Science Clubs Allow Students to Explore, Socialize

The UA's student science organizations are beginning the academic year by making a difference at home and throughout the world.
Sept. 10, 2010
Clubbing at the beach to save the oceans: Members of the Marine Awareness and Conservation Society during a beach cleanup at Rocky Point, Mexico.
Clubbing at the beach to save the oceans: Members of the Marine Awareness and Conservation Society during a beach cleanup at Rocky Point, Mexico.
Lauren Case of Engineers Without Borders and Sekou Kante, a local resident, paint a diagram of the intestinal system at the school in the village of Dissan, Mali. (Photo: David Brock)
Lauren Case of Engineers Without Borders and Sekou Kante, a local resident, paint a diagram of the intestinal system at the school in the village of Dissan, Mali. (Photo: David Brock)

From changing the world to chilling over pizza, science clubs at the University of Arizona play a major role in campus life.

The UA is home to nearly as many science clubs as there are science majors. The clubs are devoted to astronomy, medicine, neuroscience, surgery, optics, engineering, pre-veterinary science, pre-pharmacy, environmental science, anthropology, psychology, meditation, chemistry, aeronautics and astronautics - just to name a few. 

Most of the groups are open to students from any major and have a variety of functions, from working on humanitarian and environmental projects, sponsoring field trips and hosting guest speakers to giving students a sense of community.

Explore the Ocean

For students passionate about science, there's no shortage of opportunities to make the world a better place.

"It's a group of people who love the ocean," said Breanna Hackworth, referring to the UA science club MACS, which stands for Marine Awareness and Conservation Society.  Hackworth, a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, is the club's treasurer.

You can be close to the ocean, even in the desert, Hackworth said: "Anyone can help from any location. It doesn't matter where you are, you can always help the ocean." MACS raises funds to sponsor endangered marine species and to help out with projects such as cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Each month, members choose a different marine-related problem to address. 

Why worry about the ocean? "We care about the ocean because it covers 70 percent of the Earth," said Peter Valenzuela, a senior majoring in natural resources: fisheries, conservation and management and vice president of MACS. "We know more about the universe than we do about our deepest oceans."

One goal of MACS is to educate people who don't live near the ocean about marine biology. Throughout the academic year its members engage in outreach and education and go on field trips. In the past they have traveled to Mexico, and they have a trip to San Diego planned for spring break.

"That's why I joined. I want to go on trips," said new member Michelle Tarsha. Majoring in physiology, she is striking into new territory to find out if she wants to change her major. "I've always been interested in the ocean," she said.

UA science clubs offer students the opportunity to investigate their interests. MACS is open to new members and has a member fee of $10 per semester. Club meetings are Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. in Koffler Room 511. If you can't attend the meetings, you can always join the club listserv and keep abreast of events.

Engineer the World

With one club focused on the sea, there's another with its attention firmly fixed on shore.

Engineers Without Borders at the UA, or EWB-UA, is a branch group of a national organization, EWB-USA, which in turn is affiliated with the international association, Engineers Without Borders - International. EWB-USA works to support "community-driven development programs worldwide through the design and implementation of sustainable engineering projects while fostering responsible leadership."

"You help one person, and they want to help other people – there's just a chain reaction," said Lauren Case, a civil engineering senior and president of EWB-UA. She sees the group's purpose as envisioning "a world where all people have their basic needs" met.

Engineers Without Borders started at the UA in 2004 through a joint effort by undergraduate and graduate students from the chemical, civil, hydrology and mining engineering departments, assisted by Sean Dessureault of mining engineering and Bart Nijssen of civil engineering.

EWB-UA sponsors students and professionals on humanitarian projects ranging from local (volunteering with Tucson Habitat for Humanity) to international (working with Agua Prieta Family Shelters to build homes in Mexico and water filtration and rainwater harvesting projects in Africa).

EWB-UA is developing a rainwater-harvesting project in Mandoli, Mali, to provide villagers with a source for fresh, clean water and the means to irrigate their crops, giving them a chance to boost their economy. 

UA group members also work with African Sky, a non-profit, volunteer organization dedicated to building friendships between the U.S. and Mali to develop sustainable Malian communities. "Anything we implement in Mali will hopefully be useful nationwide, because we're able to see that the need is a lot greater than just in Mandoli," Case said.

In 2009, EWB-UA completed a four-year project in Mafi Zongo, Ghana, to install a water pretreatment facility. The new facility, which was designed and built by UA students and faculty members, processes about 250 cubic meters of raw water daily and services more than 10,000 people in 26 villages. Prior to completion of the water filtration project, the plant delivered water to the villages only every two to three days, requiring some villagers to walk miles for safe water.

EWB-UA welcomes new members, undergraduates and graduates from any academic background. "There's just a huge need out there in the world," Case said. "We just want to give students the ability to have those good feelings from helping others." 

The EWB-UA chapter focuses on education, since not every student is able to travel to the project sites. "We still want them to learn and socially aware professionally," Case said. She said the club is about "giving students hands-on experience in their field of interest... and teaching them to have a heart for the world."

EWB-UA is active locally as well, volunteering with Tucson Habitat for Humanity and building homes in Mexico with Agua Prieta Family Shelters. "Hopefully about twice a semester we can get down there. We also plan on working more closely with watershed groups," Case said. "They do mostly rainwater harvesting systems." 

The group is active on the UA campus, becoming involved with UA sustainability. This year EWB-UA is hoping to have workshops on topics such as water-quality testing and surveying to try to give students more opportunities to get involved.

EWB-UA receives grants from EWB-USA, as well as funding from Tucson companies and other EWB chapters and in the past from Rotary International.   

Join a Community

UA science clubs are about community as much as they are about building devices and saving the planet.

Students for the Exploration and Development of Space has its own office and members' lounge, complete with couches and snacks. Even if you're not a space-related major, it's a great place to chill between classes – and it can be useful to have a room full of physics majors when you're having trouble with your calculus homework.

Some clubs' activities consist of movie and game nights, guest speakers, travel to other campuses and coordinated field trips that let you get out of town at minimal expense. A flyer posted in Koffler advertises the chemistry club's kick-off liquid nitrogen ice cream social. 

Hackworth said that with MACS she forms "really close friendships while learning about the ocean."