Monday, July 11, 2011

A Chat with YSP Student Director, Kate Chiappinelli

            Kate Chiappinelli

Kate Chiappinelli graduated from Haverford College in 2007 and is currently a fourth year student in the Developmental    Biology   Program  at  Washington University  in  St.  Louis.   Kate has also taken on the duties  of  Student  Director  of  the  Young  Scientist Program (YSP) since August 2010 and recently spoke with us about what she does for YSP, volunteering in general, and the YSP-MIDSCI partnership.

Peggy Ni: As the YSP student director, could you describe what you do?

Kate Chiappinelli: I run the monthly Steering Committee Meetings and the Community Advisory Board Meetings, which we hold twice a year. The Steering Committee is made up of Washington University student volunteers involved in YSP and each month we review changes, suggestions, and feedback from specific programs and events. The Community Advisory Board is made up of YSP volunteers as well as Washington University faculty, St. Louis Public School teachers and administrators, and other community members. I present a "semester-in-review" to this group and we receive helpful advice and feedback.
I also oversee the various YSP Programs and am involved directly in several. This year I started a Funding Committee to explore both federal and corporate support for YSP. In addition, I am working on a publication on assessment of YSP's Summer Focus program [which has high school students working with Washington University graduate students in the lab] with two other YSP volunteers and our faculty advisor, Dr. Tom Woolsey. Lastly, I am the Co-Head of our Summer Focus (SF) program for 2011.

PN: Why did you become involved with YSP in the first place?

KC: I became involved with YSP the summer after my first year of graduate school. I volunteered to help with the Writing Course [for the SF students] and spoke to groups of students about their Summer Focus projects every week. I was very impressed by the positive attitude and talent of the students and realized that this was a program that could get students excited about doing real scientific research. I then co-taught the Writing Course in 2009 and 2010 and really enjoyed interacting with students and teaching them how to communicate science and craft their research papers. I have been involved with Teaching Teams [where Washington University students perform demos in middle schools and high schools in St. Louis], interviewing SF students, science fairs, and now administration of the program. I love teaching students about science, whether in a long-term interaction such as a summer project or a shorter one-hour Teaching Team Demo. It is gratifying to see the students' enthusiasm and confidence in themselves grow after they have done scientific experiments themselves.
PN: Do you think that enough students volunteer to promote science in the community? 

KC: I am very grateful for our fabulous YSP volunteers, but on the whole I do not think enough students volunteer for YSP activities. I believe that a crucial part of doing a Ph. D. in science is being able to explain difficult scientific concepts to others who may not have the same scientific background. I also believe that, as "experts" in our chosen fields, Ph. D. and M.D. students have an obligation to show younger students how fun and exciting science can be. Many of the schools we work with are under-resourced and do not have the time or money to do involved biology laboratories. Thus, we as graduate students can supplement the high school science curriculum with hands-on science experiences. For high school students, reading about biology in a textbook and memorizing vocabulary words is much more boring than actually isolating DNA from bananas with our Genetics Teaching Team.
PN: MIDSCI is partnering with YSP to help with the effort to provide much needed lab supplies for teachers and students.  What do you think is the most important reason for a science company like MIDSCI to connect with the community?
  With your extensive experience being in YSP, a university organization, in what ways can a company potentially be more effective than a university group in promoting science education? 

KC: We are thrilled to be working with MIDSCI. I think it is beneficial for any company to become a working partner in its community.  In this case MIDSCI can use its expertise to support a program that potentially recruits more bright young men and women to scientific research, possibly even to their own company. 
Companies in general have more disposable income than universities, and can make a very positive impact by donating supplies to the schools. In addition, they can give some perspective about what kind of worker is needed in a non-academic setting.
PN: What is the top goal you hope YSP will achieve while you are here?

KC: My main focus this year is on funding. Our five-year HHMI grant that covers 80% of our operating budget ends in 2012, so we are researching new avenues of funding. We have doubled the Endowment for Science Literacy, Benefiting the Young Scientist Program this year and look forward to seeing it grow more. In addition, the Funding Committee will be applying for NIH grants and exploring opportunities with corporations in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area.

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