You are an expert in Materials Science. When, how and why did you decided to go into this research field?
Since I was a child, I knew that I would study a scientific career. I chose chemistry because I have always been curious to know the composition/structure of things and because I dreamed of being in a laboratory. Already in the career, I was captivated by a professor who taught the subject of electrochemistry, so I did the degree project in this area. When I finished my chemistry degree, I wanted to continue my specialization in electrochemistry, but I did not want to work in a basic chemical science, I was more interested to find out a direct application to society. Consequently, my doctoral thesis project was focused on the study of new materials obtained from environmentally friendly processes for application as electrodes in energy storage devices. In conclusion, I think it has been the convergence of good decisions and finding excellent and positive people in my professional development career.
Which were your references when you decided to get into Materials Science Research? Which people influences you most? In which ways?
I have had several references during my scientific career, but the most relevant have been my professor of electrochemistry when I was studying chemistry and my doctoral thesis directors. All three have taught me passion and respect for science, to be methodical, rigorous, and persevering with research, to learn from mistakes and not to see them as failures, but as achievements that lead us to the discovery of new knowledge. I also want to mention my lab mates and colleges, all of them taught me teamwork, to learn to ask for help when needed and to listen to constructive criticism that allows you to improve your work.
Now you are dealing with research management. How important is management in the whole research process?
A research project is a teamwork, where everyone has its own responsibilities, and everyone supports each other to achieve together the main goal. Our duty in the research management is the link between the researchers and the funding institution and the management of the center where the project is developed. A project manager has to provide support to the rest of the team to complete the assigned tasks within the established deadline, maintain efficient communication with the management of the center and the funding institution, supervise and control the expenses of the assigned budget, among others.
What do you do as coordinator of the PECT BAGESS?
In the PECT BAGESS project, I participate in the planning, execution, and supervision of the assigned tasks: the monitoring of the progress of these tasks and assure that they are executed according to the established schedule; the control of the expenses within the assigned budget; the interaction with the rest of the partners of the participating institutions; the communication of the progress of the project to the rest of the partners and the search for new projects related to the objectives of the PECT BAGESS.
How did you experience learning science in school? What did you like most? Did you miss anything? Did you find yourself represented with the science referents you had at your disposal?
Honestly, I don’t remember how I learnt science at school, the memories I have are from my teachers at the school and me reading textbooks. I suppose there were activities that encouraged my critical thinking and the development of curiosity. In relation to science learning I found a lot of things missing such as working on project basis, letting me explore my qualities and discovering the world on my own way and not through hours and hours of books. I don’t want to say that this was wrong, but it could have been more balanced or done in another way. Nevertheless, my childhood was spent in a scientific world, since I was lucky enough to be born in a family that gave great importance to this type of education. From my grandparents, my parents and aunties educated me through exploration and self-discovery, through play. I remember afternoons in the kitchen with my grandmothers handling or preparing food, measuring, observing, and participating in the whole process of making a meal. With my parents, having to solve treasure maps or overcome mental challenges to achieve what I wanted. But the most special was with my aunties, biologists by profession, with them everything was about experiments, tests to prove hypotheses that they put forward, my first visit to a university laboratory and many other things. I had excellent family references that complemented the education I received at school.
What role does GiocheriaLaboratori play in the C4S Project? In the Project GiocheriaLaboratori (sestosg.net/servizi/giocherialaboratori) is one of the Living Labs of the HUB Milano, that brings together the two Italian partners of C4S (University of Milano-Bicocca and the Municipality of Sesto San Giovanni, Socio-Educational Sector). It is an educational service, that aims to stimulate and grow children’s learning and creativity by designing and implementing inclusive and non-formal scientific laboratories. It offers consultation and pedagogical supervision to the schools carrying out pilot laboratories within the project and holds, with the support of the Bicocca University, Action-Training-Research courses to teachers and educators interested in Inclusive Science Education.
