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President Nikias Visits a Young Scientists Program Lab

Observing and talking with USC Dornsife students and Norwood Street Elementary School children, USC President C. L. Max Nikias experienced firsthand the many benefits of YSP, operated in conjunction with USC Dornsife's Joint Educational Project.


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USC President C. L. Max Nikias visits Norwood Elementary

On January 27, 2012, USC President C. L. Max Nikias visited Norwood Elementary School to observe USC Dornsife students leading a USC Young Scientists Program lesson. This is part of…

Video by Mira Zimet

During USC President C. L. Max Nikias’s recent visit to USC Family of Schools site Norwood Street Elementary, one highlight was a stop at a classroom that houses the Young Scientists Program (YSP).

Under the auspices of USC Dornsife’s Joint Educational Project (JEP), YSP places science majors at USC Family of Schools where science lessons are provided to fourth and fifth graders.

Upon Nikias’s arrival, seniors Bridget McDonald and Christine Sur both of USC Dornsife were teaching a fourth grade class about the terms volume, quantity, temperature and chemical reaction using yeast and balloons in a lesson titled, “Can Yeast Inflate a Balloon?”

As Nikias looked on, environmental studies major Sur described to the children some of the basic biology and chemistry that explains how yeast multiply. After the lesson, she introduced herself to Nikias.


Bridget McDonald (left) and Christine Sur, both USC Dornsife seniors in the Young Scientists Program, teach a fourth grade class about the terms volume, quantity, temperature and chemical reaction using yeast and balloons in a lesson titled, “Can Yeast Inflate a Balloon?” Photo by Dietmar Quistorf.

“I’m so glad the president visited because it brought attention to the YSP program and how much of an impact it has on the students,” Sur said later. “I’m proud to be a part of YSP and hope that his visit can help us gain even greater support.”

Sur said the children were elated by the visit.

“It shows them that these weekly science lessons are important to USC,” Sur said. “It also emphasizes USC’s support of this program and its partnerships with local elementary schools.”

In the lesson that day, the Norwood students used a mixture of yeast and soda and/or juice to determine whether the carbon dioxide — CO2 —released by the concoction would inflate a balloon. The students filled up soda bottles with yeast and soda then put the balloon over the mouths of the bottles. In a few days, they would discover whether the balloon had inflated.

“Through President Nikias’s visit, the kids were able to understand the importance and magnitude of the YSP program,” McDonald said, echoing Sur. “The students were extremely excited he was there and I’m glad they got to showcase their growing knowledge of science.”


C. L. Max Nikias (center) and Sur observe a student during the yeast experiment. Photo by Dietmar Quistorf.

McDonald also told Nikias how much she learned in Guam and Palau through USC Dornsife’s Problems Without Passports program.

“I told him what an honor it is to be part of YSP,” said McDonald, an undergraduate-progressive master’s degree student, “and how interested our students have been to learn the subjects we’ve covered in science.”

Nadine Afari, program director for YSP, said the program’s rigorous science regimen better prepares students for their secondary science education.

“YSP increases science activities for a larger number of our neighborhood children and encourages them to consider careers in the sciences,” Afari said. “Students can apply what they are learning in the classroom to the real world.”

During Nikias’s visit, Afari told him that she runs the program like a “mini-university.”

“Our USC students have to take lab notes, so the younger children should also,” she told the president.

Afari said the Jan. 27 visit demonstrated that USC cares about education for youth in the community.

“Principal Bruce Onodera and I also had a chance to share our dream for a USC YSP science lab at Norwood,” Afari said. “We had the chance to create a picture to President Nikias of what our dream lab would look like if YSP had more funding for microscopes, high quality instruments and materials, projectors and video screens.”

As Nikias watched that day’s life science lesson he asked a fourth grader, “What do you think will happen to the balloon?”

“I think it will get bigger because the yeast will grow,” the 4th grader replied.

President Nikias smiled at the student.


McDonald (left) and Sur prepare for their classroom experiment. Photo by Dietmar Quistorf.

“The children were in awe that he was there,” Afari said.

Nikias also saw firsthand that YSP offers an invaluable learning tool for USC Dornsife students. Participating undergraduate and graduate students gain teaching experience and learn how to become successful mentors.

Sully Umana ’09 is studying nursing at Mount St. Mary’s College while working at Norwood as an office assistant. Before earning her bachelor’s degree in gender studies in USC Dornsife, Umana was part of the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), which prepares grade school students from surrounding communities for higher education.

Umana credited her success to NAI and thanked Nikias for visiting Norwood.

“USC makes a big difference in the lives of our neighborhood’s kids,” she told him.

On Jan. 27, Nikias renewed ties to the USC Family of Schools not only with Norwood, but also with a visit to 32nd Street/USC Visual and Performing Arts Magnet, another University Park-area school.

The visits, organized by USC Civic Engagement, gave the president a chance to see the impact that the university’s programs are having on children, teachers and families.

“I think it’s important for me to be familiar with our Family of Schools so that I can see their needs and accomplishments up close and personal,” Nikias said.

Afari called it a pleasure to have Nikias visit a YSP lab.

“I’m also grateful he took the time to interact with my teaching assistants,” Nikias said. “He asked them what their areas of study were and shook their hands. For a USC student to shake hands with the university’s president is something special. They will always remember that moment. I know I will.”