VIDEO: What is the Experimentors Program?

  • Program sparks interest in science for Gaston Virtual Academy students

    A new afterschool program is giving three students at the Gaston Virtual Academy a chance to explore a career in science.

    Pandora Childs, Adryauna Davis, and Jahari White were selected for the ExperiMentors program that is offered through the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (NCMNS).  It involves middle school students interacting with scientists, exploring science-related careers, and finding out about challenges the scientists overcame to be successful in their profession. 

    As program participants, students meet virtually each week with peers and scientists from around the state.  In addition, they complete hands-on experiments at home, and at the end of the eight-week program, they have the opportunity to go behind the scenes at the NCMNS, meet museum curators, and camp overnight inside the museum.

    White already has her eyes set on a career as a chemist.  “I recently had a pet pass away due to an autoimmune disease,” she said.  “I want to find a way to cure not only pets, but humans from this disease.”

    Gaston Virtual Academy science teacher Britnee Reid said the program does a great job including scientists of all genders, races, and identities to show students the diverse population that makes up the profession.

    “Students think the identity of a scientist looks like the Albert Einstein photo we’re so accustomed to seeing,” said Reid. “Today, for example, our students learned from Bree Jameson, a Black female scientist who explores underground caves.”

    After hearing from Jameson, the students learned how to get involved as a citizen scientist and created a topographic map with their hand.

    “This was a fun activity,” explained Childs. “We made a fist with one hand and our knuckles represented the hilltops.  Next, we drew contour lines at the top of our knuckles to our wrist.  When we laid our hand down flat, we were able to see what the conditions of the area were like based on the contour lines.”

    The students also learned that no matter how old you are, everyone is able to help as citizen scientists. 

    “We learned about a citizen science activity called ‘Project Sidewalk’ through,” said Davis.  “Using Google Street View, we selected a city and entered information about sidewalks that need to be prioritized for upgrades and repairs.”

    The ultimate goal is for the three students to pursue a career in science.  If nothing else, Reid hopes the eight-week program gets them interested in learning more about the field of science and wanting to be a part of it through citizen science projects.

    ExperiMentors is one of a few extracurricular programs Reid is incorporating into the curriculum for Gaston Virtual Academy students.

    “This is actually my second partnership with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences,” explained Reid. “In the spring, I am participating in their cretaceous creatures workshop where my eighth students will come in person and dig through buckets full of sand that have potential fossils in it.  This is a true citizen science project where we’re sending data to scientists.”

    Reid added, “We’re trying to expand upon the in-person opportunities for our students to not only socialize, but to have some of those extracurricular options that other students may get at a traditional school and are not accessible to students attending a virtual school.”

    Below is a list of scientists who the students have been able to meet virtually and the hands-on activities that were supervised by the scientists:
    ▪ Dr. Marianne Barrier, geneticist and curator of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Genomics and Microbiology Research Lab
    Activity: Strawberry DNA extraction
    ▪ Bree Jameson, professional caver and chairperson of the National Speleological DEI Committee
    Activity: Topographical Maps and Citizen Science Project 
    ▪ Vernon Turner, broadcast meteorologist, Spectrum News
    Activity: (Melting) Ice Bucket Challenge
    ▪ Alyssa Hartzheim, curator of Ambassador Animals
    Activity: Pet-Animal Artifact Show and Tell