An interview with three LeWiBo members - co-founders Athanasia Nikolay and Mikhail Khotyakov, as well as a school coordinator Anastasia Mityagina, written by scientist Julia Brodsky was published in Forbes.
We are very proud and grateful for the opportunity to share our values and insights.
Please read the interview here
Here is the text of the interview:
Established by three scientists, Luibov Tupikina, Athanasia Nikolau, and Clara Delphin Zemp, and high school teacher Mikhail Khotyakov, Lecturers Without Borders (LeWiBo) is an international volunteer grassroots organization that brings together enthusiastic science researchers and science-minded teens. LeWiBo founders noticed that scientists tend to travel a lot – for fieldwork, conferences, or lecturing – and realized scientists could be a great source of knowledge and inspiration to local schools. To this end, they asked scientists to volunteer for talks and workshops. The first lecture, delivered in Nepal in 2017 by two researchers, a mathematician and a climatologist, was a great success. In the next couple of years, LeWiBo volunteers presented at schools in Russia and Belarus; Indonesia and Uganda; India and Nepal. Then, the pandemic forced everything into the digital realm, bringing together scientists and schools across the globe. I met with two of LeWiBo’s co-founders, physicist Athanasia Nikolaou and math teacher Mikhail Khotyakov, as well as their coordinator, Anastasia Mityagina, to talk about their offerings and future plans.
Julia Brodsky: So, how many people volunteer for LeWiBo at this time?
Anastasia Mityagina: We have over 200 scientists in our database. This year alone, volunteers from India, Mozambique, Argentina, the United States, France, Egypt, Israel, Brazil, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Botswana, Portugal, Croatia, Malaysia, Spain, Colombia, Italy, Germany, Greece, Denmark, Poland, the United Kingdom, Austria, Albania, Iran, Mexico, Russia, and Serbia joined us. Their areas of expertise vary widely, from informatics, education, and entrepreneurship, to physics, chemistry, space and planetary sciences, biotechnology, oceanography, viral ecology, water treatment, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, astrobiology, neuroscience, and sustainability. We collaborate with hundreds of schools, education centers, and science camps for children in different parts of the world. In addition, our network includes more than 50 educational associations in 48 countries that help us reach out to approximately 8,000 schools worldwide.
JB: How did the pandemic affect your operations?
Athanasia Nikolaou: The pandemic made us switch to online webinars. During the pandemic, many children have felt isolated – LeWiBo online classroom visitors increased children’s motivation to study, learn about professional opportunities, and inquire about the details of the day-to-day life of a scientist. Unexpectedly, we also got lots of support from language teachers, too – our webinars were not only educating children about science but also gave them an opportunity to connect with a person from another culture, listening and asking questions in a foreign language. At times, we pair up scientists from different countries, such as Pakistan and India, Russia and Ukraine, or Greece and Turkey, helping the students to appreciate the uniting power of science.
Unfortunately, however, not every place can be served by webinars. For example, some island communities in my own country, Greece, lack sufficient bandwidth to support online lectures for students who are connecting from their homes. The same holds for isolated communities in Russia.
How do you train scientists to be good educators for school children?
Our project is a great way for scientists to brush up on their science communication skills. We start with pairing researchers from unrelated fields with one another, so they can review each others’ presentations, rehearse them, and make sure that the students are not overwhelmed with technical lingo. We emphasize the need to slow down to give the students some time to fully process the new information. We also invite the lecturers to share their personal stories to better connect with children. And for deep new concepts, creative analogies and beautiful metaphors can stay with a child for the rest of their lives.
JB: What are LeWiBo’s future plans?
AM: We envision building a platform that will help connect scientists and schools around the globe, and establish quality standards for science outreach. This platform will provide additional mentorship, training, and support to our volunteers, as well as help school coordinators. In addition to webinars, we plan to offer an option for the teachers to invite a scientist for a discussion on a particular topic or a short Q&A session.
Naturally, we plan to grow and bring in more partners. For example, in 2020 we collaborated with the European Planetary Society (EuroPlaNet) for an amazing new initiative, the EuroPlaNet Congress (EPSC). Open to the public, this initiative shared live talks, on-demand materials, and Q&A sessions with schools and teachers. A grant from Trianon Dialogue allowed us to launch a project for Russian- and French-speaking youth, promoting ecology, climate change, and global warming topics. The Center of Research and Interdisciplinarity (CRI) provided initial support that was crucial for us at the early stage. “Fondation Botnar” helped to cover our organizational costs and develop projects for low and middle-income countries. We partner with the Madagascar environmental project, bringing science into elementary school classrooms; the MarineMakers project in Jamaica; and Just One Giant Lab (JOGL), an international open-science community, for webinars on viruses and Covid. Come join our network and share the joy of science in the upcoming year!