Burke, Ms. Kristy

2012 Winner: Excellence In Science And Technology Public Awareness

Ambassador Believes Science Should be Fun

Kristy Burke remembers that as a youth, she was a good student, but science intimated her and she was disengaged.

“Science wasn’t fun,” Ms. Burke says. “Neither were there science outreach programs or science camps at school.” Now manager of the Youth Science Programs (Destination Exploration) at the University of Lethbridge, Ms. Burke is changing that for youth in the area. Her work is to find ways to engage students in science at an early age so they understand the possibility of having a career in science.

“I’m taking the intimidation factor out of science,” she says. “I want to make science fun for all kids, not just for kids who find it easy.”
Ms. Burke’s idea of science is that it should be fun, informal and foremost, available to everyone. She strives to make scientific inquiry exciting for youth by building programming around basic scientific techniques that are applied to areas of interest to the young people.

She’s a huge advocate for girls in science and initiated the first-ever Operation Minerva in Lethbridge, including a version of the program targeted at aboriginal girls. The programs give girls an opportunity to meet role models and to have hands-on experiences with science and technology. They have been effective at encouraging girls to pursue science and technology careers.

Ms. Burke has also offered the Science Ambassador program, an initiative that sent aboriginal university students to aboriginal communities to promote science in the schools as part of their educational experiences. To give opportunities to youth not able to attend the university, Ms. Burke has grown the Travelling Lab Coats, a program initiated in 2007, to deliver the programs to local and rural students.

Ms. Burke’s skills in project management and developing stakeholder partnerships for public and community outreach are exemplified through the growth of campus science programs at all levels and in developing volunteerism among faculty, staff and students.

Ms. Burke added a feather to her ambassadorial cap and gave a big boost to the science and technology community in Alberta, by participating in the successful efforts made to bring the 2013 Canada Wide Science Fair to Lethbridge. She managed this significant coup by liaising with the Canada Wide Science Fair Host Committee in Lethbridge and by showcasing the science excellence at the University of Lethbridge. She continues to build partners at the national, provincial and local levels working with Actua and the Rural Youth Science Network, and by bringing children and their parents to science and technology activities through the numerous programs she offers.

In 2012 Ms. Burke was recognized by the Alberta Women’s Science Network as a Mentor of the Millennium for promoting science outreach.

For Ms. Burke, who never ever thought she’d work in science, the mission is to spread the word that science is fun.

“It’s rewarding for me to know that our programs make kids happy,” she says. “I’m happy knowing that they are gaining confidence in their curiousity so they can explore without intimidation and have the option of using science to answer their own questions.”