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Everyone is Learning: Graduate students practice science communication with fifth grade field trip

April 20, 2023

A rumble of voices reaches the space before the groups of excited children shuffling their way up the Moss Arts Center steps arrive. Their eyes widen as they take in the stretch of tables before them containing laptop displays, activities, and games. The exhibitors stand at the ready to welcome the groups and share their passions for science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). 

As each group number is called, the herd of 60 fifth-grade students from Critzer Elementary splits off to the individual tables. Behind each of these tables are graduate students from the Center for Communicating Science’s GRAD 5144: Communicating Science class. Each team of graduate students has designed a 5-minute presentation on topics that span across disciplines. In the course, graduate students learn techniques from the performing arts to help researchers communicate their work effectively. Center for Communicating Science faculty Carrie Kroehler and Patricia Raun teach the course. Kroehler shared, "Experiential learning is the core of the course. Developing a short presentation, demonstration, or hands-on activity for the Hokie for a Day fifth-graders is an incredibly valuable part of that." 

At these tables, the fifth-graders learn about geoscience and wildlife conservation, environmental sustainability, composting, food and communication webs, how to take care of the Earth, and sustainable farming. Looking across the room you can see hands sporadically fly up to ask pressing questions about the displays in front of them. Eddah Mauti, a graduate student in industrial and systems engineering recounts, "I loved interacting with the different groups and adjusting our presentation to suit the different group personalities." Karen Williams, another graduate student adds, “It was interesting how differently all of the kids responded to the presentation. Some were clearly interested in the science and actually knew a lot more than I was expecting.”

Phyllis Newbill, CENI’s associate director of educational networks added, “I love it when everyone is learning - the kids, the chaperones, and the Virginia Tech community members too.”

This excitement and participation are no different from any other Hokie for a Day field trip at Virginia Tech. Almost every Wednesday during the fall and spring semesters, fifth-grade students from schools across the NRV area get to visit campus and catch a glimpse of college life in Blacksburg. In collaboration with Virginia Tech’s Center for Educational Networks and Impacts (CENI) and its Educator Liaison Network, these field trips are made possible. At Hokie for a Day, fifth-grade students get to learn about the basics of college life, such as what is a campus or residence hall, then briefly tour Virginia Tech’s campus. The students then enjoy the hands-on expo, followed by lunch with members of the Corps of Cadets in one of Virginia Tech’s award-winning dining halls. To end their field trip, the fifth-graders get to speak with college athletes and ask any questions they may have about their experiences on campus and playing their sport. As the fifth-graders get back on their buses, they are encouraged to dream about their futures and consider if college may be a part of that future journey. 

The Center for Educational Networks and Impacts (CENI) is housed within Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT) and exists to inspire, connect, and impact the campus, community, region, and Commonwealth about the importance and availability of STEM-based educational opportunities and its critical role in workforce development, economic prosperity, and a thriving society.

Written by Kalilah Kroll and Lauren Melton