High school students visiting the university: What’s in it for an academic researcher?

Henrik Leion

Hundreds of high school students visit different parts of Chalmers annually. The activity is clearly contributing to the university’s application rate, an essential part of the ability to deliver high qualified and attractive technologist in the long run. This type of activity engages senior researchers around the world in mind blowing dimensions, increasing general knowledge and interest in science and technology. Energy-related research is naturally a well-visited part, engaging some of our senior researchers. We asked one of them, assistant professor Henrik Leion, what's in it for him. 

Henrik Leion has been responsible for high school visits at the Department of Chemistry, a work he handed over to a colleague when he left for parental leave. He was coordinating the visits and worked with training of high school teachers, gearing them with tools for teaching science and technology. And because of his area of interest, it got a chemistry and energy focus.

We have managed to find some time to talk over the phone, while his kid takes a nap. I ask him how it all started.

“I asked about it. I think this type of work is important and I know the need, since I used to work as a teacher before I became a researcher”, says Henrik Leion.

It turned out that there was no one working with high school visits at that moment, so Henrik Leion got the assignment on 10–20 % of his time. Last year his laboratory received visits form almost a hundred high school students.

“As researcher we are obligated to inform the public about what we are doing and at that time there was a lack of coordination, even though we did have quite a lot of visits. It was very much up to the high school teacher to find out where to go and whom to contact.”

Henrik Leion’s enthusiasm is obvious, even over the phone, so I ask him why it is so important.

“I have a passion about it. The general knowledge about science and technology is too low – it is not included in what is considered as general knowledge. In Sweden, everyone knows that August Strindberg wrote the novel Red Room, but if you ask about the lightest element on the periodic table, it is not that obvious.”
Challenged by the unexpected
Henrik Leion is absolutely sure that his work with high school visits enriches him as a researcher and teacher.

“It is has been great fun and given me a lot. I got so many strange, unexpected and challenging questions. It has given me a better understanding of what is difficult and how that can be explained in a simpler way”, he says.

He thinks for a short while, and then he adds:

“And I think this work has made me a better teacher for my students.”

Text: Niklas Fernqvist

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Published: Tue 20 May 2014. Modified: Fri 08 Jan 2016