Inspiring today’s students

Marge Bardeen

Marge Bardeen, head of the Education Office, wrote this column.

The calendar says spring, and so does the Education Office field trip calendar. This time of year yellow school buses roll up to Wilson Hall or the Lederman Science Center, loaded primarily with students from 8th to 12th grades who have come to meet scientists in our workplace. Some students as young as 1st grade visit the prairie, mostly in the fall. Last year more than 10,000 students made the trip to Fermilab.

The Education Office docents and the members of the technical staff who join the groups for Q&A are the face of Fermilab for these young people. We could not have better representatives for our lab.

As one teacher from Kentucky put it, “Each year, when we leave Fermilab, my students are as excited about what they have learned as they are about the mysteries which remain unsolved. Your staff really helps them to believe that the solution to these mysteries might just lie in their own minds and imaginations. I would travel a million miles to any place which can help my students to understand this. To know that I need only go to Fermilab is a wonderful thought indeed. In a beautiful way, everyone at Fermilab helps, each year, to place the keys to Universe into my students’ hands. As a teacher, I can’t thank you enough.”

As you encounter these groups in the halls, elevators or in the cafeteria, you may wonder why we do this. There are two main reasons: workforce development and citizenship. Tomorrow’s graduate students are in middle and high school today. Some will pursue STEM careers, possibly in particle physics. They will build on our discoveries. For others whose career paths lie elsewhere, an appreciation of science and scientific inquiry is essential for a well-informed and well-educated modern citizenry. They are the voters and politicians of tomorrow. You can make a difference; just look at the before and after images (below) that a 7th grader created in connection with a visit to Fermilab.

When you meet a group of young people with their teachers and chaperones, say hello. If there is time or you are asked, tell them what you do at Fermilab. Everyone performs an essential function for a large research institution, but students may think only “scientist.” From physicist to engineer, travel agent to machinist, accountant to director, you help students understand what makes Fermilab work.

We could not provide this outreach without our 25 terrific docents. With support from Sue Sheehan and Maureen Hix, they provide wonderful hospitality filled with knowledge, enthusiasm and kindness — and a glimpse into the world of science.

Before visiting Fermilab, one 7th grader drew the figure on the left, depicting a scientist. After visiting physicists at Fermilab, she drew the scientist on the right.