Doctoral candidate builds science program with Waltham High
On Oct. 11, Neuroscience Ph.D. candidate Vivek Vimal ’16 and Department of Community Service Specialist Brian Quigley led a discussion about Vimal’s work to build a partnership between science programs at the University and students attending Waltham High School. The talk touched on Vimal’s own life experience and transitioned into an open discussion about science and community service.
Vimal opened with remarks about his life’s journey, discussing his transformation from a person who thought that he “would not be able to accomplish anything at all,” to someone who believes he “can do some sort of change.”
As an undergraduate, Vimal majored in physics and minored in computer science, for the reason that he “wanted a subject that will fundamentally change the way [he] looked at the world.” After graduating from Boston University, Vimal became a physics teacher at Waltham High School. Although he said that the first two years were challenging, Vimal said he did well in his role, noting that he was aware that “if you are always searching for opportunities, those opportunities become a way for you to develop.”
During his time as a teacher, Vimal took free courses about neuroscience over the summer at Brandeis and earned good grades. After the summer semester, he left Waltham High School and began working for a nongovernmental organization in India, where his family is from originally. The initial stage of his job transition, he said, was a struggle, since he was just “sitting there and did nothing.” However, he noted that once he said “he is going to do something, people started to listen to him,” and he subsequently received resources from the NGO and made documentary films on climate change and children’s life in semi-urban areas, and attended a United Nations climate change conference. Based on his personal experience, Vimal said he believes that “the more opportunity pieces you have, the better, because then when you go to construct your destiny, you can start layering them and see where it brings you.”
The presentation then transitioned to Vimal’s community service work. Vimal began the Waltham High School Summer Research Program, in which high school students were paired with graduate students at Brandeis for research. This year, Vimal also cooperated with the University’s chemistry department to provide a bio-chemistry 3D printing course for high school students. Vimal’s programs also featured abundant dialogue between University and high school students. One of the scientific dialogue events is called “Pizza Talk,” when scientists from Brandeis shared their life experiences and latest study with high school students. Currently, Vimal is also teaching a two-credit practicum course, Global Perspective at Brandeis, which would aim to bring community members of all ages together for a Deis Impact event with a social justice component to it.
A brief discussion followed Vimal’s presentation. The first several questions from attendees dealt with the beginning stages of Vimal’s programs. Marci McPhee, director of campus programs at the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, asked what suggestions Vimal would offer for people without access to funds of a program. “If your object is working with people, you should find people that are passionate with it,” he answered, also discussing the importance of partnership and open-mindedness.
Vice Provost for Research Ed Hackett then asked how Vimal’s practicum program will work going forward. Vimal said that he believes all his programs will be sustainable, adding that “in terms of creating a real partnership between Brandeis and Waltham High ... if we could create a course that will give undergraduates actual credits and graduate students actual credits for doing outreach, then we can create a real program where they go after school and do this to get academic credits, and this partnership will last beyond me and beyond anyone else, because that course exists, and someone is teaching [it].” He also mentioned that he was attempting to gain “umbrella funding” for a student mentorship program to attract not only neuroscience major students but also students majoring in other scientific subjects.
Sarah Lipitz ’17 followed up the concern about the program’s sustainability by asking how Vimal plans to make the program accessible for students who are currently not interested in science, as well as how he will deal with issues of purchasing expensive lab equipment for high school students.
Vimal stated that there were two ways of attracting high school students: the Pizza Talk, which is open to everyone and held every month, and fun scientific events that interest even those not normally inclined toward the sciences. In addition, Vimal noted that high school students might do more observation, given a limited budget for expensive lab equipment.
Another attendee asked Vimal how he planned to include individuals from different fields of study into his program. “Here is a dream: what I wanted to do is go horizontal across all fields, not just science,” he answered. “When you try to market something small, using 3D printing, then why not add an art component on it, because if you are going to design 3D printing, that will require art skills. So now you are taking abundant students from different clubs with different interests, [and including] them in one project that includes everything.”
McPhee then addressed the importance of programs like Vimal’s, noting that his programs pay attention to “students who do not have resources for the science, who usually come from backgrounds where their parents may or may not be educated and be able to help that.” She also pointed out that “these [programs] need to go beyond this room.”
The lecture and subsequent discussion was sponsored by the Department of Community Service.