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Celeste-Melize Ferrus

"I want to teach kids about STEM, in Haiti and in Canada."

Celeste-Melize is an undergraduate student in the Department of Physics. She is one of ten recipients in 2019 to receive an Experiential Learning Grant from the Experiential Learning Office for her EL initiative the Katalis Outreach Project. As the founding president, she aims to expose children in Haiti to the STEM Field.

"I grew up in a small town in Florida most of my life. When I was 15, I moved to Haiti and it was the most transformative experience of my life. I learned how to see the world in a way that I never could have imagined, opening my eyes to the fact not everyone had the circumstances I grew up in and that, no matter how different your life is, physics still applies."

"During my time in Haiti, I created the first plans for the Katalís project that would allow local kids to have access to STEM. Last August, during my uncle's funeral in Haiti, I decided to go about turning a fantasy into reality to honor his memory. I have partnered with a school in Haiti and raised over $14,000 for our 2019 summer program."

Through Katalís, Celeste-Melize aimed to bridge the gap in access to science education and technology between the first world and underdeveloped countries through community engagement. The funds from the EL grant gave her the opportunity to develop the program itself: from fundraising and making travel arrangements for the 14 volunteer instructors, to developing the curriculum and training the volunteers to explain mechanics, optics and quantum laws to children, as well as teach scratch code. She also paid special attention to the cultural context in Haiti to ensure that the program would be relevant to the participants.

"The real challenge is to figure out how to teach physics in a turbulent society, and to create a curriculum that also helps kids to become the future educator of tomorrow. This project has at its heart the goal of bridging boundaries through hands-on teaching, and sharing expertise and curiosity about STEM fields."

Katalis Summer 2019 Volunteers | Photo by Roland

Reflecting on her experience, Celeste-Melize said, "Through this project, I was able to develop my marketing and presentation skills. I actually got to present at CalTech over the summer. At first, the participants knew nothing about the project, but in the end, they were just as interested in it as I was... I also improved my time management skills while planning the project and I learned to be autonomous. You want to be sure that you accomplish things every week and not have to rush it all near the end."

The summer program was successful, and Celeste-Melize has bigger plans to expand the project in Montreal. "I will also be starting a new local outreach program for ages 11-14 in immigrant areas and a mentorship program for coming-of-age girls, immigrants, LGBTQ+ and students with learning disabilities."

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