UCSB Professor Feldwinn Talks SciTek and Chem Outreach


Mimi Liu
Staff Writer

University of California, Santa Barbara Professor Darby Feldwinn is currently involved in two educational outreach programs: SciTrek and the Fifth Grade Chemistry Outreach program. These programs aim to change the way young students learn science subjects.

“My primary research focus is on undergrad education with an emphasis on encouraging students to consider careers as secondary school math or science teachers,” her website reads.

Doctor Feldwinn earned her Ph.D in Physical Chemistry at UC San Diego, and became interested in teaching during her years as a graduate student.

“I wasn’t as passionate about [research] as I was about education,” she explained. “I’m constantly thinking about my outreach programs and my classes–like, this is a really cool demo that I could do in class!”

SciTrek, aimed at second through fifth graders, was started about four years ago in collaboration with fellow chemistry professor Norbert Reich. Schools that sign up will receive about 15 hours of programming in the form of science modules.

“We give them a problem to solve, and their goal is to explain the phenomenon,” Feldwinn said.

An example module involves a piece of paper with a black dot in the center that is then soaked in a solution. The dot slowly spreads into a multi-colored splotch on the paper, and then the students have to figure out what is causing these dye colors to appear and spread.

“I think that the problem is that if we want to change how people learn, we have to start early,” Feldwinn said. “If we can start molding people early on, they’ll develop critical thinking and a more creative thought process–you have to start young.”

The Fifth Grade Chemistry Outreach program, co-directed by Feldwinn and Dr. Petra Van Koppen, brings fifth graders to UCSB every Thursday. They rotate through five different lab stations and do demos, which run smoothly with the help of undergraduate volunteers.

“The program is designed to nourish their natural curiosity in science and to stimulate an interest in pursuing a higher education in science,” the website reads. “In addition, UCSB students are given the opportunity to share their love of science with elementary students and to consider a career path as a science educator.”

Feldwinn personally mentors undergraduates who are interested in going into teaching, on top of teaching fast-paced general chemistry.

“I find [teaching] very rewarding,” Feldwinn said. “I get to talk to elementary school students who are just so excited about science and I get to mentor enthusiastic undergraduates.”

Feldwinn’s parents were both teachers; her mother taught kindergarten, and her father was a junior high school teacher.

“They love their jobs because they get to make a difference,” she said. “That’s probably why I’m here–I was inspired by them.”

“You have to go where you’re passionate about,” Feldwinn concluded. “Find what you love, and don’t let anyone stop you from doing it.”

Anyone interested in volunteering or donating to these educational outreach programs can email scitrekadmin@chem.ucsb.edu, or visit http://web.chem.ucsb.edu/~outreach/ and http://web.chem.ucsb.edu/~scitrek/index.html.

Additionally, a barbecue social and sign-up event will be held on Tuesday, April 1, at 5:30 p.m. on the lawn in front of the Chemistry Building.