Volunteers come together to bring out a student’s inner-scientist | Society for Science & the Public
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Volunteers come together to bring out a student’s inner-scientist

June 17, 2019
The founders of Sci-Inspire: Matt Schaff, Emily Ford and Sam Johnson
The founders of Sci-Inspire: Matt Schaff, Emily Ford and Sam Johnson
PHOTO COURTESY OF SCI-INSPIRE

In December 2017, the Society announced that Sci-Inspire would be the recipient of a $5,000 STEM Action Grant. We previously wrote about the organization’s STEM outreach programs. This is an addendum, with updates on what Sci-Inspire accomplished by the end of the grant period in 2018.

Though a teacher’s heart is in the right place, they may desire a knowledgeable connection to inspire students who wish to start a scientific career one day. However, one entrepreneur is hoping to make this problem a thing of the past.

Matt Schaff, president and lead developer of the nonprofit organization Sci-Inspire, aims to boost science attitudes and aptitudes in American youth by recruiting college science students to directly serve as peer role models in K-12 classrooms. With Sci-Inspire acting as a middleman, volunteers are able to lend their time as mentors. These include one-on-one tutoring sessions or group sessions where scientists can help students refine their science fair projects or inform them of potential opportunities.

Any interested teacher can simply put in a request through the Sci-Inspire website, where they are then matched with a volunteer who has been vetted and trained by the organization. Volunteers are trained on how to best educate their demographic of students. Calls for volunteers are made by local chapters, after which the volunteer is trained and certified, a process that usually takes about a month.
 

A Sci-Inspire volunteer from George Washington University helps out some elementary students
PHOTO COURTESY OF SCI-INSPIRE

Thanks to the STEM Action Grant, Sci-Inspire has implemented a number of new programs. In the 2018-2019 school year, most of the organization’s activity was in New York City and Washington DC, but today they are actively building new chapters in Pittsburgh and Chicago to start connecting mentors and mentees in the 2019-2020 school year. Sci-Inspire also plans to produce a series of informational videos that universities will be able to show their students. With this additional funding, Sci-Inspire has been able to hire additional staff to host video-recorded volunteer training sessions on Columbia University’s campus.

Additionally, the training grant will provide managerial support for the sessions, allow staff to coordinate and recruit volunteers to attend sessions, develop training verification quizzes and prepare their online system for integration with the training videos. For the 2019-2020 cycle, Matt was able to conduct a survey on the current process for managing volunteers and make it more streamlined and user-friendly. As of early 2019, the system is being piloted, tested and refined to make it the best volunteer database it can possibly be.

Matt and volunteers alike are pleased with the new direction that the organization is headed. "I am very happy that I decided to become a science fair mentor through the Sci-Inspire pilot,” said volunteer Charles Liang. “It was really fun to show kids the wonders of science!"

With the additional assistance given by the Society and the guidance delivered by such dedicated volunteers, there is no doubt that Sci-Inspire will continue to be an enriching experience in many lives!