When was GiocheriaLaboratori born and who is it aimed at? GiocheriaLaboratori was founded in 1987 as a permanent educational laboratory in the centre of Sesto San Giovanni, Via Tonale 40. It is a public space for children, teachers and educators of all kindergartens and primary schools (aged between 3 and 11 years) in the Municipality and the surrounding areas. It was opened in prefabs that also housed some primary school classes; after their demolition, the participatory design of architects and pedagogists gave rise to a new structure, the current one, where Giocheria still shares the space with Piccoli&Grandi (a service for families with children from 0 to 3 years old). The space is surrounded by a wide garden which allow a rich dialogue between inside and outside, offering opportunities and ideas for outdoor educational games and experiences.
What are the characteristics of your proposals to schools? Over the years, the Giocheria’s team deepened and tested the pedagogical approaches and the most useful educational laboratory settings that can enable children to discover autonomously and self-check different scientific phenomena. Through systematic study, reflection and documentation, the staff shaped a model for carrying out scientific laboratories that tries to complete children’s school curricula with opportunities for a hands-on approach to science, particularly physics. Indeed, this type of laboratories allows children to explore directly different scientific subjects, such as light, astronomy, mathematics, forces and balances, earth and living things, materials. Giocheria also provides teacher training: indeed, one of the goals is to pass down curiosity and motivation to teachers and educators in order to carry out in school contexts experiences of a direct and continuous approach to the phenomena studied by science. This type of training also aims to increase the skills of teachers and educators in designing inclusive scientific settings.
What is the special feature of your laboratory design? Our main feature is to build ad hoc materials rather than buying already structured ones on the market, because this allows for greater flexibility in the proposals. The design of the science laboratories involves the operators in the search for suitable materials to set up spaces that promote exploration activities. The large quantity and variety of materials made available to children changes the approach to the experience and implies a relevant and unusual involvement at different levels: emotional (curiosity and amazement), exploratory (touching, using, trying) and cognitive (building knowledge). These materials are also found thanks to the contribution of local craftsmen and companies who provide us with manufacturing waste, which is reused in an original and aesthetically pleasing way.
How has Giocheria’s proposal changed in the last period? In 2020 GiocheriaLaboratori experienced many changes, mainly due to two factors: the participation in the C4S Project and the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on the world of education. The pandemic situation and solicitation received from C4S for creating Community Living Labs in our territory led to a redefinition of “contractual arrangements” with the schools and the laboratory proposal was reshaped: the schools themselves were involved in co-designing and carrying out the scientific laboratories at their premises, redesigning the learning settings focusing on the access to science for all children. In this framework, the daily sharing and the Action-Training-Research initiatives represent moments of particular importance: Giocheria’s proposals always take on meaning as part of a systematic approach to the school and educational experiences. The focus is on how to involve all children, including those with disabilities and special educational needs, in scientific knowledge and learning pathways.
What experiences of sharing and co-design with the territory characterized the service? As already stated above, the fulfillment of the current structure is the result of participatory co-planning. Furthermore, for years GiocheriaLaboratori relies on the invaluable collaboration of a group of parents, the GruppoGenitoriGiocheria, with which many initiatives and laboratories for families are planned and implemented. Over the years, there have been various forms of collaboration and shared planning in the field of Science Education with many external stakeholders and social actors in the area (such as voluntary associations and services within and outside the Municipal administration). Within C4S, the proposals directly addressed to teachers, educators and children were complemented by a series of collateral activities aimed at spreading knowledge of the project’s themes, values and activities throughout the territory, in particular involving families, local associations and policy-makers.
A few days ago the Hungarian Lab EduKID 0-6 was presented in the framework of the Multiplier Event of the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership “I.ECEC − Intercultural Early Childhood Education and Care”, a center for Discovery, Research and Documentation for Early Childhood Science Education.
