Patrick Ross, professor of biology at Southwestern College, has just completed his third summer of visiting Kansas libraries to perform science shows for kids.
Ross uses the nationwide American Library Association summer reading program theme as a springboard for creating a 45- to 60-minute interactive presentation on a related scientific topic. This summer’s theme was “Dig Into Reading” which led Ross and his students to develop “Life in a Cup of Dirt.” The show visited Kansas towns including Winfield, Arkansas City, Cawker City, Downs, Hugoton, Liberal, Andover, Ulysses, and Meade. Not only were students involved in planning the science show, but they were also involved in booking the shows and helping out with some of the performances.
Ross plans to further develop the program with the help of his students, including several incoming Southwestern College freshmen who have an interest in science education outreach.
“Each year the program gets a little bit bigger,” Ross says. “Now that we have done this for a couple of summers, we are getting some repeat business and drawing the interest of other librarians. This year we also had more college student involvement from start to finish which has always been our goal. As we move forward, my hope is to get students more involved in all aspects of planning and performing.”
Touring rural libraries has personal rewards for Ross.
“Some of the libraries that we visit are still located in their classic Carnegie library buildings which are just beautiful,” Ross says. “You walk in from a dusty, sun-bleached Kansas side street and enter an explosion of color, energy and curiosity. The librarians who staff these oases of exploration are doing amazing work on a shoestring budget. These libraries are keeping kids interested and energized about learning; to be a part of that thrills me the most.”
Next summer, the national library summer reading program theme is called “Fizz, Boom, Read” and Ross plans to put together a traveling chemistry show, a theme that presents new challenges for him.
“A show of bubbling and exploding chemical reactions will probably be our most expensive yet due to the amount of disposable supplies required for each performance,” says Ross. “If we continue to add new libraries to our tour, we could easily run into funding problems. My hope is that some donors will find value in the program and help it continue in the future.”
As part of the college’s commitment to educational outreach, the library shows have been offered free of charge to Kansas libraries, many of which have been facing their own budget challenges.
“This past summer, my mother, Mary Sue Brown, a retired librarian from Chicago, who has no ties to Southwestern outside of her son teaching at the college, felt that the program was worthwhile,” Ross says. “One person made the difference this summer. It doesn’t take much and I am hoping some donors will want to help the program as we move forward. The summer library shows get our current students involved in educational outreach as well as reaching out to the next generation of Moundbuilder science students.”
For more information about the program, contact Ross at (620) 229-6273.