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One invaluable new skill I’ve acquired this summer is actively taking notes and reflecting at the end of each day. Heading into my experience in the Huntington's Unit at the Terence Cardinal Cooke Healthcare Center, I was intimidated by all the learning I would have to do on the spot. From remembering so many new names to handling difficult discussions, there was no online guide that would tell me what to expect or even prepare me how to respond to different scenarios. How could I understand the wants and needs of non-communicative residents? What was the best way to engage each of them? With so much going on each day, my solution to feeling overwhelmed was to keep a small notebook and pen on me at all times. I was committed to treating my volunteering experience like a college class- I would capture every detail and review them at the end of each day. X likes country music? Got it. Y only communicates by thumbs down and thumbs sideways? Got it. Z participated in a Huntington's disease therapy clinical trial? Noted.
Actively taking notes and reflecting has undoubtedly enriched my summer experience. Tying this skill back to leadership, creating and taking a few moments each day to review my small "memory bank" has enabled me to take initiative and innovate. I remember that certain residents like going onto the patio and, every chance I get, I bring them outside. I remember that certain residents are music lovers- and blast their favorite tunes on a speaker whenever I can. I remember the life stories of my residents - from their past lives working in the Met Opera to their rocket science research, little talking points that not only function as powerful conversation starters but also starting points for new ways of service that will hopefully bring them joy. In the grand scheme of things, actively engaging and reflecting is crucial for building upon the status quo. It’s a habit that I’ll take with me wherever I go moving forward.
Hey Dennis! First, it must but interesting to hear the life stories of the residents. I can only imagine the stories they have to share. Although these things might seem beside the point, I often wonder if reflecting on the past has more meaning to it than meets the eye, especially in settings of older patients and medical care. The practice of taking notes, engaging with, and remembering these stories, then, sounds like it must be quite meaningful to both you and the residents. Although I usually think of notes in terms of class functions, I can only guess that it must be exponentially more valuable here.
Week #5: What new skills and/or knowledge have you gained from your summer experience? Have you met anyone who has been instrumental in shaping/helping you conduct your project? Briefly, how has this person impacted you? What have you learned about leadership from this individual, and how might it influence your actions, work, and self in the future?
This summer I have learned an enormous amount about course content and development. Although always sitting in the back of my mind, the way in which one conveys knowledge in a classroom setting is something I have never delved into. This is particularly interesting to me as it is something I have engaged with throughout most of my life, yet scantly stopped to think about. Adding another level of complexity, the course I am working on will be published online. This is an interesting problem and challenge as I am tasked to think about teaching and learning in a complete virtual (non-real time) setting. For me, this is both a throwback to our year on Zoom and an endeavor into new methods of learning.
This year I have had the opportunity to work with Professor David Helfand and Professor Ivana Hughes to develop their sections of the online course. While I was familiar with both Professor Helfand and Hughes from Frontiers in Science during my freshman year, through my work this summer I have gained a new perspective and appreciation for them and what they do. By working on developing rather than taking, Frontiers in Science I have gained a new perspective on what this course offers, and more importantly, how it teaches.
Week Four: Has your research or work in a community to this point introduced you to any new fields or topics that are of interest to you? How, if at all, has your work narrowed since the beginning of the project?
As a personal interest, I've grown very intrigued by observational astronomy and have been exploring curiosities about the constellations and ancient mythologies from different parts of the world. My coursework at Columbia for the past two years and my research experiences have equipped me to explain the physical sciences, but I've discovered I'm lacking a lot in historical knowledge. Some of my coworkers are incredibly knowledgeable about the history of astronomy and its cultural significance in different parts of the world, and I've been trying to learn from them and absorb some of their knowledge. It seems that the American educational system places more of an emphasis on pure physical sciences, but lacks the historical and cultural significance, especially in bigger cities where observing the sky is difficult. I've realized how important it is to learn astronomy just to understand how our Earth functions, to understand the seasons, and even to navigate. Children here learn about the significance of the constellations, the moon, and the planets from a very young age, which is something I don't recall learning growing up near a big city in America. My work has definitely narrowed in this sense: I started my internship with an interest in pure science divulgation, and I'm ending with a curiosity about the more interdisciplinary aspects of science and astronomy.
Hi Nicole! This is such an interesting topic to think about. My academic studies have also mainly focused on the "pure" physical sciences. However, I cannot agree with you more on the importance, and intrigue, of learning the cultural and historical aspects of them as well. I am also in agreement that these often overlooked aspects enliven and expand the reaches of their respective science. Thinking in terms of astronomy (something I know quite little about) it must be even more fascinating as the stars play such a prominent role in history, society and culture.
What challenges and/or difficulties have you encountered and how did you go about resolving them? Speak to a specific challenge you have encountered and some of the ways that you tackled the problem.
Has your research or work in a community to this point introduced you to any new fields or topics that are of interest to you? How, if at all, has your work narrowed since the beginning of the project?
Researching in a community has introduced me to the field of scientific communication. This field, virtually absent from my previous summer’s work, has become a crucial study for me as I think about course production and teaching methods. In the strict world of science, communication and broadcasting one’s work is essential, but the target audience is restricted and often quite narrow. Inherently, this makes the communication aspect easier to work with as the onlooker is, in most cases, informed of the necessary background knowledge. However, when developing a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), the whole point is to broadcast without narrowing one’s audience. This has greatly expanded my thoughts on where and how science has an impact.
