Some things never change. These things may be small, or seem inconsequential— the joy of receiving letters in the mail (that aren’t bills!), the excitement of a snow day, the anticipation of seeing a new movie in a theater—yet in the field of science outreach, these seemingly simplistic life pleasures are the things we use to relate.
And, for us at RockEDU it’s…Chairs and Pizza.
Let me explain.
RockEDU Science Outreach is dedicated to creating equitable access to science for students K-12 in New York City and beyond. While our online resources are designed to reach a large demographic of enthusiastic scientists, our brick and mortar home base in The Rockefeller University primarily targets New York City Public School students in grades 6-12. These students often come in for a LAB Experience—in Algae, PCR or GFP—due to their limited laboratory resources at their schools. When students come to our RockEDU laboratory, they learn grade-appropriate scientific research skills in an educational and collaborative atmosphere.
However, it may be a bit awkward.
For many students, this is very likely their first time meeting a scientist and almost certainly their first time in a biomedical research institution.
And, that’s intimidating!
Especially when we consider the archetype of “science” that has permeated mainstream culture. For many years, science has been inaccessible to many individuals—from specific socio-economic backgrounds, genders, ethnicities, races, religions and sexual orientations—and scientists have been placed on a pedestal that makes them inaccessible, or foreign, to the general public.
That’s where the chairs come in.
At RockEDU Science Outreach, we’re focused on breaking down harmful, outdated stereotypes of who can do science, and what science looks like. To bridge that gap, we find commonalities.
As soon as students enter our classroom they see our desks. As you can see in photos above, these desks are a wonderful conversation starter.
“Where did you get these desks?!”
“Are those cupholders?”
“Do they move?!”
Students immediately have found something relatable and interesting before our day has even truly begun! And, just like that the focus can shift to a dialogue. We can chat with the students about how much we love the desks—because after all, you’re never too old to enjoy a super cool rolling desk—and we can use that as a segue to make science engaging and scientists approachable.
What many students fail to realize is that scientists are people, too. Grasping onto something that is mutually enjoyable, even as simple as a desk, provides bridge between science and the public.
After, the morning section of our LAB Experience has come to close we crank it up a notch, by bringing in something even more relatable.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t enjoy a good slice of pizza. Especially New York Pizza. Gooey with cheese and dripping with sauce; what’s not to like?!
And, just like that, we have students that associate, possibly their very first experience in science (outside of their classroom), with chairs and pizza.
When adults are trying to relate to a younger population, there can be an instinct to artificially engineer that relationship. For example, “maybe I’ll download an app on my phone, like “Tiktok” since teenagers seem to be enjoying that”. “Or, maybe I’ll throw out slang that a younger population is using, to show them that I’m relatable”.
These are all great ideas, however, let’s pay special attention to not turn a blind eye to the connections that already exist.
The connections like rolling desks and cheesy pizza.