How AACC Professor’s Passion For Science Has made it Accessible – and Fun!
Anne Arundel Community College physics and physical science professor Jason Barbour has hundreds, if not thousands of “students” who have never set foot in his classroom.
Once or twice per year for the last six years, families and children fill the AACC Kauffman Theater for Science Night. On stage, Barbour and biology professor Greg Schrader don tie-dye lab coats and colorful hats as they perform some lively experiments with liquid nitrogen, a bed of nails, balloons and more. By the end of the show, a mass of kids rush the stage, cheering. They’ve learned science can be fun!
So how did this wildly popular event get started? Some would say it began with a glass of almost spilt milk.
Barbour was a curious child who loved doing experiments. Once, while trying to manage a gallon of milk, the liquid went slightly above the top of the glass yet did not spill. The question of how that happened led him to where he is today.
Science Night specifically came out of the need for a capstone-type project for Barbour’s general physical science class. He had heard about service learning opportunities, thought that would be a good direction and students connected with the idea.
“It’s a great chance to serve the community as well as giving my students a chance to have a meaningful project,” he said. He has also observed some unanticipated benefits. In evaluating AACC students after the event, Barbour has noticed improved communication skills and confidence, while the students themselves express desire to volunteer more.
Barbour attributes the success of Science Night to the energy and enthusiasm of everyone who contributes and participates. Foremost among those contributors is Professor Schrader who has a talent for spontaneous humor and is the crowd favorite in the show. While the two scientists are on stage, students, faculty and staff are in the nearby dining hall manning demonstrations and hand-on activities.
The aim is to inspire young students to take science-related, engineering and technology classes with the hope that more students go into those fields, which continue to be in high demand.
“I want them to take those memories with them to have that in the back of their mind when they get to middle school, high school and they’re picking out their classes and to think ‘Oh yeah, I remember that really fun night I had at AACC’” he said.
Over time, Barbour noticed Science Night drew more from the closest geographic area. This motivated him to provide the same opportunities to some of the under-served populations farther away, to kids from different demographics and backgrounds, who lacked transportation or whose parents worked evenings.
‘Science Day’ Brings Science to Under-Served School Kids, Thanks to AACPS Partnership
Together with Anne Arundel County Public Schools, AACC set about navigating through some complex logistics to bring 200 fourth graders from three elementary schools on buses to AACC during the day. Targeting fourth-grade students was intentional since these students would soon be hearing about middle school magnet programs. Barbour hopes this event gets them more interested in pursuing those programs.
So the next time your kid almost spills their milk, don’t get too upset. They might just grow up to become a talented and popular science professor with a “never-ending desire to get all of my students to succeed.”