The Little Nudges We Made

Valerie Tan reflects on the Huang Fellows' visit to Holt Elementary School, where they presented their science kits to a group of 4th grade students.

In many societies today, the individual is celebrated and glorified, so much so that we sometimes forget about the collective experiences, the little nudges along the way that helped shape us into who we are today.

Up until the day before our visit to Holt Elementary School, I was skeptical about the impact we would be exerting on the lives of these kids. How could something as simple as a science kit— no matter how well-designed— spark change in the education system? The scientific principles encapsulated within our experiments were interesting and relevant, but the short time frame we were allocated meant that each concept would only be briefly touched upon— would the kids even remember any of it? I wondered if this mission was self-serving more than anything, intended for us to derive a sense of fulfillment from doing apparent good, with little regard for the real long-term benefits that would ensue.

“Up until the day before our visit to Holt Elementary School, I was skeptical about the impact we would be exerting on the lives of these kids.”

The Huang Fellows present their science kits at Holt Elementary School

I was proven wrong as soon as I set foot in the classroom. Looks of earnest anticipation greeted us when we arrived. Deafening squeals of excitement ricocheted off the walls when we announced that we would be making ice cream. The enthusiasm was palpable beyond belief. The kids followed the instructions obediently, pulled no punches with their ceaseless questions, and even hazarded reasonable scientific explanations for their observations.

The memories came flooding back from the moment I walked through the doors of the classroom. Suddenly, I was ten again, craning my neck eagerly to catch a glimpse of the colorful swirls of elephant toothpaste emerging wildly from a bottle at the front of the classroom. I was a little ball of energy bouncing through the halls of the science center, gaping in wide-eyed wonder at the exhibitions and live demonstrations. I don’t really remember the specific scientific principles each experiment was meant to impart— but I realized now that that wasn’t really the point then, nor was it the point of our elementary school visit.

Several years down the road, the kids will probably only have vague recollections of why adding salt to ice lowers its melting point and makes milk and cream freeze. They most likely won’t remember our names or faces either. But I am certain that the pleasant surprise of making ice cream with their classmates and the satisfaction of relishing the sweet fruits of their own labor will remain indelibly entrenched in their minds. And that’s perhaps the most precious takeaway we were able to give them— the realization that science can and should be fun.

I’m still not quite sure whether we succeeded in making a lasting impact on the curriculum of Holt Elementary School. After all, who knows if the science kits we designed will be permanently adopted? If anything, I hope that our visit has at the very least made the implementation of these kits more feasible and helped to alleviate the burden on teachers who are severely overworked and underpaid.

“…the realization that science can and should be fun”

A child at Holt Elementary draws as part of the Huang Fellows Science Kits presentation

Valerie Tan, Huang Fellow ’25

Valerie TanValerie is a rising sophomore from Singapore majoring in Biomedical Engineering on the Pre-med track and minoring in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies with a concentration in Korean.