Lana Elias

The reach of science

Anyone who orders work supplies from a company called Skulls Unlimited must have an interesting job.

By Lesley Porter

It is that quirkiness that Lana Elias embraces in her job as director of science outreach in the College of Arts and Science. Working with a team of science outreach instructors—the majority of who are graduate and senior undergraduate students—she develops and manages educational programs and science literacy initiatives for grade school students and teachers. This includes the awardwinning Kamskénow program, which sees instructors travel to inner-city schools to organize activities and experiments in science and mathematics, as well as the new Museum of Natural Sciences Outreach Program, a campus field trip program offered in May and June. She also supports the Science Ambassador Program, where instructors visit remote communities for up to six weeks and lead hands-on activities in classrooms. The most popular demonstrations, she said, usually involve robotics or liquid nitrogen experiments. The hair-raising Van de Graaff generator is also a fan favourite.

While the over-arching goal is to get children interested in careers in science, she noted that keeping strong ties with the community is also vital. "There's so much discovery that's happening here," she said. "It's certainly rewarding to be part of a creative team that strengthens the university-community relationship."

A former science teacher, Elias has a thorough understanding of the K-12 education system and the curriculum. Additionally, she managed a science toy store for three years—meaning she has a great relationship with scientific toy suppliers (including the fine folks at Skulls Unlimited who provide replica skulls of everything from turkeys to turtles). Aside from her experience in and out of the classroom, it is a sense of loving learning, having fun and seeing potential in others that inspires the work that she does.

One of the best parts of her job, she said, is seeing children when they come to campus for the first time, wide-eyed and full of wonder. "It's something I feel spoiled to see on a regular basis."