The outdoors has always resembled a classroom for Emily Wrubel — a place to teach students from all walks of life about the importance of science and being able to solve problems. Through the UNH Cooperative Extension STEM Docent volunteer program, Wrubel does just this and more.
Wrubel retired after 33 years of teaching science in five public schools across New Hampshire, but she couldn't completely step away from the work that she loved. After a year of retirement, she learned about volunteer opportunities offered through Extension. STEM Docent volunteers are vetted and trained to work directly with youth in the areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
It was the Stream Safari program that first caught Wrubel's attention, because she often took her former students on fields trips to study streams and learn about their importance. Before entering the public-school system, Wrubel also spent five years as an outdoor educator providing experiential learning opportunities to students.
"One of the things that I've always enjoyed and stressed about teaching about streams is how you can tell the health of the stream by what invertebrates are living in it," said Wrubel. "If kids have fun and interesting experiences outside then it makes them more likely to be on the side of conservation.”
Encouraging Students to Pursue STEM Careers
Through Stream Safari, Wrubel hopes that the students she educates can walk away with a better understanding of places like streams and what inhabits them. She's optimistic that experiences like these will have kids reflecting on what they've learned for years to come.
While Wrubel agreed that her STEM Docent work is a bit different from her teaching days, she said it's the impact that matters the most. She believes that this work gives kids an opportunity in STEM that they may have not gained otherwise.
"One thing that I like about doing it as a volunteer with the Cooperative Extension is that it's more open-ended," said Wrubel. "You have more time for kids to explore and hopefully have a good relationship with me or whoever is working with them so that they feel supported and can look back on it."
Now in her fourth year of volunteering with Extension, Wrubel has also partnered with the Harris Center in Hancock to run a program called Lab Girls. The program helps to get young girls excited about different STEM topics through hands-on learning and speaker presentations. What used to be an after-school program has now transitioned online and recently started back up again with over 50 participants.
Wrubel explained that in high school a lot of young girls start to drop off when it comes to taking science classes. She said that some of this may be in part to the lack of female representation in their science courses and hopes that this program can start to change that stigma. The program focuses on bringing in female scientist speakers to help break down this barrier.
Overall, Wrubel hopes that her volunteering can inspire more students to become interested in STEM because it provides helpful skills in problem solving and getting out of their comfort zone. She said that STEM Docent work is also a great way to get more kids to be comfortable with getting outside.
"There's a lot of not believing in science going on in the world," said Wrubel. "As a [former] middle school science teacher I always try to get kids interested in science. There's a lot of areas of work for scientists too and I think to have good hands-on experience with it makes kids more likely to go into these fields of study."
Interested in becoming a STEM Docent? STEM Docent volunteers must successfully complete the application process, which can be found on this website: https://extension.unh.edu/blog/volunteer-stem-docents or by contacting the program coordinator Megan Glenn at 603-641-4391 or via email at Megan.Glenn@unh.edu