Dow Scholar Lily Benig designs and presents a biomaterial outreach activity for middle school students

Lily Benig, Bioengineering Class of 2019, talks about her experiences planning and leading an outreach activity for local students.

Dow Scholar Lily Benig talks to middle school students about hydrogels

“As a Dow Scholar, I had the opportunity to plan, to organize, and to lead an outreach activity with local students. I chose to visit the sixth grade classes at Franklin STEM Academy after meeting one of the science teachers there to teach them about hydrogels, which I do not directly work with in lab, but hear a lot about and know have some really cool familiar applications. It was such a fun experience to put together the presentation, to visit the school in March, and to see the kids learn about hydrogels, explore and even make hydrogels themselves, and then apply this knowledge to create hypotheses and to develop new ideas for potential applications. We had lots of fun with Orbeez and heartburn tablets (who knew they were a polymer that could be crosslinked to form a gel?!).

Franklin’s sixth grade students doing hands-on activity

During the spring semester, I received a call for applications for the Society for Biomaterials Annual Meeting for the education challenge, which happened to be exactly the age range and topic that I had taught to the 6th graders, so I submitted on a whim. It was such a worthwhile experience. It was overwhelming to see just how many people both in industry and in academia working on biomaterials, how many women both studying and leading in all sorts of aspects of the field are out there. I was excited by some of the breakthrough technologies that I got to hear presented (and by seeing that UIUC is right on pace with the best); even more, I was moved by the volume of researchers at all levels working on undeserved, humanitarian projects. I have sometimes felt a lack of balance in the field between pushing boundaries and closing gaps in care and treatment. The trip gave me a little more hope for both myself and bioengineering/biomaterials at large.

Presenting itself was such a valuable experience. The judges were not only supportive and excited, but also pointed and helpful in their critique. I think the practice at communicating my work is always important, and this time I was able to share a little more out of my genuine self and experience and excitement and less out of what I think a presenter should be. I’m grateful to ISUR and CHP and my lab for supporting me on this trip.”

Benig at the Society for Biomaterials Annual Meeting for the education challenge