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Volunteer Program Brings Microscopes, Scientists Into Utah Classrooms

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A new program has brought microscopes and scientists into the classrooms of underserved kids in Utah. Through first-hand experience, they’ve been learning what’s possible.

Miguel Nevarez, a 2nd-grader at Meadowlark Elementary, said he likes the stripes on zebrafish.

“I also like how their eyes just boggle out to me like they’re looking at me. I like science a lot, like every day I wonder how many planets are in the solar system or whatever,” he said.

He and the other 2nd-graders have been learning from Monique Morrison, a scientist with ARUP Laboratories.

“I want others who are from diverse backgrounds, whether they’re immigrants or minorities, to know that women, minorities, anyone can become a scientist if they work really hard,” she said.

Morrison volunteers with BioEYES Utah, a K-12 outreach program. She’s originally from Jamaica.

“It’s one thing to hear what a scientist is, but to actually see one in person, to hear what I do , to see what I do, to interact with the zebra fish, I think that probably sticks with them a little bit more,” Morrison said.

The program gets kids excited about science. It’s hands on, engaging, and lets them experience what it’s actually like to be a scientist.

“On day one, we let them set up a tank with one male and one female. They spawn the fish, and then we collect the embryos. We use those embryos for the rest of the week in various experiments depending on the grade level,” said John Anderson, with BioEYES Utah.

Since zebrafish develop quickly from single cells to free-swimming larvae, students can see their progress in just one week. The hope is that they’ll one day pursue a career in science.

“There is definitely a misrepresentation in stem-related career fields for minorities,” Anderson said. “We focus on underrepresented populations in Utah.”

That’s the plan for budding scientist, Nevarez, who has started doing his own experiments at home.

“Just like kind of mix stuff up to see what happens,” he said. “Like I mix up weird stuff. Like baking soda. Maybe glue or whatever? I don’t know, I just like doing a lot of stuff.”

Scientists who volunteer with the program hope those experiments lead to breakthroughs in the future.

Since it began in 2015, BioEYES Utah has reached thousands of students in Title 1 schools, which receive federal funds to help children at risk of dropping out.

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