Scientists and Innovators in Schools (SIS) presented by TELUS is a volunteer-based program that connects BC students Grades K – 12 with career mentors in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art & design, and math) through exciting interactive presentations. Dr. Poh Tan has been a SIS mentor since 2013.
Scientists and Innovators in Schools (SIS) volunteer Dr. Poh Tan recalls the moment she began her lifelong journey to becoming a scientist and science educator.
She was in grade 7, and her science teacher Mr. Kashima taught her a lesson that changed her life.
At twelve-years-old and newly immigrated to Canada, Poh was afraid to present an engineering project to her classmates. She was both embarrassed because she’d made mistakes and insecure about public speaking.
When she overcame her fears and delivered her presentation, her teacher Mr. Kashima told her he was proud. He admitted that he, too, got nervous speaking in front of people, and he said that being nervous was okay. “Only when we make mistakes, and then communicate our mistakes, can we affect change.”
This message resounded in Poh. In the thirty years since, she’s brought it forth into all her academic and professional endeavours.
She’s founded two education-based businesses, is raising two children with her husband and holds two PhDs. She says all of her work follows the example of Mr. Kashima: “He taught from the heart. More importantly, he taught with the heart.”
Poh’s second thesis argued for a radical re-conceptualizing of both science education and scientific literacy--one that elevates our subjective connections to the same level as our objective observations. In other words, to make science more relational and connected to the world we live in.
She says it’s an idea that makes some scientists uncomfortable, but that it’s a necessary shift for scientists to make as we face big scientific challenges like climate change and global pandemics.
Dr. Poh Tan volunteers for Scientists and Innovators in Schools because she wants to bring this idea to the future STEAM leaders of BC.
Through virtual visits to schools in rural and northern parts of BC, she delivers exciting presentations to students who otherwise wouldn’t have access to Science World programming.
As Science World’s longest running program, SIS has operated for 34 years in every region of BC. In 2019 alone, supported by partners and 250 volunteers, the program reached 55,000 students and teachers with in-school presentations.
With COVID-19, and SIS presentations moving online, those numbers have diminished. More than ever, we need kids in BC getting excited about science and we need STEAM mentors in our community to lead the way.
Dr. Sandy Eix, Science World’s Director of STEAM Learning, says that SIS offers a unique value beyond the scientific knowledge of the presentations: "Students see themselves in our diverse volunteers and they understand that no matter who they are, they can pursue a STEM profession, and they can find work in their province."
SIS recruits experts and professionals from all over the world, and helps equip them to communicate their science to students. When they share their knowledge and experience, they also become role models for young students, and prove that anyone can become involved in science and STEAM professions.
Poh’s own experience volunteering for SIS echoes this sentiment: “I always wear my lab coat when I'm presenting. I’m a woman. I’m Asian. So, no, we all don’t look like Einstein,” she laughs.
She recalls a presentation she made to a Grade 1 class. A student raised her hand and expressed shock that Poh was both a scientist and a “girl.”
“I said, ‘Yes! I am a girl AND a scientist. And so are you. And you know what? Girls can be anything they want to be. Including scientists.’”
Are you a Mentor or Teacher Curious About SIS?
Visit Scientists and Innovators in Schools to learn more.