Park Middle School sixth-grader Alexa Stoup loves science. She might even want to go into a science career someday, she said.
On Sunday, Stoup and about 20 other middle-school students showed off the projects and games they put together through a year-long mentorship program with University of Nebraska-Lincoln science students at the monthly Sunday with a Scientist event at Morrill Hall. This marks the second time that junior scientists have exhibited their work at the museum.
"You see some kids just kind of come alive," said Alissa Anderson, the UNL graduate student leading the event. "They take these projects that they created and they become their own. Some of them really look and act like scientists, which is really fun."
A grant from the Lincoln Community Learning Center partners with UNL to enable undergraduate and graduate students to visit middle schools every week to participate in an after school science club. The students work with small groups of middle school students to teach them about science and work on projects.
The middle school students also learn leadership by teaching the skills that they learned from UNL students to elementary school children, who join the club midway through.
Anderson said the experience of getting to teach another child helps to build confidence and allows students to apply their knowledge. The program, she said, is targeted to help middle school children engage with science and think about future careers in STEM fields.
"That's a time where they start developing these identities and that's where they can start to see themselves as a scientist," Anderson said. "And that's also where a lot of students are lost, so if they don't build that identity, a lot of those students won't go on into STEM fields."
The program currently involves about 30 students and takes place at Culler and Park middle schools with students from Lakeview and Hartley elementary schools joining.
Stoup said that working with UNL students helps her to learn things that she may not otherwise hear about during her normal classes and gives her someone to look up to.
"It's really fun because they get to teach you other things that they've learned and then they show you what they do for school," she said.
Working with the elementary schools, she said, reinforces the learning process.
The opportunity for the middle school students to share their work with the public at Morrill Hall is an exciting opportunity, said Diana Keefer, science teacher at Park Middle School.
"People get to enjoy learning in a creative, fun way by actually playing games, going on scavenger hunts, building stuff," student Dallas Donovan said about the Morrill Hall event.