The participants were professionals of ECEC from Arca Cooperativa Sociale, and the Università degli Studi di Firenze from Italy, such as the training agency and social promoter Inforcoop Ecipa Piemonte from Turin, the Croatian nursery Dječji vrtić Srčeko and some of the C4S partners: the Erasmus Brussels University of Applied Sciences and Arts (EhB), and Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (WU), together with Galileo Progetti Nonprofit Kft, and JEB, the host organisation.
The lab will be officially open in January for all the children and families of the local area.
Quinndy Akeju is a health expert, Afroactivist and coordinator of the community of black-African and afro-descendant people in the Basque Country (Spain). Nowadays, she is about to finish her Nursing studies.
1.- In your LinkedIn profile you define yourself as a Nursing student, Lecturer, Afro-activist, Dancer, Choreographer and Content Creator. As a profession you have chosen the science of care and being a nurse, something that you had clear since childhood. Could you tell us a little about it?
Yes, I chose care, the science of care, which is nursing. Something that was clear to me since I was little and, also, it was clear throughout my adolescence. Now I do realize that it arose from a need to put care at the center. I feel that, many times, in this society in which we grow up (I grew up in the context of the Spanish State) I feel that these issues have always been addressed, not only on health, but also extrapolating to other vital areas, from treatment and not from the care. If we look at the health system we see that it is built on the treatment of diseases. If your head hurts, I give you a paracetamol instead of, for example, prevent that headache (to know how to take care of ourselves to stop, so to not somatize this stresses and anxieties, for example with self-care), for example, if it comes from stress. We also see it in our interpersonal relationships. A very clear example is in the care of our interpersonal relationships, which is often overlooked. And speaking of, for example, a friendship, if something happens we always solve it. But have we ever considered how to take care of all the processes in which we are (with this friend or this person with whom we have woven a friendship) so as not to reach conflictive situations? Situations that are unavoidable but in which that conflict can have less intensity or impact.
We must claim care as the centre of our lives and I think it could result in an incredible social change.
2. Taking into account the scientific field of nursing in which you are currently, what do you think could generate more interest on a social level? or what do you think is most necessary to make it visible?
Regarding the scientific field of nursing, I believe that it would generate interest (or that there is a need) to make visible the role of care in certain groups. Care for people in certain situations, the majority (speaking of this context), in situations of vulnerability and in situations of difficult access to healthcare. Besides, I also believe it’s something that I think about a lot. As a student, I also believe that we should make use of other cares and not just the conventional ones that we have always been doing. The nurse bandages your foot, for example. How many times have we used music therapy? How many times have we used to care that does not come from the West, that also comes from countries of the so-called global south? Doing non-Western care I also think is important because in addition to having many benefits, many people are more comfortable using non-pharmacological methods or natural pharmacy methods, such as natural remedies, which are mostly non-Western and that would also raise the health level. Or, as it were, would build a much healthier and much more cared for society.
3. What was your experience learning science in school? What kind of science do you think girls and boys are learning today? Do you think is it enough? What is being left out of the curriculum that you consider important as learning?
I can say that my experience learning science in school was not very pleasant because in most of the classes, in biological sciences, for example (which was something that I opted for from a very young age), there was always a tendency to stereotype black people. We know that these stereotypes are born out of ignorance, because the black race, or races in general, do not have any biological basis, they are a social construct. The fact that black people were constantly stereotyped among other races and that I, on many occasions, was the only black person in the classroom, led me to somehow develop a kind of rejection of science because I grew up here; This was revoked in my adolescence when I built my identity and said: ” “Hold on! It’s enough!”
4.-As an Afro-descendant nurse, you are very aware of the racist stereotypes and barriers that we unconsciously (or consciously) incorporate during our education. You are working on the decolonization of thought and practice within medical and health teams. What does this work consist of?
