UNCP's 'Wizards' Hooking Kids on Science


wizardAre you old enough to remember when Don Herbert's "Mr. Wizard" television show that aired Saturday mornings?

If so, you're definitely a baby boomer. But more importantly, it was a wonderful way to introduce the world of science to grade school children.

In his book "Mr. Wizard's Experiments for Young Scientists," Herbert defines science as "the systematic investigation and explanation of the world around us." Although science is divided into major fields such as biology, chemistry and physics, Herbert believes everything is interrelated. He wrote, "The world itself has no such boundaries."

Following this lead, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke presents its own Saturday morning programs, not on television, but "live" in the wizardlaboratories of the Oxendine Science Building. The project is called "Mr. and Ms. Wizard" and is part of the larger Pathway to Health Professions Careers Program . Shelia Brayboy, UNCP's director of Health Careers Opportunity Program, is the project director.

HCOP's mission is to increase the number of students applying to and completing health professions programs. The Pathway program begins with activities at the middle school level and continues through health professions schools.

Students at different levels along the educational pathway are exposed to academic and nonacademic enrichment activities during the summer and academic year.

This exposure will develop their awareness of health professions, increase their motivation through exploration, strengthen their readiness and preparedness to pursue a pre-health and health professions curriculum in college.

The students participating in UNCP's "Mr. and Ms. Wizard Program" are sixth graders from area schools. Although the program has begun, middle school students interested in taking part in the program should call Ms. Brayboy at 910.521.6590 or shelia.brayboy@uncp.edu.


At a recent session of "Mr. and Ms. Wizard," the young scientists were welcomed back to campus by Dr. Jose D'Arruda, chair of the UNCP Chemistry and Physics Department. D'Arruda is working with Ms. Brayboy on the project and is coordinating the instruction.

"The program objective is to get the kids hooked on science," explained Dr. D'Arruda. "Studies from the National Science Foundation and other foundations show that students get turned off of science early, so we want to overcome that by getting them hooked on science. A new element of the larger federal grant, the Pathways program is for the sixth graders to learn mathematics and computer science, biology, chemistry and physics while their minds are still wide open and they wouldn't be considered a geek for studying science.

Dr. D'Arruda explained that Ms. Brayboy visited the schools in Robeson County and met with teachers and guidance counselors. One of the selling points is that the program is free to the kids. "All they have to do is get themselves up early," Dr. D'Arruda said.

The students meet from 8:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. every other Saturday. They are divided into four groups: Einstein, Newton, Pasteur and Curie. Each teaching group has a UNCP faculty member and an assistant.

The students then spend an hour on each of the four disciplines. Hands-on learning is one key to the program. This day the topics included learning to use microscopes, learning about cancer cells, radioactive decay, the Internet and conducting chemistry experiments.

The program's primary teachers are Dr. Tom Dooling (physics) assisted by Matt Perkins; Dr. Siva Mandjiny (chemistry) with Carolyn Parsons, Dr. Velinda Woriax (biology) and Gale Sampson; and Ms. Mary Klinikowski (mathematics & computer science) with Paul Locklear.

Akea Rowdy, 11, is a 6th grade student at Townsend Middle. She was a member of the Pasteur group. "I was always interested in science," she said.

"I would like to go to UNCP and study science," Akea said. "Then, I want to go to medical school and be a pediatrician."

Twelve-year-old Deidre Jones, a 6th grader from Rowland Middle School and a member of the Curie group, said she enjoys learning the different areas of science. "We do the experiments, and we learn by doing," she explained.

Pasteur group member Christopher Bryant, 12, is from Red Springs Middle School. "Most of the time it's easy to get up early to come here," he said. "I'd rather be here learning than home watching television because it helps with my future. I'm thinking about being a doctor or an engineer. This program helps me think more about them."

Carroll Middle School's Chandler Bullock, 12, is in the Einstein group. "Today we're blowing up stuff," Chandler said with a grin. "It's salt with crackers and acid," he explained. "I'm good in math and science, but you don't have to be good in math and science to be interested in them. I'm glad I'm here!"

Twelve-year-old Brianna Bake attends St. Paul's Middle School. She is in the Curie group. "I really want to be a physical therapist or a journalist," she said. "When my guidance counselor recommended I come here, I said 'yes.' Actually, this has exceeded my expectations."

For more information about enrolling in the Mr. and Ms. Wizard Program, contact Sheila Brayboy at 910.521.6590 or shelia.brayboy@uncp.edu.