Volunteering and Networking while Talking Science

Posted on Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Gabriel Potvin

Gabriel Potvin is a PhD student in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, with an unparalleled passion for science outreach. Over the last 5 years, he has been involved with Let’s Talk Science (LTS) and Science Travels (ST), two science outreach organizations, first as a volunteer and now as part of the management teams as a Coordinator. Potvin’s dedication has placed him in the spotlight on a number of occasions over the last few years.

Gabriel Potvin dicusses his experience as a student, a volunteer, and a coordinator.

Q - What has led you towards the volunteering path while pursuing your studies?                    

I am passionate about my work and about science and engineering in general; volunteering with these organizations has allowed me to share this passion with others. Back when I was in school I certainly would have loved to participate in workshops like the ones I now deliver, and so I feel it is a great way to give back to the educational community.

Q - Do you find volunteering activities a rewarding experience? Are there some memorable examples?

They are indeed very rewarding. Although a few fun anecdotes do come to mind, the most rewarding moments are those in which students express their gratitude for having learned something new, understanding a new concept, or simply for participating in a fun activity.

Q - You are now a coordinator at Let’s Talk Science.  Do you miss the fun of meeting students in classrooms? How different it is from being a volunteer?

It’s true I rarely get to do science activities in classrooms anymore, and I do sometimes miss that experience, but being a Coordinator is also very rewarding. The work that my fellow Coordinators and I do, although often behind the scenes, provides opportunities to our hundreds of volunteers to visit classrooms and inspire students themselves. The people I work with are fantastic, and I’m fortunate to be part of such a great team.

 Q - What can you tell us about your recent awards?

In 2012 I received the LTS National Volunteer Award, for all of my outreach activities in local schools. This year I received the National Coordinator Award for my leadership in science outreach, and for the new programs and initiatives I created and spearheaded. Although it’s certainly not why I do the work I do, to receive these honours, chosen among such a vast pool of truly deserving candidates from across the country, is certainly a point of pride.  

Q -You also make regular TV appearances. How different is it from regular classroom activities?

I regularly appear on TV shows to do fun science demonstrations, promote our programs or special events, or simply to promote interest in science and engineering in general. TV clips are completely different from classroom activities. The particular challenge is the short time available to do and explain the demonstrations, and to get a central message across, all while chatting with the shows’ hosts. I’ve also had to start to think a little bit like a producer while planning my activities, in terms of having to consider what would look best on camera. Definitely a fun experience!

Q - Can you tell us about your current research at the Faculty?

I am currently working on the development of systems for the production of industrial enzymes. I have a background in both biochemistry and chemical engineering, which allows me to work on the development of novel genetically-modified microorganisms for the production of these enzymes, and their subsequent cultivation in bioreactors.

 Q - What’s next for Gabriel Potvin?

There are a number of options I could pursue after I graduate, but wherever I end up, I intend to continue to participate in science outreach initiatives in one capacity or another. In the meantime, I am continuing my work as a Coordinator with both organizations, and I look forward to another great year of science outreach.

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