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Seoul National University National Instrumentation Center for Environmental Management (SNU NICEM): Life &Environmental Science Experimental Learning for Teenagers
People who frequent the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences’ cafeteria have probably run into some high school students in their school uniforms. This makes people wonder–what are they are doing in a college cafeteria? The answer lies in a NICEM program: Life & Environmental Science Experimental Learning.
People who walk by Room 201 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. may see some high school students using microscopes. This is because a number of experiments in this program intrigue students (e.g. a Science in CSI program where students apply life-science experiments to find criminals, DNA electrophoresis, a chemical experiment design utilizing enzymes, etc.). NICEM’s Life and Environmental Sciences Education Center, established to enhance teenagers’ understanding of science and raise their interest in science and engineering, provides three types of one-day programs during the semester and five types of two-day programs during vacations. The former focuses on the curriculum while the latter offers supplemental programs that stimulate students’ intellectual curiosity. These programs are popular because students get to use laboratory equipment that is usually not available in high school classrooms and can explore majors that interested them.
NICEM’s Life & Environmental Science Experimental Learning program is organized as follows: one research scientist is in charge of lectures, experiments, and college-student assistants (TAs). One TA is appointed to 6-8 participants, creating an opportunity for exchanges between SNU students and high school students. The TAs thoroughly study the materials received in advance and participate in training, allowing them to help run the program safely and smoothly.
Eun-Sung Choi, senior analyst, who worked as a long-time TA, emphasizes the importance of the TAs’ sense of responsibility and interest in the students, saying that “a TA meets six students, but the students meet only one TA.” Choi encourages students to record the experiments in detail, adding that “some of the students travel hours from other cities, so I want to make sure they soak up the knowledge as much as possible.” Young Jin Choi, an experienced TA, also tries to give students strength to think for themselves: “When students are in high school, they tend to focus on finding answers as quickly as possible. However, during this learning program, I want them to think of it as ‘a day of struggle.’ I give them opportunities to think on their own, look for answers.”
Undergraduate TAs draw students’ curiosity from different angles. Students are greatly interested in the field of life science, and they are highly interested not only in the details of experiments but also in learning methods of TAs. Jin-Hyeong Lee, plant science major, says, “Many students ask me questions about experiments and also about study methods. Teaching them is very rewarding.” Choi says that “students like to hear information about our departments because CALS has majors that are not very well known.” Some students with good memories from this program later join CALS. Young Jin Choi participated in this learning program when he was a junior in high school, and in 2013 he was accepted into the Department of Landscape Architecture and Rural System Engineering. He says, “The experience of coming to the famous SNU was a precious memory.” He says that the program was a great motivation for him because “I was able to get advice from TAs on minor concerns, time management, and learning methods.”
Undergraduate TAs also benefit a lot from the program. One of the benefits is the sense of pride coming from talking with and helping highly motivated students with science experiments. Young Jin Choi, who reaffirmed his will to enter SNU thanks to the program, has worked as a TA since his freshman year. He says, “Students find it wonderful that I was once a participant in this program and that this program motivated me to come to SNU.” Young Jin Choi adds, “It is rewarding that I am in a position to share what I learned before.” Eun-Sung Choi, who is still in contact with his mentees, says, “it feels great when they apply for the program again and remember my name. Some of them with whom I have built relationships are now adults, so we sometimes meet up for lunch or dinner.” Rapport is built among the TAs. Lee points out that “it is good to work as a TA because you get to meet a variety of people. You meet a number of students, as well as other TAs, who study in different departments and are of different ages.” The undergraduate students who have discovered these benefits tend to devote themselves to TA work over several years, or they plan their class schedules around the TA program.
Some TAs join the Life and Environmental Sciences Education Center after working as experienced TAs. Choi joined the center early this year, and So Hyun Kwak, who worked as a TA for four years with Choi, is expected to follow suit in November.
This popular program has 5,000 student participants a year, but it was not as large in the beginning. According to Hyo-Jung Kwak, research scientist, who has been involved in the program since 2010, the program grew quickly because of a high level of participant satisfaction. She says, “The program became well known thus thanks to the word-of-mouth commendations of the students and their teachers. High schools continue to send their students, and there is a steady participation of students studying abroad who come to Korea during vacations. The experiment-based program gives students plenty of time to have firsthand experiences. Also, they get to spend time with SNU students. I think those play an important role in increasing the program satisfaction level.”
The program has been successful, but the NICEM team is not stopping there. This year, it launched a new program for middle-school students. Currently, only one program for middle-school students exists, but the goal is to add new programs to increase their participation alongside the high schoolers. Moreover, the NICEM team is planning a special program for underprivileged students as part of a support project. This special program hopes to aid students in making informed career decisions.
From a student who participated in the experimental learning program, to an undergraduate student who entered SNU CALS; and from an undergraduate TA to a respectful research scientist who joined the Education Center; I can say that the NICEM Experimental Learning program offers educational opportunities for teenager students, thereby reinforcing SNU’s public nature and providing undergraduates an opportunity to have the practical experience of teaching students. It is not hard to knock on the door of NICEM’s Life and Environmental Sciences Education Center that is working hard to create various opportunites. To apply for a TA position, undergraduate students can refer to the information on the website and send an e-mail. As more people learn about the value and benefits of this program, more people will enter NICEM with pride.
[Figure 1] Students experiencing microscoping through the NICEM program
By Min-Ji Kim, Su-Ji Cho
Student reporters, CALS