Meet a scientist, be a scientist: CU Boulder’s S.C.O.P.E. emphasizes inclusion 

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By Jane Appel


The Science Community Outreach Program and Education (S.C.O.P.E) started out with a goal of diversifying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) industries. The program works with underrepresented middle schoolers to build a science identity before kids lose interest or think they cannot be scientists because of a lack of representation. S.C.O.P.E. uses the message “meet a scientist, be a scientist” to encompass its goal.  

Briana Aboulache, current president of S.C.O.P.E., explained, “We want [middle school] students to be able to meet fellow scientists and see what a scientist looks like. Scientists can look like anybody as long as you are curious.”  

The program, a grant recipient of the Office for Public and Community-Engaged Scholarship (formerly named the Office for Outreach and Engagement), was created in 2020 by Megan Mitchell and a team of graduate students based out of CU Boulder’s Biochemistry Department. In just three years, the program has expanded from only microscopy lessons to include microscopy, microbiology, chemistry and biology experiments.  

S.C.O.P.E. works by having volunteers—whether they be STEM undergraduates, graduate students, or faculty—go into classrooms and guide middle school students through various scientific experiments. The students learn that science is fun and that there are people in their own community who want to help them explore the science field.  

A subcommittee of S.C.O.P.E.’s board of directors creates the experiments and curriculum for the volunteers to lead the middle schoolers through. The team consults the state and federal Colorado Academic Standards, Science 6-8 and Next Generation Science Standards to ensure the experiments coincide with the middle school science curriculum. Many of the subcommittee members also have prior experience in teaching and pedagogy. 

The experiments are designed to ensure joy while learning. For example, to learn chemistry, the students examine slime and what makes it sticky. In a post-class survey given to hosting middle school teachers, one stated that the students loved making and observing slime the best because it is something they are already familiar with. Another lesson the students enjoyed was using a microscope to examine pond water and organisms invisible to the naked eye. After that experiment, students told the S.C.O.P.E. volunteers that they were amazed at how many small structures they could see within the algae they took from a pond nearby.  

Teachers are inclined to work with S.C.O.P.E. because it’s unique. S.C.O.P.E. is completely free to teachers and provides all the materials needed for each experiment . It is also the only time when there are 10+ adults in the classroom, often making the student-to-adult ratio 4:1. 

Aboulache explained that the ratio of adult scientists to students is important because small groups equate to one-on-one attention and an opportunity for students to interact with a diverse group of scientists. Students can also get all their questions answered and their curiosities entertained.  

Young students and their teachers aren’t the only ones gaining from this experience; the volunteers from CU Boulder benefit, too. S.C.O.P.E offers the opportunity for scientist volunteers to earn hours towards a teaching certificate. They also learn how to break down difficult STEM concepts for new audiences, translating into the ability to communicate their own work to audiences outside of the STEM world.  

“We don’t live in isolation,” said Aboulache, “We live in a community of people, and we are interacting with the next generation of scientists and future thinkers. So, I think it’s important for the volunteers and faculty to invest in the education of the next generation.”  

The importance of S.C.O.P.E. engaging with underrepresented youth does not go unnoticed. The program’s intention is to address educational inequalities and help close the achievement gap that persists and grows during middle school years, especially in science.  

 “By providing additional resources, support and opportunities to underrepresented students, programs like S.C.O.P.E. can help ensure that all students have the chance to succeed academically,” said Aboulache.  

One volunteer stated they liked watching the kids get increasingly excited about science as each session went on because it made the program feel directly impactful, especially when some kids’ excitement levels went from zero to much higher.  

Students feel the power of diversity, equity, and inclusion in science through S.C.O.P.E. One wrote, “A scientist is someone who enjoys science and is eager to learn science. Anyone can be a scientist.”  

S.C.O.P.E. is bridging the gap between university and community life one classroom at a time. Members intend to reach more schools in the cities surrounding CU Boulder and continue their journey to help diversify STEM fields. 

Chelsea Toner, a former S.C.O.P.E. board member, summed up their purpose, “We want to inspire the next generation, and if we don’t get out there and do that, then how are they ever going to make it?”  

For more information about S.C.O.P.E. visit