Had it been any other day, the professor and the 11-year-old may never have met.
But when Mark Farmer, chair of the Division of Biological Sciences, showed real-life images of microscopic organisms to a Whitehead Road Elementary School class earlier this month, Joseph Cervantes’ face lit up.
“I didn’t know that termites don’t really eat wood,” the fifth grader said. “They eat it, but it’s the little things inside their stomach whose job it is to break it down. They’re the ones who really eat it.”
His enthusiasm was the product of a UGA outreach program called LemonAid. For the second consecutive year, while university students took a day off from classes to prepare for final exams, many of their instructors visited schools in the Athens area to stoke the academic interest of young minds.
It began last year, when professors used their furlough days to meet with elementary, middle and high school students. The program was so successful that professors brought it back.
“Originally we were providing aid to the public schools and trying to make something good out of the ‘lemons’ of furlough days, that’s where the name came from,” Farmer said. “This year, I think it’s important to show the citizens of the state of Georgia that we are not disconnected from the community, so I got the idea that even though we don’t have furloughs, we’ll make it an outreach event.”
From faculty in the dance department to researchers in biochemistry and molecular biology, more than 20 professors from across campus signed up to volunteer their time in schools in Athens and nearby counties.
“Both the governor and the [University System of Georgia] chancellor have been looking for opportunities for public employees to do more with volunteerism. So we went ahead and organized LemonAid 2,” Farmer said. “It fit well with the school system. They’d just finished statewide testing and yet were still in session, and [May 3] was Reading Day for us. So we could do this without negatively impacting the teaching of our classes or theirs.”
Barbara Taylor, the teacher who hosted Farmer’s 90-minute “Mr. Microscope” presentation, said that not only did it hold her students’ attention, it reinforced their educational goals.
“One of our fifth-grade standards is microorganisms, so this was perfect for us,” she said.