By Pen-Yuan Hsing and Emine Gurbuz
According to Stuart Corbridge, the Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, he has “been constantly impressed by the outstanding quality of research produced at the University”. However, this research is often locked up in an “ivory tower” and isolated from the local community. Over the past few years, PhD student and Ustinov Global Citizenship Programme (GCP) scholar Pen-Yuan Hsing has tried to bridge this gap through a citizen science project (MammalWeb) involving local residents throughout North East England. With a grant from the British Ecological Society, Pen collaborated with Belmont Community School in Durham to get students involved. This planted the seed for further partnerships connecting research in different disciplines at Durham University with the local community and schools.
The first result was from early this year, when Mrs Julie Ryder and Mr Valentine Maduko invited Pen and other GCP scholars to bring science experiments to their science open day. This worked out really well and Julie asked if there’s a way to bring the cutting-edge research at the University into schools where teachers have been teaching the same things for years.
So on 5 December 2017, Café Scientifique of the GCP enlisted research students from across the University to meet with local teachers at Belmont School. During this meeting, we discussed how we can bring the University into the classroom. Many fields were represented.
For example, Emine Gurbuz will talk about how the brain works through several activities at Belmont School in January 2018. These activities include hands-on experiments with Year 9 students where they will be guided to ask their own research questions about brains.
Some other activities come from Naz – a psychology PhD student who can “read minds” by looking at people’s expressions and Giorgio who is an astronomer with lots of outreach experience.
Arts, humanities and social sciences are also well-represented. Martina is doing a PhD in English and will lead a series of creative writing poetry activities. Ben will run exercises on entrepreneurship and business. Vicki will reflect with students on the use and implications of social media.
On top of all of this, we also wanted to take full advantage of the diversity at Ustinov College. The College is not only the largest postgraduate community in the UK, it is also the most international, with more than 100 nationalities represented. Ayako of the GCP Ustinov Intercultural Forum showed the attending teachers the full range of cultural events they can organise, from calligraphy to language cafés.
This event wasn’t attended by just teachers from Belmont School. The aim is for any local school to get involved, and we were excited that they also came that evening. For example, the head teacher from Pittington Primary School was present and established a connection with the GCP.
These teachers are now in touch with us and are planning activities throughout 2018. We are excited to see how the first sessions – such as those with Emine – will go. So please watch this space for updates!
We are grateful to Jess Watters of Ustinov Café Scientifique for her help in making this happen. We are also thankful to Julie for her brilliant idea and hosting us, and all the teachers at Belmont School.
Don’t forget to look at this Flickr album of photos from the day and share them!