Community outreach programs continue to grow

Area fourth graders work with Bradley students and faculty during National Lab Network Day demonstrations.

November 15, 2011

By Brigitte Graf ’13

Over the past year, community outreach has become a focus for various departments on campus. With several departments in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Center for STEM Education teaming up, many events have been hosted and programs developed which all help to encourage learning among Peoria-area children.

Some of these include an event for National Lab Network Day, events for National Chemistry Week, and Science 101. The departments involved in these events and programs are not solely science-based, however.

Michelle Edgcomb Friday, lecturer in the biology department, works closely with these programs and serves as chairperson for several of them. Last year, approximately 750 students in the region from grades Pre-K through 12 participated in the events, and according to Edgcomb Friday, this success is due to the cooperation of all the departments involved.

“This is a collaborative effort between a number of groups,” Edgcomb Friday said. “I really want to emphasize how much the University as a whole really comes together for these events.”

Those on campus who participate in the planning, coordinating and executing of these events are both students and professionals from departments including, but not limited to, the biology, chemistry and engineering departments, as well as the College of Education and Health Sciences, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Center for STEM Education.

Edgcomb Friday says the mission of outreach in the community is to promote the education of children in various fields. Many of the events she is involved with are science-based and use a series of hands-on activities to get children involved in the learning process.

“Young children are sort of natural-born scientists,” Edgcomb Friday said. “They come into the world with a lot of curiosity. We want to encourage them to explore further throughout their lives.”

While some of these programs are ongoing, there are always new outreach ideas in the works.

“One thing that is very new is the development of the River Action League,” Edgcomb Friday said. “This is a citizen science organization that involves getting people who would not normally be involved collecting data for a scientific purpose.”

Bradley students are encouraged to participate in these and other upcoming events. Organizations like the Biology Undergraduate Student Society (BUGS), the Chemistry Club and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) are active participants in the various outreach programs.  Many volunteers are also recruited by word of mouth.

“We have a campus that is large enough to have a lot of different areas, but it is small enough for word to move through the grapevine pretty quickly and have other people getting involved that way,” Edgcomb Friday said.

The main goals of these outreach efforts are to encourage children in the Peoria community to learn and to inspire them to continue their education after high school.

“We learn everything by doing when we are young,” Edgcomb Friday said. “You try something, you see if it works, then you continue or you try something else. There comes a point where natural curiosity gets a little curved in and the tendency is to start to view education as ‘the information you need to know’. We want to show young students that there’s a lot more to be excited about.”