Science Saturdays bring research to life for kids

A side of Yale College Dean Peter Salovey usually hidden from Yalies came alive to New Haven’s youth in Davies Auditorium Saturday morning in the first of five Science Saturdays, which feature science lectures for the general public.

Parents sat with their children as psychologists Salovey and Marc Brackett, who teaches “Personality Psychology,” presented their talk, “Emotional Intelligence: Is There Anything To It?” At times, Salovey’s remarks had the auditorium, filled with about 120 adults and children of middle school age and above, laughing as if a comedian were on stage.

Salovey’s talk focused on his own research, delving into the world of emotions and how they help humans to survive in society and the world.

Science Saturdays is the creation of mechanical engineering professor Ainissa Ramirez. The program, which will feature lectures over the next four weekends from departments of Astronomy, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Biomedical Engineering and Forestry and Environmental Studies, is funded by the National Science Foundation, the Yale Faculty of Engineering and the National Society of Black Engineers and Scienceworks.

“It is just the right thing to do,” Ramirez said. “I am funded by the NSF, and since it is tax money going to fund my own research, I think I need to give something back to the community.”

The program’s aim is to make science engaging and palatable to children.

“This is a great way to expose children to all different sorts of science, aside from the usual aspects they see, such as medicine,” Ramirez said. “Doctors see children in a clinic, but other scientists, engineers and the hidden heroes of science are often concealed from the view of children.”

Children were encouraged to participate in Saturday’s presentation. When Brackett asked the audience to describe a time when they felt isolated and how it feels to talk about it in public, the message about the power of emotions seemed to resonate with the children.

One child described a time when he was at a new school and another shared an experience when he felt isolated.

“I felt great about the event, especially seeing that the kids were participating and that they were engaged in the subject matter,” Brackett said.

Salovey acknowledged that, although the presentation went well, he was a little nervous about teaching children.

“This was the first time I ever gave a presentation to children of this age, and it was certainly challenging to put together a presentation that would be easy for them to follow and interesting at the same time,” he said.

Ramirez said she pursued speakers she felt would be able to communicate effectively with young children.

Even if the speakers were nervous about the challenge of talking to an audience younger than what they are used to, those in attendance were generally positive about the event.

“It was quite interesting, not only for my children, but for me too,” Fred Presnick of Hamden, Conn., father of a 15-year-old and a 13-year-old, said.

Salovey said the program is a tool that can be used to improve the relationship between the University and the surrounding New Haven area, while motivating children to study science.

“We are always willing to try anything to make a bridge between town and gown,” Salovey said. “We can also use this bridge to help us with the larger issue — we have trouble inspiring kids to be scientists. If we give them positive experiences now, they will remember it later as adults.”

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey kicks off Science Saturdays by speaking on emotional intelligence.
Kevin Osowski
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey kicks off Science Saturdays by speaking on emotional intelligence.

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