This summer, besides taking two courses and rowing competitively, I decided to volunteer in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Being at a research university, STEM volunteer opportunities are infinite! These events share the research being done at U of T and encourage young minds to start thinking creatively and collaboratively. What did I get out of it? A couple rad science t-shirts, A LOT of free food and a chance to apply what I learnt in my first year courses.
Every time I see liquid nitrogen, it’s like the first time. This awe of mine was shared by the little scientists roaming campus during Science Rendezvous. I volunteered with the Physics department, but after my shift was done, I peeked around other departments. There was a Chemistry booth that had made powdered Nutella by adding Maltodextrin (a food thickener) AND a liquid nitrogen ice cream booth near it. And as any scientist would do, I mixed the two (10/10 recommend).
This year’s DoorsOpen Toronto theme was – Film: The Great Romance. McLennan Physical Laboratories, home of the Physics department has stood-in for American universities like M.I.T. in movies such as Flash of Genius and Good Will Hunting. The station I staffed demonstrated centre of gravity: balancing wine-bottles and wooden blocks. I felt like a magician, using the laws of physics to amaze my young audience. But my spell on them was short lived as they gravitated towards the giant inflatable Nemo that was being droned around the lobby and the telescopes on the 14th floor that offered a bird’s eye view of Toronto.
Go North Youth with Engineering Outreach
Since around 1100 grade-schoolers were expected for this event, Go North required days of preparation and was more than a one-day commitment. But the incentive of free pizza after every shift however made allocating time between classes and rowing practices easier. Bahen Centre had been coined ‘Innovation Alley’ and was swarmed with kids and tech giants. When my shift was done, I lined up with other kids for a Google pen and sticker (now my friends think I work at Google whenever I use that pen).
Let’s Talk Science – Physics Day at U of T
I found out about Let’s Talk Science (LTS) from another volunteer at Science Rendezvous on break while eating (you guessed it) pizza. This time around, it was a little more nerve wrecking – fewer volunteers, more hands-on activities, and a 5-minute crash-course. Using household items, we had the students predict and perform experiments to find their densities. Using a giant slinky, we demonstrated different types of waves and using plastic sheets, we made holograms! I’m looking forward to more LTS events throughout the year that will involve trips to schools and bringing more eager teens onto campus.
Green Chemistry Initiative
Recently, I joined the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI). After applying for my program, I thought it would be a good idea to get involved in the department of Chemistry. When introducing ourselves during the meeting, people mentioned which research group they were in. It was then that I realized GCI was for graduate students, but they didn’t turn me away – heck, they even gave me a green t-shirt! Through GCI I hope to be spread awareness of how chemicals affect the environment and to help implement measures that reduce U of T’s energy consumption and waste reduction.
I’m not sure if I should be concerned about how easily motivated I am by food and free t-shirts. But I think it’s a good starting point to getting more involved with the community of my field of study. I do intend on volunteering in a variety of fields to get a feel of the diverse communities here at U of T. I always keep tabs on the Career Learning Network (CLN) and the mailing lists of departments and clubs that I care about for volunteer opportunities.
Feel free to reach out if want more specific tips on finding volunteering opportunities in the comments below!