Engaging youth in science earns Kothe CIHR honour

Dr. Ute Kothe (chemistry and biochemistry) has taken her infectious enthusiasm for science and research to a whole new level as the recipient of a national award recognizing her efforts to expose young people to science education and career possibilities.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) recently announced Kothe as the winner of its 2012 Synapse Mentorship Award – Individual Researcher.

The award, which is worth $5,000, is one of three handed out nationally – and the U of L's first. It recognizes the efforts of a health researcher who has made exceptional efforts to promote health research among Canada's students.

Ute Kothe
Dr. Ute Kothe has been instrumental in driving the University's youth science outreach efforts.

In addition to teaching and operating a busy lab, Kothe created the Bridges to Science program as a way to promote science literacy among Canadian high school students, provide hands-on science workshops and complement established school curriculum.

She then linked that with Let's Talk Science, a national science outreach organization, so that Bridges to Science could reach all Canadian youth. In 2010-11 alone, the program reached 20 high schools and more than 550 students.

"It is important for today's researchers to take some time to pass along their knowledge to Canadian youth," says Dr. Jane Aubin, CIHR's chief scientific officer and vice president of Research and Knowledge Translation Portfolio.

"Dr. Kothe deserves this Synapse mentorship award for her dedication to helping Canadian students both understand and appreciate the value of science. This may ultimately help them choose career paths that will make them scientific leaders of tomorrow."

Kothe has also worked with Operation Minerva, judged numerous science fairs, and is the science advisor to the local Girl Guides of Canada unit.

Kothe is also a key oranizer for the annual RiboWest conference (June 10-13) aimed at RNA (ribonucleic acid) researchers who are gathering in Lethbridge to learn about the latest research in this discipline.

Not only has the work of Kothe and her student team been recognized through repeated requests from schools, their efforts have also been the subject of a masters thesis research project on student learning and engagement.

Kim Orr, a veteran high school teacher who also serves as an instructor to teacher candidates at the U of L, says she has observed first-hand how Kothe shares her passion for education through her involvement in youth programs.

"My research showed that student learning improved at all academic levels, but a greater impact was seen in low-achieving students," says Orr. "The learning gains included scientific skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and lab skills. Regardless of their academic ability, students were engaged by the hands-on activities and expressed their excitement about the program."

This story first appeared in the June 2012 issue of the Legend. For a look at the entire issue in flipbook format, follow this link.