Joanne Manaster is a former teen model turned science education advocate. The mom of four kids (one each in elementary school, middle school, high school and college!), Manaster was planning to become a doctor but ultimately decided she wanted to teach college-level students her favorite topics. She teaches biology and bioengineering labs for niche courses at the University of Illinois. She also is a blogger and vlogger (video blogger), as well as a dynamic speaker who presents her enthusiasm for science in a whimsical manner.
See why we think Joanne Manaster is a Chambana mom to know.
Q: What can parents do to help instill a love of science in their kids?
A: The hallmark of any scientist is a curiosity or a questioning posture. To love science, it’s easier once one accepts and nurtures that part of themselves.Parents who are curious about the world themselves, and are not afraid to express that curiosity, raise curious kids. Simple observations turn into questions: “My laptop feels so warm after using it for a while. I wonder why?” “Wow, that dog’s fur is so shiny. What does the owner do to make that happen? What is different about the hair of that dog compared to Grandma’s dog, that makes it look like that?”
Once a child is excited about any topic, it’s fun to allow them to explore that as deeply as they desire. A parent might gently suggest different ways to look at that area of interest. Videos, books, visits to museums or visits with people who work in that area. The options seem limitless these days. Of course, this is not just for science. I think by saying “Let’s look at this more” allows everyone, especially children, to connect to that innate curiosity and gives them permission to ask new questions or look at new ways to explore a single issue.
Q: What did you learn from your modeling days?
A: I was incredibly shy and lacked confidence. I was kind and had friends, but felt I was unattractive and had hardly anything important to say, I was also a chronic sloucher, embarrassed by my height. So it was baffling beyond belief to be “discovered”, literally, in the school lunchroom at age 14. This is the kind of stuff you read about in magazines. The agency took me and a few other girls and ran us through a modeling bootcamp. We learned good posture, how to apply make-up, do our hair in flattering ways and to dress and accessorize and ultimately how to make this all bigger for the catwalk or for the photographer.
What they taught, I learned quickly because everything is a guideline, and it made sense. When I look at how to make someone look flattering via clothes or make-up, there are very simple rules that create the optical illusions and camouflage flaws. I consider it to be scientific! If I had not been brought into the world of modeling I really believe I could have fallen into the nerdy stereotype.
The take home message from this is not that you need to look like a model to feel good about yourself, but sometimes we don’t see the promise that is inside ourselves, and it takes others to point it out. The encouragement that we can provide by pointing out something wonderful in a person can make a huge impact in the life of young people.
Q: Is your exploding gummi bear video safe for young children to view?
I have numerous gummi bear videos, and all are safe, unless your youngster believes that the bear I am demonstrating with is a living entity (like their stuffed animal) where then they could perceive my actions as malicious, which of course, are no more cruel than eating one. If there is any aspect that is “not safe”, I’d say it is inadvertently running across an inappropriate comment left by a viewer that I hadn’t quite gotten around to removing. 🙂
Q: You are very engaged in social media. Why?
A: I was invited to become very active on twitter by @sciencebase who really rallied scientists and science communicators. It has helped extend the reach of my message that science can be looked at in unexpected, whimsical and meaningful ways in order to capture the attention of people who “don’t like science”, or so they think. People I’d never expect to want to engage in a scientific discussion suddenly pop up and ask a random question or quip that something was really interesting. I hope that my willingness to engage with someone in a discussion about science will be encouraging.
Q: I am the mom of two daughters. How do I make sure they are engaged with science as much as boys?
A: This discussion is naturally endless. My father was mechanically inclined and believed girls should know how to use tools and change oil in a car and boys should also know how to sew on a button. Allowing girls to do what is often relegated to boys allows them to build and explore, and this doing allows them to question and problem solve, and they may find they like it!
There seem to be opportunities to get girls involved in science via various programs and camps in town including GAMES (Girls Adventures in Math and Engineering Sciences) week-long camp via Women in Engineering at the U of I (of which I am in charge of the Bioengineering portion).
I have lately begun to think how I, as one person, can begin to connect and change what is at the very least, a subliminal, but probably unintentional, message sent to girls via television. When one names a science presenter or popularizer from TV, it is most likely a man, except for maybe Ms. Frizzle who is a cartoon third grade teacher. This I believe sends the message that women can’t or don’t articulate science. I think this has to change. It might have to happen via new media, but I feel we need women scientists “on air”, visible for young ladies to see.
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