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Eugenia Duodu, PhD student and board member

Visions of Science Network for LearningToronto,

Eugenia Duodu talks about science education the way other young activists talk about human rights and the environment – passionately. She uses words like "awesome" and "amazing" to describe her work with Visions of Science, a 20-year-old organization founded to advance the career aspirations of young African-Canadians. She coordinates weekend science clubs for kids in Grades 4 to 8 in Toronto Community Housing developments, helps them participate in Science Rendezvous, the annual nationwide science fair, and sits on Visions of Science's board of directors.

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Ms. Duodu, 24, also co-founded the Creating Global Citizens program and is leading a group of teens on a trip to Tanzania this summer, and reviews grants for the youth art funding agency ArtREACH, among many other involvements.

When she isn't volunteering, she's pursuing a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry and molecular recognition from the University of Toronto, designing organic molecules that target disease processes like cancer. She recently won a Harry Jerome Award for academics from the Black Business and Professional Association.

First steps

I've always been into science and community service, but never found a way to marry the two until my fourth year of undergrad. I was about to start my Ph.D., and I was thinking so much about how to bring science to my community. I googled 'science in the community' and I ended up on the Visions of Science website, so I signed up to volunteer at the science fair.

When I came home after the fair, I remember thinking that this was one of the best days of my life. I was talking to the executive director, and he said he was looking for someone who really knew Toronto Community Housing. I said I did, because I grew up in a community housing project in Etobicoke and was involved with the local youth council. Within a couple of hours I went from being a volunteer to a leadership role. It was pretty serendipitous.

The pitch

Visions of Science aims to increase the career and educational aspirations of youth in marginalized communities. Through the weekly science clubs, we try to expose kids to different aspects of science, technology and math, whether it's by building balloon hovercraft or learning how rockets work. There aren't that many scientist role models for them, so we're trying to make science more accessible. Most of these kids' families can't afford to send them to fancy science programs, so we try to build relationships with them and give them that extra support.

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Proudest moment

Seeing the kids finally understand what they're doing in an experiment. It's like a light bulb goes on when they've finally grasped a huge scientific theory. A lot of kids say they don't like science, but I tell them that they've just understood a sophisticated concept from top to bottom in a matter of minutes. All they need is a little guidance and patience.

How I do it all

I can honestly say that I can put 'impeccable time management' on my resume. Other people have hobbies; I volunteer. One year I tried quitting community work to focus on my studies, but I felt like I'd lost my passion. It's part of who I am.

My hero

So many people have believed in me and invested in me, but I have to say my mom. She supports me in everything. She was always there for her community, feeding breakfast to kids who didn't have it, offering rides and babysitting. Everyone knew her, because she made a point of saying hello to every single person she saw in the morning. I thought that was so annoying. I asked her why she did it, and she said that taking care of your community is one of the most important things in life.

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Next steps

We're branching out to a few new TCH locations and expanding into Peel Region, as well as launching new high school and library programs. I would love to get in with the school board. I'd like to change the fact that if you don't take science after Grade 10, it's a write-off. Even if you're not in science, being able to think scientifically is really valuable.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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