new fascination in science-related topics.
In order to encourage greater participation by students in economically challenged neighborhoods, CTAHR launched the Summer Gene-ius program in 2016, bringing 75 students from Title 1 middle schools into the labs for special science opportunities. Engaging, hands-on experiences hopefully created aspirations in these students to attend college where they might otherwise not have considered the possibility. The following summer saw 175 participants from these schools, 50 of them returning from the previous year for a level 2 class.
Add these 250 summer scientists to 8,421 field trip participants (with another 2000 scheduled this year) from 51 schools and full enrollment in the Saturday Gene-iuses since 2012, and the numbers alone might be wow-inducing. Yet Wieczorek’s primary goal is to elicit this response from the participants.
“I wake up each morning and hope that kids will have an unbelievable WOW moment,” she says. “When they say, ‘I want to be a scientist,’ I know we were successful. Our dedicated funders, including Hawaiian Airlines Foundation and Central Pacific Bank Foundation, allow us to create WOW moments every day.”