UBC Reports | Vol.
51 | No. 6 |
Jun. 2, 2005
Faculty Make Science and Medicine Friendly
By Hilary Thomson
A gateway to what the future may hold is how Jane Roskams
describes a web-based centre that connects elementary and
high school students with university mentoring experiences.
Called the UBC Mentor Centre, the resource has been operating
as a pilot project by the Faculties of Science and Medicine
since 2002 and offers opportunities that include guided group
visits, supervised use of lab equipment, one-on-one shadowing
and project development, visits to schools and e-mentoring.
The only program in Canada to offer such a centralized resource,
it is attracting attention from U.S. universities wishing
to establish similar programs.
“This is a way to show students that a lab is a lively,
interactive place and that scientists are real people, too,”
says Roskams, an associate professor of zoology, who originated
the idea of the centre. “We’re encouraging these
students to find someone they can talk to who can help them
realize their potential.”
More than 50 students in grades 5-12 have connected with
the centre since its inception, and upwards of 60 faculty,
post-docs, grad students and undergraduates from the faculties
of medicine and science have volunteered mentoring experiences.
Many mentors -- including Roskams -- have their own school-age
children and know how valuable mentoring experiences can be
for young people.
Patricia Lau was 16 when she spent a day shadowing Roskams
in her lab at the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics.
Now a fourth-year UBC science student, Lau has worked during
the past three summers as an undergraduate researcher in the
lab and is described by Roskams as a driving force in UBC
“Working and volunteering at the lab has been an amazing
experience,” says the 21-year-old, who is now a mentor
herself. “A research lab is vastly different from my
other labs. It’s opened my eyes to the world of research
and academia and I’ve really gotten a feeling of what
it would be like to be a grad student.”
Shadowing a science or medicine researcher is one of the
most beneficial and popular activities, says Dave Thomson,
of the Michael Smith Laboratories, who co-ordinates the program.
Students have participated in harvesting research plants;
witnessed a CT scan and were introduced to topics ranging
from bioinformatics to applying for research grants. They
also learned about resources such as science and nature societies
in the area, recommended readings and online databases.
“These experiences do make a difference in a young
person’s life,” says Teresa Milden, Vancouver
School Board (VSB) district resource teacher for gifted /
enrichment education, who has helped co-ordinate UBC mentoring
experiences. “Besides the opportunity to see a lab first-hand,
students also become a class expert, which can build self-esteem.
Mentoring is more than a social relationship -- this is a
very powerful experience.”
Students also witness voluntarism and teamwork, make valuable
contacts and are able to add research experience to their
resumes, she adds.
The centre’s web site also links students and parents
to resources such as UBC’s Let’s Talk Science
program; Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology
mentoring opportunities for young women; Science World’s
outreach programs and even a site that offers interactive
online frog dissection.
The Vancouver Foundation provided initial funding for the
pilot, with VSB and UBC providing additional support for personnel.
The centre’s current focus is to find additional funding
to maintain the centre and expand it to other faculties.
For more information on the UBC Mentor Centre, visit www.mentorcentre.ubc.ca.