By day, Victoria Sutton is an intellectual property associate at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation in Madison. But after school, she empowers students as an Adult Role Model in Science.
Q: Tell us about the program you work with.
ARMS (Adult Role Models in Science) coordinates a network of more than 40 After-School Science Clubs in Madison, WI, focusing on schools and community centers with high numbers of low-income students.
Q: Why did you decide to get involved with this program?
I was looking for a volunteer opportunity to work with kids and science, having recently ended a volunteer opportunity with the Smithsonian Institute’s Hands On Science Center. I got lucky in finding this amazing ARMS program that offered all I hoped for and much more.
Q: How much time do you spend volunteering?
I spend about 1.5 hours leading the club every week, with additional time spent identifying and preparing for activities.
Q: What's the most fulfilling part about volunteering with the afterschool program?
I love the opportunity to teach kids that science isn’t boring—learning science teaches you how the world around you works. In fact, the world is more understandable and more exciting when you have that knowledge and whenever you don’t understand something, science empowers you to ask questions and consider how you might begin to answer those questions!
Q: What's the most challenging part?
It’s challenging to identify (or create) activities that are exciting and engaging, yet geared so that children can take away some understanding of their world or a new approach to problem-solving as a result of the activity. Since I work with children in grades K-5, I need to customize those activities to the children’s abilities and interests for optimal results. Additionally, the details matter for determining how enjoyable and effective the activity will be: the way I present the background information, how I organize the activity, and which parts I do in advance as opposed to those I have them do. That’s all a big challenge.
Q: What advice would you give to other professionals thinking about volunteering with an afterschool program?
My program offers phenomenal training that explores all sorts of issues associated with child development, ways to explore and teach science, diversity and communications challenges, and much more. Such additional training provides tools to make your efforts more successful and more rewarding for you and the children. But the most important way to learn is to just try things (after planning carefully) and ask for lots of feedback in every way you can get it, including from the afterschool staff and your program coordinators.
Q: What advice would you give to young people about studying STEM?
Science is about discovering the way the world works and making it better, and that may be through medicine, biological or chemical studies, physics or engineering. Scientists learn to think critically, evaluate and synthesize information, design experiments that explore questions of interest, and communicate their findings to others. So take science courses and participate in science events, and don’t let a bad experience discourage you—science can be awesome, so keep at it. Even if you don’t focus on science in your career, what you learn in science can be applied in many ways in your life, and it might bring you to a career you love!