Last school year, Pacific Union College English and pre-med major Laurel Kwon and fellow honors student Jeff Richards worked together on a project. They visited Foothills Elementary School just a few minutes from campus and demonstrated some chemistry experiments.
“The kids loved it!” Laurel recalls with a grin. “So, I got to thinking, why not make this a regular thing to get kids excited about seeing what we were going to do next?”
That summer, Laurel shared her idea with her friend, John Jung, a biology major. He liked the idea, and at that moment, SPARK was born.
SPARK, or Science Presentations And Research for Kids, is a program that connects PUC students with local elementary, middle, and high school students under the umbrella of science. The idea is to send small groups of PUC students into schools to give age-appropriate demonstrations and explanations of various aspects of science. SPARK is supported and sponsored by professor Aimee Wyrick, chair of the department of biology, and Dr. Kent Davis, chair of the department of chemistry, who help the students coordinate with local schools and oversee the demonstrations provided.
“We want to create opportunities for children to not only learn about science, but also learn to love it, as well,” Laurel explains. “SPARK is really centered around helping our kids step out of their comfort zones and learn that the sky’s truly the limit. If they can start learning about science—or any subject, really—now, then they’ll be more willing and open to make it part of their lives in the future.”
The first official project for SPARK was a presentation for the 7th and 8th grade class at Howell Mountain Elementary School in Angwin during fall quarter.
“That age is generally ‘too cool’ to be excited about stuff like this,” Laurel admits, “but they were super receptive. It went so well we were asked to come back and present to the entire school, which we just did last week.”
The group brought in live animals, talked about their biology, and let the kids hold and pet them. For the older grades, the group conducted an experiment with termites.
“The idea was you draw a line with a pen and the ink gives off a scent that mimics pheromones and the termites will follow the line to follow the scent,” explains Laurel. “However, we realized partway through these were the wrong kind of termites for that experiment, so they weren’t interested in the line at all!” She laughs.
Despite the experiment’s unexpected outcome, the PUC students were still able to use the situation as a teachable moment.
“We talked about scientific method and how even though the experiment didn’t go as planned, you can learn from what doesn’t work, too,” says Laurel.
Since its inception, SPARK has involved nine PUC students at two different schools for multiple presentations. The group has intentionally stayed small as they establish who they are and what they do, but the goal is to eventually have a permanent SPARK program that continues even after Laurel and John graduate and leave PUC.
“Kids learn better when they can touch and feel things,” Laurel says. “Honestly, so do grown-ups,” she adds with a laugh. “I’ve always enjoyed science, and participating in SPARK and showing kids that science can be fun and relatable has really solidified my interest in it.”
Laurel and the SPARK team dream of holding a science fair for local schools, with PUC students as judges. That, however, is still an idea in the works.
“There are always rumblings about changing the world and making a huge difference, especially as college students,” Laurel says. “The best way for people to actually start making that difference is through their local community. What better way to do that than to help our future generations?”
If you are interested in having SPARK hold an event at your school, contact Laurel at firstname.lastname@example.org or John at email@example.com. For more information about the sciences at PUC, visit puc.edu/admissions.