Connecting S-L & STEM

Written by S-L Street Team member, Cassandra Barrett

Many students perceive service-learning as something for Humanities majors, but little do STEM majors know, S-L is for everyone and is especially important for STEM majors. As a biology major, the core curriculum focuses on building our scientific and technical skillset. Often, our classes fail to explore topics within our society and other soft, interpersonal skills. This series entitled Connecting S-L and STEM will explore the necessity of integrating service into STEM courses. The first installment will focus on communication. 

My first S-L experience was in the BIOL 2299: Inquiries in Biology course my second semester at Northeastern. This required class would be the stepping stone for my personal professional development and growth as a budding biologist. In my course, taught by Missy McElligott, we learned about stem cell biology. In the classroom, we focused on high-level, intricate science. Outside of the classroom, I worked with students ages 6-9 and executed fun science experiments for students at United South End Settlements (USES).  

Each week, we tailored high-level science topics to fit the minds of first graders. While we prepared for our poster presentation at the end of the semester, The contrast between what we needed to present to Northeastern faculty and what we needed to present to our students was huge! The language that we used with our professor and classmates was vastly different from what we used with students. Though challenging at times, it is a skill that remained with me as I transitioned into my professional life.

I am currently on co-op with the Brigham Research Institute at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and this same skill comes into play. I see scientists at the Brigham that have to present science at varying education levels. Some scientists have to explain their science in front of a group of like-minded peers with similar career paths and backgrounds. Other scientists have to showcase their research to donors that may not understand the intricacies of pathways and receptors but understand the personable aspect of their research. 

Curating your communication to fit your audience is a struggle even the most esteemed scientists confront. As I reminisce on my time at USES, I remember the times students asked me hard-hitting questions. Then, taking their questions and my intricate answers and modifying it to fit the age range. This skill will continue throughout the rest of my career in STEM and I attribute it to my time in Service-Learning!

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