OSU Discovery Days

STEM Students Volunteer to Educate Local Youth

Elementary students get a feel for the chainsaw at the Forestry Club’s exhibit. Photo by Blair Girard.

Every year, thousands of local elementary and middle school students attend OSU Discovery Days to learn about science, math, engineering, and technology.

“We want to make math and science more equitable,” said Gabrielle James, the Science Success Center Coordinator, who inherited the program two years ago as the lead organizer of Discovery Days.

James is passionate about highlighting underrepresented groups like women and non-binary or genderqueer individuals, and was able to include the Association of Women in Math and the Sigma Delta Omega’s Women in Science sorority in the program last spring.

“I look at this experience as what it can do for our students,” she said. “They are infused with this service ethic of giving back to our community, which helps them fine tune their skills and develop their full potential.”

Young students line up to get ‘run over’ by the Robotics Club robot. Photo by Blair Girard.

A community-centered event, Discovery Days is the bi-annual outreach effort put on by the College of Science to give OSU students the opportunity to share their knowledge while exposing children to areas of science. The college spends on average $4,000 each year to put it together, and it requires many volunteers to pull it off — 115 OSU students, teachers, and staff gave their time last spring alone.

The event is completely free to the public, and about 2,500 children attend each year.

James herself has a great passion for community service and science. “I love being a life-learner,” she said. She runs a peer advisor program in the College of Science helping students find their way towards promising future careers.

“It is super satisfying working with students in STEM,” she said. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. “Science programs are being cut left and right in schools today, and this is a way to help them get that exposure.”

The experience at Discovery Days is an organic one, and it is that way for a reason. Tons of children and a few adults mill about from room to room in organized chaos. There is no one ushering you around from station to station, and there are no limits to how deep you can dig into a topic of interest.

When I asked James if it ever got overwhelming, she responded, “I am hesitant to control experiences, because what if that one moment was the moment something clicked for someone?”

Elementary students get a feel for the chainsaw at the Forestry Club’s exhibit. Photo by Blair Girard.

In a time when solutions to complicated problems are increasingly needed, and when the art of critical thinking seems lost to endless modes of distracting entertainment, it is a hopeful image seeing the curious faces of our area’s youth, beaming with excitement about the endless wonders of the natural world around them.

Discovery Days is hosted twice a year at the LaSells Stuart Center on the OSU campus by the College of Science. It is open to the public, though targets mainly Corvallis area schools, grades K through 5. The next event is scheduled for November 4 and 5, and runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. If crowds aren’t your thing, James suggests shooting for later afternoon hours.

By Blair Girard