Contact: Mark Cardillo
The Camille and Henry
INNOVATIVE SCIENCE EDUCATION WEB SITE INSPIRES
KIDS WITH ONLINE TOOLS, MENTORING
NEW YORK, Jan. 12 - Spurred by President-Elect Obama's "Call to Service," American volunteerism is in the spotlight in the early days of the new year. In fact January is National Mentoring Month and is the perfect time for school kids to connect with professional scientists on the Science Buddies Web site (www.sciencebuddies.org), winner of the Parents' Choice Recommended award. Science Buddies is a unique resource for K-12 student science fair participants, combining free web-based tools with an "Ask an Expert" feature, an online network of scientists, college students and high school seniors who help kids develop and execute science projects.
Science Buddies is completely noncommercial, funded 100 percent through sponsors and grants from benefactors like the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, whose mission is to advance the chemical sciences. The goal of the Dreyfus grant was to enhance the chemistry area-now the second most popular area on the site-with project ideas, chemistry interest-area materials and related programs.
"Science fairs are important because they encourage young people to aim high, perhaps higher than they originally thought they could, and that experience may eventually lead to great discoveries," says Mark Cardillo, executive director of the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation. "We were happy to be part of the Science Buddies mission, recognizing the need to inspire our youth early on and give them real and positive experiences in the chemical sciences."
Members of the science and engineering community-long aware of the importance of providing guidance to future chemists, biologists, physicists and engineers-volunteer on the site, which was founded in 2002 by Ken Hess, a California-based engineer and entrepreneur. Since then Science Buddies has grown exponentially; in 2008, the site served nine million unique visitors with over 800 project ideas in areas ranging from chemistry and environmental science to civil engineering and food science. Hess believes the success of the site stems from the quality of the project ideas, the network of volunteer mentors, and the lack of commercial clutter. "We follow the PBS model, which allows us to keep the site clean. Teachers appreciate it, and so do the students," says Hess.
Developing sound science fair project ideas is no easy task. In fact, getting it right is a complex process that requires accurately coding projects for level of difficulty; being mindful of national education standards; appropriately describing the procedure and communicating safety precautions; and providing sources for the required materials if they are unusual. And still, there will be questions-lots of questions. That's where the site's "Ask an Expert" mentoring feature comes in. Students can post questions to experts, volunteers at all levels, which will be answered within 24 hours.
For the volunteers, Science Buddies provides a meaningful-and fun-way to give back. Donna Hardy, a technical support specialist at Bio-Rad Laboratories in Hercules, CA, who has a Master's degree in microbiology, has been a science fair judge for many years and a Science Buddies mentor in the chemistry area since 2004. Once a week, she logs on to the site and responds to promising young scientists. "I answer questions, help with the basics like how to set up a control situation, and sometimes just explain the chemistry," says Hardy. "The beauty of Science Buddies is that you get to help a lot of kids. I've seen great improvement in the level of science fair projects since the site was started."
Mary Lou O'Donnell, coordinator of the science research program at Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK High School in Plainview, NY, makes participation in the Science Buddies mentoring program mandatory for her upper class Advanced Placement students. "It's a great exercise for the older students-guiding younger students through a complex science project without telling them exactly how to proceed, learning to facilitate without doing. If my AP kids get stuck on a question, they can look for guidance to one of the many science professionals who are also volunteering on the site. There's a real feeling of community, people helping each other and sharing resources," says O'Donnell.
The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, based in New York, is a leading non-profit organization devoted to the advancement of the chemical sciences. It was established in 1946 by chemist, inventor, and businessman Camille Dreyfus, who directed that the foundation's purpose be "to advance the science of chemistry, chemical engineering and related sciences as a means of improving human relations and circumstances around the world."