by Heidi Riley
Let’s Talk Science is a national charitable organization committed to preparing youth for evolving career and citizenship demands in a rapidly changing world.
Toni-Marie Skinner, Regional Coordinator, Atlantic Canada, is based in St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador, and oversees all the outreach sites in Atlantic Canada, including the one at UPEI.
“We want to positively impact all youth in Canada and encourage them to participate in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) from early years, through grade 12 and into university,” says Toni-Marie. “We provide resources for educators in classrooms to use so we can engage students in STEM subjects.”
The program resources are provided at no cost to students, thanks to their many donors and partners. Programs are aligned with curriculum, and accessible in English and in French.
The program started in 1993 while President Bonnie Schmidt was completing her PhD in Physiology at Western University. “We are celebrating our 30th anniversary this year and are very proud of how the program has grown.”
Their Outreach program connects youth with trained post-secondary volunteers to make hands-on science activities fun for students. The program operates out of over 55 universities and colleges across Canada and has over 3,500 volunteers.
Volunteers are provided with all the training, materials, guides, and anything else they need to be successful. “Whether you are an undergrad or a graduate student, a professional, or someone who is just enthusiastic about STEM, we welcome you to join the program,” says Toni-Marie.
“There is a misconception that you need to be a science student to volunteer with the program, but that is not the case. Volunteers have very different backgrounds but share a common passion for STEM.”
At UPEI, the Outreach program started in 2009. Currently, there are two site coordinators who run the program and coordinate with volunteers.
Volunteer opportunities at UPEI
- Classroom outreach: Teachers can request a visit from a Let’s Talk Science volunteer to cover a specific topic in the classroom. Volunteers are trained and are given all the materials they need as well as instructions and a script. Volunteers visit the classroom to deliver the outreach activities for the teachers. This gives students supplemental activities to go along with the materials they are learning in class. “We are seeing that teachers are trying to teach STEM but do not have access to hands-on materials unless they buy them themselves, which is a barrier to classrooms. We want to make sure we remove that barrier. We provide these outreach visits for free.”
- Community group visits with such organizations as Girl Guides, Scouts, or a local library, which can request visits around a certain topic.
- Booth activities at public events.
- Prepare kits and materials for another volunteer.
- Participate in rural trips to reach more students outside urban areas.
Volunteers can pick and choose how they choose to participate, based on their preferences. There is no minimum commitment of hours. “We are grateful for your time, and we will make sure you are well trained to go into the classroom.”
Benefits of volunteering with Let’s Talk Science
- Opportunities to grow your experience working with youth.
- Develop your resumé and your skills.
- Join a huge network of volunteers from coast to coast who support these initiatives.
- Work on communication and leadership skills.
- Opportunities to network with professionals in various industries and sectors through donor partners who offer networking events throughout the year virtually and in-person.
- Free professional development opportunities and webinars. Once you complete your basic volunteer training online, you will have access to other courses such as how to create age-appropriate STEM activities, respecting Indigenous world perspectives and realities, creating disability-inclusive science learning environments, supporting youth through eco-anxiety talks about how climate change can have a negative effect on youth mental health, and how to make STEM activities more environmentally sustainable and use less consumable material. Upon completion of these courses, volunteers receive a certificate to add to their resumé.
- Make a difference in the lives of youth.
“Any volunteering you do is recorded and tracked. We can provide you with your volunteer record when you are applying for jobs or any other reason you need proof of your volunteer hours. If you choose to move to another site, or you are accepted at another university that has a Let’s Talk Science program, your volunteer record moves with you.
“We also provide hour verification letters if you need them, and we provide volunteer certificates at the end of the year. We also have a National Volunteer Award every spring, so our volunteers can apply and be nominated and have a chance to win and be rewarded for their volunteer effort.”