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Students build science kits for Haitian schools

students pack kits
Mark Vorreuter/College of Human Ecology
PATCH members Chloe Michel '13, Sindhuja Ranganathan '13, Sharjeel Chaudhry '13, Boris Nektalov '13 and Stephen Sammons '14 examine materials to be packaged into the kits for Haitian students.

A group of Cornell undergraduates are assembling and donating low-cost science kits to aid impoverished children in Haiti, hoping to inspire a love of learning and to strengthen the country's future. If the project succeeds, similar kits could be used as educational tools for developing nations in post-disaster recovery around the world.

Members of the Pre-professional Association Toward Careers in Health (PATCH), a student group sponsored by the College of Human Ecology, packaged 60 kits -- with such items as plastic test tubes, jump ropes, colorful inflatable balls, air pumps and stopwatches -- at a banquet attended by some 200 students April 6.

With the help of the disaster relief organization Humanity First, which awarded PATCH $2,000, the supplies will be bound for fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms at a school near Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.

Sharjeel Chaudhry '13, a human biology, health and society major and PATCH co-president, and a committee of 10 other students developed the plan after hearing of Haiti's dire state following the 2010 earthquake. "We wanted to help the kids ... who pretty much lost everything, by developing their interests in health and the sciences," said Chaudhry, who will deliver the kits this summer with two other Cornell students.

The kits contain photo illustrations for basic experiments and are designed to be reusable. Rather than give textbooks, the PATCH members favored supplies that would spur hands-on learning. Chaudhry said, "The goal is to trigger intellectual curiosity."

The kits are designed to supplement traditional classroom instruction, with lessons in fundamental areas of biology, physics and health that link scientific concepts to relevant national issues in Haiti. For instance, PATCH members created an experiment on how environmental conditions affect seed growth and plant life to educate the children about deforestation, a concern in Haiti. Another lesson involves assessing cardiovascular health, where the students would measure pulse and breathing in response to physical activity.

Spreading a passion for science through community service is one of the objectives of PATCH, an organization open to all Cornell undergraduates. It provides support, advising, programming and networking opportunities, and it fosters close connections between faculty members and students to enrich the student experience.

In addition to the science kits, PATCH regularly assists Loaves and Fishes, a local soup kitchen, where members offer nutrition talks and weekly medical checkups.

Emily Lopes '13, human biology, health and society major and PATCH co-president, finds she often applies concepts from anatomy, nutrition and other classes at the Loaves and Fishes health screenings.

"What you learn in class that day you can apply in your presentations," she said.

As PATCH continues to aid students in premedical preparation, it balances career planning and service through its work. "Our members aren't just doing PATCH as a resume builder," said Chaudhry, "they are doing things for the purpose of community service -- for the purpose of their love for humanity."

The Haiti project was also supported by two $500 grants from the Human Ecology Alumni Association. PATCH welcomes additional donations for the project, which the students hope to expand for next year.

Dani Corona '15 is a student communications assistant in the College of Human Ecology.

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