These stereotypes are created, but something has to be done, someone has to be there also to deny them. And, in some way, this thing that happened to me should not happen, nor happen to the next generations. I think the type of science that boys and girls learn has evolved a bit, but it continues in the same line with respect to what I just said. And it becomes super necessary to include in the curriculum all these non-Western Sciences that, for example, come from other continents that are not taken into account in research studies. It is necessary to take into account all the representativeness and references in the Sciences of other continents, to make a conglomerate of all that, to learn that science has not only been built here. I think it becomes necessary to also recognize all the work that women and men who have been in the scientific field for many years have done, to show that science is also diverse, that in science there is a multitude of bodies, a multitude of ideologies, multitude of jobs. It is not only a question about the decolonization of thought and practice within health. I can say that it is simply about unlearning all these practices and ideologies that have been ingrained through medicine to harm. To harm in some way to people, in this case, Afro-descendants and Africans. We know that medicine has a very murky past with African and Afro-descendant people. From the experiments in which untreated syphilis was injected into black men, to the revered chief, and now called the father of modern gynaecology, Marion Sims, who performed open surgeries without anaesthesia in the uterus of black women. All this, although we may not believe it, has generated (this is a sensation), some stereotypes that affect the African population daily and in a very harmful way: Such as generating the idea that black people suffer less pain and have a much higher pain threshold than white people and that, therefore, in any intervention that is going to be done we are going to ignore the symptoms or we are going to tend to think that African people exaggerate their symptoms. Or even, for example, to ignore that the cultures and the beliefs and ethnicities of African people are themselves different. It is also something to reflect upon, the fact that ignoring the skin colour on many occasions is a factor to take into account especially in dermatological diseases. And I say this because on many occasions it is not taken into account, especially in Dermatology: we learn to distinguish between dermatological diseases, but always with white skin. And we forget that there are darker skin types that also suffer from dermatological diseases, but they manifest themselves in different ways.
To a large extent, we have to unlearn and relearn certain behaviours or ideologies that have been implanted by the history of medicine and science in order to carry out better care for people, in this case, Africans and Afro-descendants, into clinical practice.
5. In 2019, Zintia Álvarez Palomino published the first book in Spain that talks about the role of “Black Women in Science” and makes explicit the great contribution to science and humanity that these invisible women have made. From your experience and as a nurse, what can you tell us about the existence of female references in science in our society? Do you think you can become a role model for other young women?
I think that, generally speaking, there are very few female referents. That is, not that there are few, it is more that those that exist are not visible. And this occurs much more often with black women, because it is the invisibility of invisibility. I also think that, apart from all the urgencies that exist in science, a very important one is the visualization of female referents (and also the female African action) because many of us do not have them. I grew up without references in science, so I thought that I walked this path alone, and it is serious to feel that feeling of isolation at such an early age. It has a very, very large psychological impact (and I think it is of vital importance) seeing yourself reflected in certain referents. To welcome, to give shelter, in some way, to all generations of African girls and boys, Afro-descendants who want to enter science or who have the dream of entering science and who feel that, “Hey! I can do it!”. That, “look! she is here!” or “look at this girl here!”. It is urgent to put African women, and also African scientific men, on the map. I don’t know if I can become a role model, or not, and the truth is that there are people who consider me to be a reference, but I think it is very great for me. But the truth is that I myself, am building a path that people who have passed through here have already given me. People who have already been doing activism in science. Zinthia Álvarez Palomino is one of those people, with her book Black Women in Science. But I am walking and wherever that path takes me, it is welcome. Whether it is to become a role model or not (as if it is for anything) I really am there. I do my job and I am very happy to be able to continue here doing what I am doing and also incorporating different perspectives into scientific discourse.
6. From your personal perspective, what do you think science should have to be inclusive (avoiding invisible barriers and/or biases of a sexist, racist, colonial, empowering type, etc.)? What guidance would you give to teachers/educators when teaching in contexts of diversity?
I believe that science here has to open its ears and listen. To stop talking in some way and listen to people, to those female scientists who have been silenced for many years. And then incorporate everything heard into the discourse. And in this I include sexist, racist, colonial, capitalist, capitalist biases …, I include all kinds of biases and all kinds of systematic and invisible barriers that also worsen the quality of science. Because due to biases, there are mistakes, and those mistakes lower the quality of science.
