Campus: CSU Northridge -- October 10, 2001

Northridge Students Are Creating Tomorrow's Scientists Out of Today's Middle Schoolers

A group of Cal State Northridge students are spending part of this semester transforming some Los Angeles middle schoolers into tomorrow's scientists.

Every Tuesday for the next few weeks, 22 seventh graders from four Los Angeles Unified School District schools are traveling to Northridge for an intensive after-school program designed to increase their interest in the life sciences. The program started Sept. 25.

The youngsters are working alongside CSUN freshmen and sophomores conducting experiments, taking part in interactive projects and examining the ethical perspectives that pertain to biology.

"This class is being held to dispel the myths that science is difficult and boring," said Virginia Vandergon, an assistant professor of biology at Northridge and coordinator of the new "Tomorrow's Scientists" program.

The program is coordinated by CSUN's Department of Biology and the university's Center for Community-Service Learning. The CSUN students taking part in the project are enrolled in an accelerated future teacher's program that will allow them to get their baccalaureate degree and teaching credential in just four years.

Among the subjects the CSUN students and middle schoolers will be exploring are biodiversity, genetics and even Mendelian genetics. The theme for Tuesday, Oct. 9, is endangered species and on Tuesday, Oct. 16, digestion.

"This program is a wonderful example of the benefits of service-learning, a pedagogy that combines classroom theory with real world application," said Maureen Rubin, director of the Center for Community-Service Learning. "It will allow aspiring future teachers to gain practical experience in the subject matter they are learning, while providing a meaningful service to the community. It will also help them determine if teaching is really the right career choice for them."

The course curriculum is closely linked to the Science Contract Standards for California Public Schools to assure that the after-school program meets and enhances middle school science courses.

"'Tomorrow's Scientists' provides invaluable opportunities for students in the district to attend a very prestigious university and to experience college life," said Henry Torres, the LAUSD administrator for the "Beyond the Bell" After-School Program. "Our middle school students usually do not have the chance to experience a college environment early in their lives. I wish more students could be involved in this program."

The LAUSD schools taking part are Olive Vista Middle School in Sylmar, Community Charter Middle School in San Fernando, Mulholland Middle School in Van Nuys and San Fernando Middle School in San Fernando.

"Tomorrow's Scientists" runs through Nov. 3. The program is free to all participants, and is partially funded by a grant from Learn & Serve America.

Launched in 1998, CSUN's Center for Community-Service Learning aims to inspire, encourage and support students and faculty in their pursuit of academic excellence through involvement in meaningful community service.

For more information about the Center for Community-Service Learning, call (818) 677-7395.

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