James Leenhouts is a retired chemist who volunteers his time spreading chemistry knowledge to children who reside on the remote island of Key Largo, Florida. He volunteers with a local school, Academy of Ocean Reef, as an ACS Science Coach to engage students with chemistry and to get them excited about science in everyday life.
A Science Coach at The Academy at Ocean Reef for the past three years, Leenhouts conducts an array of activities with local students to raise their excitement about science. From helping them to run experiments, to mentoring and sharing college scholarship information, Leenhouts is well-known at the school by the nickname “Dr. Why.” During his classroom visits, he encourages analytical thinking skills by telling students to wonder why something in nature occurs and to see science, the study of nature, in their lives outside of the classroom.
An example of Leenhouts’ excitement for chemistry in everyday circumstances involved his assistance during an art lesson. The students were asked draw clouds, and then were quizzed on cloud construction. Afterwards, students observed that clouds are flat on the bottom. Leenhouts explained the processes of heats of evaporation and condensation that create clouds, and ultimately our entire weather system. Concluding his lesson, he shared that artists must be knowledgeable about natural laws and how they impact us, in order to accurately depict the world.
Helping students become excited about science is an activity that Leenhouts hopes more senior chemists will undertake. “You are a role model, and here are precious few of us who are active. As ones who have had interesting, productive lives, we must share our experience and passion for science to our youngest generation,” says Leenhouts.
Advice to those considering becoming ACS Science Coaches:
Sharing knowledge and experience is a way to do good in the world. When helping in a classroom, chemists become ambassadors not only for the American Chemical Society, but for science itself. A positive and energetic attitude about science makes the experience fun and satisfying for the teacher, the students, and the Science Coach.
Interviewed July 2014.
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.