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From the Spring 2020 Edition of Discovery

STEM Outreach Rock Stars

Science Scholars Randi Rasmussen BS‘20 and Vanessa Chambers BS‘18 Embody the College’s “Culture of Outreach” with Participation in Volunteer Service On and Off Campus

Vanessa Chambers, with American Physical Society CEO, Dr. Kate Kirby, and USU Physics faculty member, Dr. Maria Rodriguez

Vanessa Chambers, left, with American Physical Society CEO, Dr. Kate Kirby, center, and USU Physics faculty member, Dr. Maria Rodriguez.

Photo courtesy Mary-Ann Muffoletto

Aggies throughout the College of Science enthusiastically volunteer their time and talents to share their love of science and mathematics with people of all ages.

But two recent alumnas go above and beyond to share their passion for learning throughout the USU campus and Cache Valley, Utah community. Their motivations stem from early childhood experiences

Randi Rasmussen BS’20, Geology

Rasmussen is among thousands of Class of 2020 USU graduates whose dreams of a traditional spring commencement ceremony were dashed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Of course, I understand, but it’s still disappointing,” says the Heber City, Utah native, who graduated from Wasatch High School in 2009. “Still, it was a day I’d long looked forward to.”

Rasmussen began her undergrad career immediately following high school, but completed just one semester before returning to her hometown, marrying and starting a family.

Her dad, Randy, for whom she’s named, encouraged her to return.

“He was my best friend and was always telling me to go back and get my education,” Rasmussen says.

Sadly, Rasmussen’s father passed away in 2015.

“With the loss of my dad, we didn’t have much to keep us in Heber, so I decided it was appropriate to return to school,” she says.

Geology graduate Randi Rasmussen

Recent Geology graduate Randi Rasmussen prepares to share a geoscience activitiy she created for her blog, “Little Aggies Science,” at a Science Unwrapped event.

Photo courtesy Randi Rasmussen

Rasmussen first considered marketing or graphic design as majors, but upon her return to campus she began to think about a future as a science teacher.

“When I returned to school, I realized how much I loved my science classes,” she says. “I also loved teaching swimming lessons and coaching high school swimmers, and that made me realize I could teach science.”

However, it was an assignment for her English 2010 class, that sparked her idea of developing a science outreach effort.

“The entire semester was focused on persuasive writing and I chose, as my project, creation of a blog to persuade parents to immerse themselves in the world of science to keep their children curious about the world around,” Rasmussen says.

She named the blog “Little Aggies Science,” and delighted in writing about activities and experiments to encourage children’s interest in science.

“I continued the blog for about a year and a half, before I decided I needed to set it aside to focus more time on my family and my schoolwork,” says Rasmussen, a mother of two young sons.

Still, she lent her time and talents to the college’s Science Unwrapped program and also volunteered for the Department of Geosciences’ annual Rock and Fossil Day. Rasmussen also served as an Undergraduate Teaching Fellow for the Deaprtment of Geosciences.

“These experiences reinforced how much I love science and love teaching,” she says.

When Rasmussen started student teaching this past January, she restarted the blog as an Instagram account called “Ms. Randi Science.”

“I use Ms. Randi Science to document fun things I’m doing in my classroom and to share science facts and memes,” Rasmussen says. “I’m much more laid back with it than I was was Little Aggies Science, which never really took off like I wanted it to. I’ve learned that it’s tough to get the word out, but I’ve gained some patience.”

Geology graduate Randi Rasmussen

Randi Rasmussen ‘20 guides children in a “dinosaur fossil-making” activity at a Science Unwrapped event.

Photo courtesy Mary-Ann Muffoletto

She credits student teaching with renewing her enthusiasm.

“I have learned more from student teaching than I could imagine or put into words,” says Rasmussen, who completed her practice teaching at South Cache Middle School. “Teaching is more than knowing a subject and telling it to students. It’s a whole different level of making a meaningful relationship with adolescents, who are going through transition academically, emotionally and even hormonally.”

She says teaching requires understanding how to choose your battles and “when to just laugh, when the lesson doesn’t go as planned.”

“I’m also so grateful I had two amazing mentor teachers to guide me through the experience,” says Rasmussen, who has received federal TEACH Grants to fund her education and was named the College of Science’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellow of the Year.

“I’m passionate about teaching children science,” she says. “I’ve always felt the best teachers are passionate about teaching and learning and those are the people I want to emulate.”

To parents and grandparents who, with the pandemic, find themselves even more in the role of teachers, Rasmussen offers simple advice: “Let kids ask questions and explore. If you don’t know the answers, research them together. Go outside and observe nature first-hand. Let kids get dirty, wet and make messes. Let kids get bored and figure out how to entertain themselves. Go to museum and science events that revolved around science. Our world desperately needs science-literate citizens.”

Vanessa Chambers BS’18, Physics

If you’ve ever attended any College of Science outreach event, it’s likely you’ve encountered Vanessa Chambers. The Montpelier, Idaho native, who now serves as the staff assistant for USU’s Department of Physics, regularly volunteers for campus outreach activities, including Science Unwrapped, USU Physics Day at Lagoon, USU Observatory Public Viewing Nights and outreach activities coordinated by USU’s chapters of Society of Physics Students and Women in Physics.

“I love doing outreach and talking about how science is fun and interesting,” says Chambers, who graduated from high school in 1996 and is the mother of two teens.

Physics alumna Vanessa Chambers

Physics alumna Vanessa Chambers, left, demonstrates a Van de Graaff generator to guests at Science Unwrapped.

Photo courtesy Mary-Ann Muffoletto

“I waited a really long time to try physics, it was hard for me, but I did it and I enjoy it.” she says. “I just hope I can make a difference for even one kid; show them it’s always worth it to try something new.

Chambers is currently working toward a master’s degree and hopes to pursue a career, where she can combine her science knowledge and writing skills.

“I want to promote science education and make it more accessible and inclusive for traditionally underrepresented groups,” says Chambers, who is the recipient of a number of impressive recognitions, including the 2018 David and Terry Peak Outstanding Achievement in Physics Award and the 2018 Oustanding Graduating Senior for USU’s Department of Physics.

One of Chambers’ motivations for getting involved in outreach was her own children.

“My kids were in elementary school, when I first got involved in outreach, and I was excited to include them in what I was learning,” she says. “And what I’ve learned is kids, particularly young kids, are excited to learn. They are not afraid to ask questions and they are not afraid to answer questions. Somehow, as kids get older, they get the message that STEM subjects are ‘hard,’ and they stop asking and answering questions. We need to find a way to keep that from happening.” n

By Mary-Ann Muffoletto

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