By day, Melissa Richtarik is a WERLD engineer for Whirlpool in Benton Harbor, Michigan. But after school, she hosts interactive science sessions for Discovery Days at the Benton Harbor Boys & Girls Club.
Q: Tell us about the program you work with.
Discovery Days is a once-a-month afterschool activity with the Boys & Girls Club where we go to the club for a few hours and hold a fun, interactive session where members can learn about science and engineering. Activities have included roller coaster design, manufacturing line, electric circuits, airplanes and aerodynamics, and chemistry with slime and ice cream.
Q: What made you want to get involved with this program?
I got involved with the program because I love working with younger kids and seeing their curiosity show through when they are learning from these activities. There is a high energy with the group when we hold Discovery Days.
Q: How much time do you spend volunteering?
The activities themselves run for about two hours with two 1-hour sessions with different groups of members. I will spend about an hour or two prepping for the event and an hour or so evaluating feedback/improvements from the volunteers.
Q: What's the most fulfilling part about volunteering with the afterschool program?
Hearing from the adults at the Boys & Girls Club that the members were telling them what they learned and what they had the most fun learning. I love that the members are actually taking in what we’re teaching them and that they have so much fun doing it. The fact that the members look forward to Discovery Days every month is very fulfilling.
Q: What's the most challenging part?
Having as many volunteers as possible to work with the members. They deserve all the attention we can give them, but if there are not enough volunteers, it becomes overwhelming for those volunteers that do show up, and the members have a harder time staying focused.
Q: What advice would you give to other professionals thinking about volunteering with an afterschool program?
Make sure to stay patient when volunteering with younger children and don’t always expect things to go as planned. As long as everyone has a good time and something positive comes from the experience, then the volunteering was successful and had a positive impact.
Q: What advice would you give to young people about studying STEM?
Advice I would give would have to be to go into a field that thoroughly interests you. Never be worried about something being too hard to do. Work on it and stay determined and you’ll succeed.