Science is for everyone
Rachel Pillsworth’s eyes light up as she talks about the experience of seeing 100 Grade 10 students from across the Greater Toronto Area come to McMaster University to take part in an interactive day of science.
Rachel lives and breathes science. The PhD student is researching star formation theory and is president of Promoting Inclusivity in Physics & Astronomy (PIPA), a student-led group dedicated to making the department a more inclusive, diverse, and supportive environment.
She’s also part of a team behind a major outreach event in the Faculty of Science called Elevate: A Day for Inclusion in Science.
“I think it’s really important that students get to see what it’s like to actually be a scientist,” she said. “When I was in high school, I didn’t know anyone who did astronomy or research so I wasn’t aware of those opportunities. Through Elevate, we are trying to change this level of awareness in our high schools.”
Billed as a non-intimidating, inclusive annual event filled with fun science related activities and scientist role models, Elevate is free to Grade 10 students from high schools throughout the Greater Hamilton and Toronto Area.
This year’s event, which took place on May 26, featured a campus greenhouse tour, planetarium show, and microscope activity, among other activities. There was a keynote presentation by Juliet Daniel, a professor of biology at McMaster renowned for her cancer research. Back by popular demand, a panel discussion and question session with McMaster undergraduate science students was also featured.
Sara Cormier, instructional assistant in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, was among the founders of Elevate nine years ago. She has remained an organizer of the event over the years as it has evolved from a day focused on girls in science to the current iteration that has an emphasis on attracting all students especially those who identify with traditionally equity-deserving groups.
“At its core, the idea is science is for everyone,” said Sara. “We often hear from high school students who spend the day here with us that prior to Elevate, science wasn’t something they had ever considered as a career option.”
Elevate is organized by student volunteers and staff from the Department of Physics and Astronomy but an emphasis has continually been placed on presenting an array of activities that represent the various areas of study within the Faculty of Science.
The focus on students in Grade 10 is, in fact, intentional as it is a pivotal year in their education.
“After Grade 10, students have to, for the first time, consciously decide whether they are going to continue taking science classes,” said Sara. “We think this is a good time to show students the fun of science so maybe they will consider taking that biology, physics or chemistry class in Grade 11.”
Alasdair Paterson, a science teacher at White Oaks Secondary School in Oakville, has been successfully encouraging students to attend Elevate at McMaster for years. He says events like this offered by local universities are critical in expanding students’ minds beyond the lessons they are learning in the classroom.
“There’s a desperate need in the world right now for people who are scientifically literate, so if we can catch the attention of students early enough it may allow them to understand the opportunities in science,” he said. “Even if they don’t eventually pursue a career in science, they are still exposed to scientific reasoning and critical thinking, which are important skills.”
Rachel has big ideas for the future of Elevate, noting she hopes to see the day grow in both attendees and participating deRachel partments. She says she wants as many local high school students as possible to know they belong in science.
“We want everyone, whether people of colour or members of the LGBTQ+ community, to see they belong in science,” Rachel said. “These are most likely the people we are going to lose along the pathway to academia and it’s those missing voices that are going to make science better.
“Through Elevate, we are making such an obvious and tangible change to students’ lives and how they are approaching the idea of studying science or really anything they want to study, and it’s really gratifying to see.”
To have your secondary school added to the e-mail list with updates about Elevate: A Day for Inclusion in Science at McMaster University, email Sara Cormier at email@example.com.