Learn more about the Gear Up programs and how to get involved as a local student/participant, student volunteer, community member and more by visiting Gear Up.
A recent partnership with outreach program Gear Up and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Department of Chemistry and Physics made chemistry fun for local middle school students.
From experimenting with elephant toothpaste to measuring the width of a single piece of hair, 24 Orchard Knob Middle School seventh-graders got a taste for science and a glimpse of college during their recent visit to UTC.
Gear Up, an outreach program focused on making college accessible to local low-income, first-generation students, helped organize the event. Chemistry and Physics faculty and students welcomed the middle schoolers to the chemistry lab, where they performed a range of experiments with the help of UTC students.
Allycia Lee, a UTC junior majoring in biochemistry, led middle schoolers in an experiment exploring the chemical composition of elephant toothpaste.
“The students loved seeing the reaction as it is a very eye-catching reaction. I even got them involved by letting them add the reactants, and we had a small competition between them on whose reaction would be faster,” Lee explained.
While there were obvious benefits for the middle school participants, Lee said she benefited from the experience as well.
“As a student volunteer, it was an excellent opportunity to engage with people outside of my normal environment and to learn how to simplify explanations of certain topics that would normally be beyond the Orchard Knob students’ level of understanding,” she said.
John Lee, associate professor of chemistry and interim department head in chemistry and physics, said the experience is a “key memorable event” from his career since coming to UTC in 2010.
“It was amazing watching the passion for their subject our majors demonstrated and the numerous ‘wow’ moments of the Orchard Knob students as they did each experiment,” he said. “I hope that we sparked interest in the general STEM field with this event showcasing how chemistry and physics are used to study the world around us and contribute to society.”
Hunter Huckabay, program director for Gear Up, said events like this are key to demonstrating that public-school students are welcomed, valued, challenged and can have a little fun on the college campuses they visit, proving that college is not out of reach.
“The students and professors of the chemistry and physics department showed the Gear Up kids how college is not an ivory tower, but instead can be a funhouse where they learn cool things about the world from people who know how to connect with them,” he said.
“The fact that all this occurred at UTC, just a few blocks from the students’ school, underscored the accessibility of college and, in particular, UTC’s interest in their future. Those kids won’t hesitate to knock on UTC’s door in five years when they start thinking about college,” Huckabay added.