While intriguing, this is also precisely the challenge I have faced this summer: attempting to expand my audience to a degree I have yet to attempt. While inherent to the project, it is new to me in the course of my academic studies. To go about solving this I have worked with different Professors at Columbia who are dedicated to their respective pursuits, whether it be science or education. By working with people who embody different points of view, who canvas different fields, I have learned about different sides of the same coin, both essential for our project’s success.
What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!
I typically wake up around 7:30, get ready and pack lunch, and ride my bike to the planetarium by 9. About three times a week, a class of students from the area takes a field trip to the planetarium for a lesson. First, they're given a presentation in the dome, which offers a projection of the night sky and an explanation of the movements of planets and moons solar system, the Earth's rotation/revolution, and the constellations. One of my coworkers leads this presentation. Afterward is a lab, which is typically an arts & crafts project related to the planets or constellations, which I help to set up, assist during, and clean up. My Italian level is luckily good enough to communicate with younger children about the project! When I'm not doing this, sometimes I've gone in to a local high school to speak in their English classes about university life in the U.S., and to help students practice having conversations in English.
My afternoon schedule varies. Even in my third week, it still involves a lot of training and instruction to familiarize myself with the planetarium and speaking in Italian. But each afternoon, I spend some time preparing for whichever event I have coming up. The steps are: research, write a script, create a slideshow with images, translate to Italian, check the translation, and practice my pronunciation. If I'm not doing this, sometimes I plan curriculum for a lesson or activity that I'm not going to teach here. Because of the language barrier, curriculum planning has been my strong suit. Throughout the afternoon, I take breaks in the director's office for espresso with the other volunteers at the planetarium.
In the evenings, sometimes I go to a meeting with another astronomy club in Modena: GAGBA, who specialize in telescopes and sky observations, and COSMO, who specialize in space exploration missions and launches -- both topics which I don't know much about but have always wanted to learn. Sometimes, I stay late for English lessons for adults hosted at the planetarium -- it's fascinating to see how English is taught because it's something I never thought about as a native speaker. On other evenings, I go to the city center with my coworkers at the planetarium. I end each evening by going back to my host family, eating dinner, and reading a book!
Hi Nicole! As I read through your post I cannot stop thinking about language and science. While scientific jargon is often thought of as a barrier, I can only image what a true language barrier is like in learning and teaching science. Your work at the planetarium sounds incredibly interesting, and participating in a new language I hope is as interesting as challenging. It must also be unique to see how another place in the world engages youth and schools in astronomy and the sciences.
One of my projects this summer is to connect with the parents of youth with sickle cell disease (on behalf of a nonprofit called NextStep) and solicit feedback on what type of programming we could offer that would best serve them. While I have yet to talk to these parents this summer, I have done so previously over the past two academic years. As the student leader of a NextStep-associated mentorship organization for youth with sickle cell called STRIVE, we frequently speak with parents to generally check in, answer questions, and ensure that we’re meeting their needs and expectations. Typically, we connect over phone (especially since the parents are often working and would likely be difficult to reach in-person). The parents have always been enthusiastic about the work we do at STRIVE, and I'm excited to connect soon!
Hi Dennis! Your work sounds incredibly interesting and impactful. I am sure it is intriguing to go from a student leader in NextStep to your work this summer with STRIVE and developing support groups. In addition, it is really interesting to see how your work aligns with your research interests. Thinking about genetics as a basic biologic pursuit and something that affects countless people's lives. Looking forward to hearing where it takes you!
A typical day of my research begins with a run in Riverside Park. Although not inherently connected to my work, I find this helps me focus through the rest of the day as I continue my work. As I settle into my dorm, the library, or any place I find myself at work that day, I always begin ensuring I am up to date on the literature I will be pursuing that day. From here, I quickly transition to the nuts and bolts of course development. From sourcing data and figures, to figuring out ways of presenting material, the rest of my day usually aligns along these lines. While not flashy, I have come to learn that developing a course is, at times, about effort and work. While it doesn’t always appear complex, the simple lessons and ideas presented in classroom are more often than not highly researched, sourced and articulated. A typical day for me has not only been about developing this backbone but learning the structure behind it.
Week 2: If you are doing a leadership-in-action or community engagement project, how do you interact with community members, and what kind of conversations are you having? How do you connect with this community of people, and what common cause do you find?
So far, I have been a fly on the wall. The workshops I have observed are led by patients, with clinical and medical professionals present to moderate and answer questions if asked. That said, since the workshops focus on patient's daily lives and emotional experience, the medical professionals also don't speak often. My interaction involves introducing myself at the beginning of the workshop, explaining that I'm a student hoping to start a similar program in New York, and thanking the patients for allowing me to be there. We connect with each other by sharing about our families, hobbies, and passions in our introductions, and after the workshop, I talk with parents about what books they've been reading recently or their favorite vacation. Our common cause is creating a space for solidarity and support: the parents in this lesson for workshop leaders will go on to create their own support groups in different cities across Spain, and each aims to make the process easier for other parents than it was for them. These parents are rockstars. They are strong, positive, and radically open and genuine. I appreciate their openness, and I try my best to reciprocate their energy (usually through body language/giving signals of active listening).
HI Adina! Although only on the wall for now, that sounds like perhaps the most interesting fly to be! The combination of all your projects is highly intriguing. I am really curious to hear if any of your projects overlap in unexpected ways. In addition, I am really interested in how treatment of chronic illness is different around the world. I am sure the future prospects of bringing this kind of program back to New York—a very different place indeed— will be highly interesting and fruitful. I am looking forward to hearing more about it!