I would tell the teachers to read about black women. I am talking about black women and men. But they should read about all these biases I mentioned above. Really, the male and female teachers are in a powerful position in which they will directly affect the lives of people affected by these biases. And it is vital that they know them and that they try to avoid reproducing, in some way, all the colonial dynamics that have been installed that, in the end, are perpetuated consciously or unconsciously. Ideally, you should be aware, that you know where it all comes from, and that from there you start working on it so as not to perpetuate it.
7-A name of a living scientist that you want to recommend to us and something you would like to add to finish this interview?
I want to recommend Taiwo Jennifer Akeju, she is a chemistry student who is working very hard, she is my sister, hahaha. She is a scientist who, to be honest, I admire a lot, I admire her a lot because she works hard, etc. She has amazing research papers in English and Spanish as well and I think all the work she puts in deserves recognition.
To end the interview, I would like to say that I am delighted that there have been proposals like this, coming from UManresa, proposals from the “Communities for sciences ”in which inclusivity is promoted, but a real one not a symbolic one. Because it gives me the feeling that, many times, when one speaks of inclusiveness, it remains as in words, and it does not materialize in acts or in anything that can cause a real change. Instead, these projects give me a feeling that I can finally have faith that things are going to change and with total positivity. Thank you very much for counting on me and I hope to continue working with you. A hug to all!
The launch of the “Community Living Labs” focused much of the work of the group of the Communities for Sciences (C4S) – Towards Promoting an Inclusive Approach in Science Education” project researchers during the General Assembly of its consortium, held in Brussels on 17th and 18th November 2021. Community living labs are pilot tests that different project organizations promote in their local environment with the aim of using science as an integrative tool for people from communities at risk of vulnerability. Participants took advantage of the international meeting to agree on issues such as tools for collecting data from research fieldwork, compliance with ethical and legal requirements, communication of results, the real impact of inclusive science initiatives at the local level, critical self-questioning, and the review of one’s own practices and institutional roles to consistently promote the values of inclusion or coordination between different initiatives.
The Kanal campus of the ErasmusHogeschool Brussels hosted the assembly, which was held in the space of the “Wonderlab”, a science laboratory of the Belgian university specifically designed for the training of future teachers and educators in the teaching of science in the early ages. This is a facility like that managed by other institutions involved in the project, such as Lab 0_6, located on the Manresa campus of UVic-UCC, the Giocheria in the Italian municipality of Sesto San Giovanni or Galileo Progetti Kft. The science spaces managed by the entities participating in the C4S share the desire to encourage a positive experience of science among children aged 0 to 16 and to entrust them with the habit of asking questions about the environment, raise hypotheses to answer them and test them from direct experimentation with materials and natural phenomena. In all cases, they go beyond strictly academic work and carry out activities specifically aimed at groups of schoolchildren and, in some cases, also children accompanied by their families, in a balanced combination of research, university teaching and pedagogical practice.
The C4S project allows these science laboratories, linked or not to university institutions, to consolidate their role as spaces for research on inclusive science education. In addition, the collaboration within the framework of the European Horizon 2020 program allows them to generate positive synergies with universities that train teachers and educators and/or that have research groups in Education in different European countries. It is hoped that this joint work will lead to conclusions and guidelines for a more inclusive science education to be incorporated both into an academic plan by universities and, from an organizational and strategic point of view, by the technical and political leaders of the public authorities. It is also a goal of the project to mobilize communities at risk of being vulnerable so that they can actively participate, while making visible their contribution to the scientific community.
In October 2020, C4S began its work and is expected to last until September 2023. During the first months, it has organized meetings, workshops, and online training days, both aimed at its members and open to educators interested in inclusive science education as well as interviews with experts of diverse profiles in science and opinion articles or analysis for different media. He has also carried out a thorough review of the scientific literature and of existing children’s books on the subject, as a prelude to local experiences or Community Living Labs that should become the groundwork for the fieldwork of shared research.