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professor with
a master's
degree in marine
biology teaching
`food justice.'
It's a powerful
combination with very positive results.
Michael Cermak runs the Fair Food Science
Program, a partnership between Middlesex
and Lowell's Bartlett Community Partnership
School. Through MCC's Civic & Service-
Learning Program, Cermak encourages his
college students to work with Bartlett
students on science-fair projects focused on
food, health and environmental sustainability.
As a student at Boston University, Cermak
realized science is about more than just the
periodic table and Bunsen burners. It's
about people and their relationship to
their environment.
"I became interested in how to teach science
for youth empowerment," said Cermak, who
went on to earn a doctorate in sociology from
Boston College. "I wanted to find a way to
bring science into community work." He found
the perfect place to do that at Middlesex.
"I could have taught anywhere, but MCC
really cares about learning and getting
involved in the community in a way I did
not see in other places," Cermak said.
When Matthew Olson, Dean of Humanities
& Social Sciences, was searching for a
way to bring a STEM (science, technology,
engineering and mathematics) component
into the college's continuing partnership
with the Lowell Public Schools, he turned
to Cermak. The Fair Food
Science Program is now in
its fifth semester.
"As a sociologist, Mike
is keenly aware of the
importance of the issues
related to food, health, and
socioeconomic status," said Olson.
"Mike's master's degree in the
sciences informs his work, allowing him to
help his students and the Bartlett students
learn together about doing science ethically,"
continued Olson. "We are extremely grateful
for the way the administration, faculty and
students of the Bartlett have welcomed our
students into their school."
Here's how it works: At the beginning of
each semester, Cermak recruits 15-20 MCC
students from "Intro to Sociology" and "Food
and Sustainability" classes. They are paired
with 18-25 fifth- and sixth-graders from the
Bartlett School. Over a 10-week period, their
goal is to create science-fair projects based
on a revolving theme.
Teams of two Middlesex and three Bartlett
students choose a topic and spend time
learning background knowledge, including
food and scientific terminology, and how to
design an experiment.
The program's first semester focused on
fair trade. Subsequent topics have included
school lunch and nutrition, GMOs (genetically
modified organisms), and sustainable
urban agriculture.
"Many of the students at the Bartlett come
from countries where products like coffee
and chocolate are produced," said Cermak,
describing the fair trade
unit. "We took brands
of different products that
were fair trade, and compared them
to those that were not. We compared them
in taste and how quickly they rotted, using
scientific methods," he explained.
"We brought social justice questions into it
to show how science is relatable. And we
explained to them that in other countries,
kids their ages are working in fields to
produce these products."
On the topic of food and fitness, one Fair
Food team looked at the effects different
foods and drinks, like Coca Cola, chocolate
and bananas, might have on heart rate,
before and after exercise. It was an
experiment that taught the students how
to use equipment like breath meters and
heart-rate monitors, but also got them
thinking more about what they put into
their bodies.
"I want the kids to become more mindful
eaters and eat vegetables, not just because
they were told to, but because they feel
better and understand why," said Cermak.
At the end of the program, a science
fair that includes games, interactive
informational booths, and food is held
to showcase the projects to the rest of the
school and the community.
Community Partnership
Fair Food Science Program Shines a Spotlight on
Environmental Sustainability and Health