By Anna Smith
It’s been a difficult year for science here in southeastern Alberta, but while they can’t do as much as they’d like, Praxis Science Outreach Society isn’t giving up just yet.
The society has seen significant funding cuts over the past three years, due to changes in the portfolio they would previously use to get grants from the government, said Patty Rooks, senior scientific consultant.
“For instance, years ago, Alberta Advanced Education is where some of the funding came from and then it just kept changing portfolios until it’s no longer there. And there’s no one to submit a grant to the government for any longer,” said Rooks. “We used to work with five other similar organizations in the province with an organization which we founded, the Alberta Science Network, and we would put in one grant proposal, then to the government, and then they would disseminate, would go to the Alberta Science Network and be disseminated, because the government did see value in it to do science outreach. And that is no longer an option. There’s no one to write that grant proposal to any longer.”
Rooks considers it fortunate that she’s able to simply scale back instead of closing her doors, but the loss of some of their services has been difficult to reckon with, such as the loss of sending out some of their science resource kits.
“It’s heart wrenching, because some students learn through hands-on learning. And I think we all should learn science through hands on and be able to touch and feel and, and get in there and get dirty with science,” said Rooks. “So we can experience it and have that unique learning opportunity. But because we don’t have funding, we can’t afford to send those out right now.”
Praxis is also currently unable to organize trips to their industry partners, to allow for interested students to shadow STEM leaders who may be able to help them find a passion for a certain career, which has been a part of the society for a long time.
“We won’t have science workshops. You know, sometimes the library would invite us and we do a day of bug science with even pre kindergarten children,” said Rooks. “We would have World Water Day. And it’s the first one I’ve missed in a lot of years, when we were able to do in person science where we did water experiments.”
Operation Thoth, the counterpart to Operation Minerva, is also struggling for funding, a missed opportunity for young boys to find their joy in science.
Despite all of this, however, Rooks is optimistic, and working hard to find alternative funding, to bring back these programs that teachers, students, and community members rely on. She considers much of it merely on hold, until then, not cut.
“We’re working really hard. I have an amazing board, with the volunteer board of directors, who are writing grant proposals, seeking out funding, talking to industry partners, to see if we can find those stable, secure funding sources. To move forward,” said Rooks. “I want to continue to give back and make sure those students have those opportunities, because I know for a fact some of them that have received opportunities would not have had them otherwise. And that is what makes me get up in the morning and go to my job, even though it’s not as busy as it once used to be. But I know that it will get back there.”
Anyone looking to help with donating time, funding, or funding ideas is encouraged to reach out, keeping in mind that the organization does not presently have as many office hours as it once did.
“I’d be happy to even sit down with industry partners to see how they could support our programs, should it be through volunteers, even; we need those as well to keep our programs sustainable,” said Rooks.