Dr. Frank Schweighardt, current board member, former chief executive officer, and chairman of the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, mentors students to compete in local science fairs through his role as an ACS Science Coach. Assisting middle school science teacher Jessica Donahue, Schweighardt comes into her classroom four times a week to help students create and prepare experiments used to compete in Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science Fairs and the Allentown School District Science Fair.
During his visits, Schweighardt communicates with students to increase their analytical, public speaking, and organizational skills in preparation for their science fair presentations. Working with each student individually, Schweighardt mentors the pupils on science fair ideas by answering complex science questions, discussing their presentation speeches, and developing compelling discourse for use during the science fair competition. “I’m able to help format their plans and prepare them for their final presentations,” says Schweighardt.
In addition to mentoring students in the classroom, Schweighardt expands students’ connection to science in the community. Visits to local science labs are made to aid students’ comprehension and enthusiasm toward science subjects. Students who demonstrate an interest in a science discipline are paired with a local scientist who provides advice, encouragement, and guidance. “The best thing is to have the kids meet those in the local industry who have an ongoing program in research and development. The kids will surprise you with questions and interest,” states Schweighardt.
Why he does it:
Mentoring students to succeed in science fairs is rooted in Schweighardt’s belief that exposure to scientists influences the decision to pursue a career in the STEM fields. “When I was in junior high school, local people started a rocket club. As a result, I became a chemist.” Interaction with middle school students is a gratifying experience for Schweighardt, and the possibility of mentoring future career scientists motivates him to return to the classroom several times a week.
Advice to those considering becoming an ACS Science Coach:
Prepare to meet the needs throughout the school year of the students and teacher. Before the partnership begins, Schweighardt recommends asking about curriculum goals, school policies, and additional classroom quirks to build meaningful relationships throughout the ACS Science Coach partnership. “Be ready to be challenged by students and say, “I do not know, but I will get the answer,’” he says.
ACS Science Coaches
ACS Science Coaches are chemistry professionals who share their expertise and enthusiasm for science with an elementary, middle, or high school teacher over the course of one school year.