Science in the parks

In partnership with the University of Utah's University Neighborhood Partners (UNP), Science in the Park SLC (SITP) is helping to promote a positive science identity and experience for children of all ages in the state. SITP's goal is to lead inquiry-based experiments that foster positive science identities and encourage underserved youth to envision themselves as future scientists. Operating as a student organization at the U, SITP is primarily run by U students.

"Our relationship with SITP is built on the collective vision of enriching and supporting the lives of young people in our neighborhoods," said Jarred Martinez, partnership manager for UNP. "In addition to SITP having hosted programming and demonstrations at some of our events, we work with SITP to build their capacity to sustain and grow. This means actively connecting group leadership with other local partners for programming opportunities, supporting SITP’s advisory board efforts and making new connections with other U faculty, staff and student groups to explore possibilities for mutual collaboration.”

The following text has been adapted from its original publication in Community Voices.

Science in the Parks SLC is currently in its second year of programming and so far, it has been an amazing journey for us. The mission of the outreach program is to provide hands-on science education and experiences outside of the traditional classroom. Our goal is to lead inquiry-based experiments that foster positive science identities and encourage underserved youth to envision themselves as future scientists. Our experiments are designed to be accessible for youth by using simple household items that demonstrate important scientific principles. Science in the Parks SLC is modeled after a program organized by Weber State University, although we work in the west side of Salt Lake City.

Under normal circumstances, we typically demonstrate hands-on experiments and interact with students in person. In summer 2020, our volunteers made 565 science kits to be distributed to our community partners. However, in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve had to think of creative solutions to continue providing materials and instructions safely and accessibly.

We asked for help from our talented faculty board and community partners. Collectively, we came up with the idea to provide kits and teach live science demonstrations over Zoom. We are also working toward creating a science channel online so students will have greater access to these experiments outside of our program and will be encouraged to pursue science individually as well.

By the end of this past year, we instructed 11 science experiments over Zoom and made 435 science kits to supplement those experiments. We have been incredibly lucky to be able to work with Title 1 schools and work toward our goals. Our volunteers, leadership team and community partners have been outstanding, stepping up when needed and adapting to last-minute changes. We wouldn’t be here without them.

As we know, science is not the most accessible subject, especially for students who are historically marginalized by the education system. But, we are happy that we could find an approach that continues to make science accessible and we will continue to make our approach more accessible. We want youth to get excited about science and associate that with a positive identity that encourages them to pursue continued education and careers in various scientific fields.

There is much work to do in order to help create more opportunities for students to learn and get experience with science. Our program is committed to actively encouraging each student with whom we have the opportunity to engage. We hope to continue providing meaningful interactions that will inspire students to engage with science.