Because of two dedicated Wittenberg seniors, students at the Ark Children’s Rescue Center in Springfield now have a deeper connection to science and science fair planning.
Through the Celebrate 100 Grant from the American Geophysical Union (AGU), senior Wittenberg students Asharee Jones and Jubileen Kombe have been partnering with the Ark to engage underrepresented minority students in science experiments leading up to what was to be a science fair, March 16, prior to the COVID-19 global health crisis. Children who participated will be recognized at a later date to be determined.
Jones is a biology major and health science minor from Gary, Indiana, and Kombe is a psychology major and health science minor from Columbus, Ohio. Both are also active in Wittenberg’s student organization Concerned Black Students.
To date, the grant has enabled Wittenberg professors and students to explore issues related to environmental justice across a variety of disciplines. Awarded by AGU for a lead testing empowerment and art advocacy event with Springfield Promise Neighborhood (SPN) and the Springfield Promise Neighborhood Association (SPNA), the grant also provides funding for collaborations with the community to engage in environmental justice research, including outreach to the Ark.
“The project began in early August when Josh Moore (assistant dean for diversity & inclusion) mentioned to me that Dr. Sarah Fortner (associate professor of geology and director of environmental science at Wittenberg) had reached out about working on a project that engaged the community,” said Jones, who serves as Student Senate treasurer, a campus peer advocate at the Womyn’s Center, and a teacher’s aide. She volunteered at the Ark, a free after-school program for children in grades K-6 that provides a safe place for children to play and hang out, during her sophomore year to complete her required community service hours.
Jones then asked Kombe, who is a good friend of hers, to partner with her on the project.
“When this project came about, I knew that I wanted to do the science fair (at the Ark). Plus, I knew they needed more volunteers, and I thought it would be a perfect partnership,” she continued. “It began as a series of interactive lessons highlighting different areas of the STEM world, and we had students choose projects that they wanted to create for the actual science fair. Students [had planned] to present their projects to friends, family, and other students in the program, along with Wittenberg students.”
The science fair, titled the AGU Mad Scientist Experience, aimed specifically to engage fifth- and sixth-grade students.
“We had creative freedom of what we wanted this project to be, so Asharee and I brainstormed and decided to do a science fair with the middle school students at the Ark,” said Kombe, who plans to work in the mental health field once she graduates. “The project started in Fall 2019. Asharee and I started going to the Ark every other Monday at 4 p.m. to show the students some mini-projects as a way to introduce the science fair and STEM projects to them. This semester we have been going every Monday.”
They also created a release form for parents to sign with the details explaining that the lessons they are teaching the children leading up to the science fair, where students were expected to conduct their own experiments and present. Not only was the fair designed to give the students the opportunity to work on their scientific skills, but also to become engaged with STEM field majors, which could lead to potential career paths.
“This project is very important to me,” Kombe added. “The goal is to show the students that science can be very fun and that they should always be asking questions because the more you ask the more you learn. This project will be helpful to the Springfield community because it will show the importance of passing down knowledge. I believe putting your mind to work and doing things that you are passionate about improve one's mental health. I also feel that representation matters. For these students to see us come in for them will let them know that if someone who looks like them can do it, so can they.”
“To me the project is more than just advancing the Springfield community. I feel like these students are my mini best friends,” Jones said. “I knew at the beginning of the project that we did not have to use the funding toward the community and that we could fund our schooling with it, but I felt that was selfish. When I was younger, there were people who invested in me and made me feel important. Those feelings are what drove me to pass it forward. I already feel successful in this project because when we interact with the students, I see them having so much fun. Their faces light up whenever their experiments are properly functioning.
“I hope that giving them early exposure to STEM will help them be prepared for the following school year and get them thinking about possible careers that can come from this field,” Jones added. “I think for them, just being around two female minorities in the science field encourages them to want to go to college. The majority of the students involved in the fair are also black. We wanted to get black children more interested in STEM fields, and this was a wonderful way to bridge together the students and STEM.”
All materials the students needed for the now postponed science fair and the mini sessions were provided by the grant, including those materials for the personal experiments chosen by each student.
“All of the work for this project was done by these two amazing students,” Fortner said. “I am very proud of the way our classes are working together through this grant and how Ash and Jubileen are leading a really inspiring effort this semester.”