Dr. Cindy Klevickis

Southside Diary

It is 4 AM. I have had only 4 hours of sleep. The coffee is made, my clothes are laid out, school starts at 7 AM and I have 2 hours to drive. I don’t usually have to leave this early, but, today, I need to catch the first class of the day.

Each week I travel to a Southside high school where I do science demonstrations, teach dual enrollment classes, help students with college applications and financial aid and hold teacher professional development workshops.  This is all part of our Professor in Residence Program. Our goal is to enhance the academic atmosphere in the schools where we serve and help high school students choose the kinds of classes they need to be competitive for college admission. Although we hope that this will eventually enhance diversity at our university, we are more concerned that students make good higher education choices than whether they choose our school. My personal goal is to instill a love of science through experiential learning. With the stress that goes along with standardized testing, students can loose the joy of learning.

As I pull into the parking lot, students are just arriving at school. Some of them recognize my car and soon I have a train of helpers offering to carry my supplies. I believe them when they assure me that their teachers will not mind if they are a little late to class.

My first stop is the ESL classroom. For the last six weeks, these students have been taking a series of state-mandated tests. They have either a full day of testing or they are literally locked in the library until other students in their class finish the tests for that day. Their teacher wanted me to do something with the students that might help offset the tedium of day-long testing and set a positive tone for the rest of the day. I will be making ice cream with liquid nitrogen and the students will be having ice cream for breakfast. One student, Saliq, is confined to a motorized wheel chair. The school was built more than 50 years ago and his chair does not fit through the door of some of the classrooms. Because his wheelchair does fit in this room, I invited him to join the ESL class for this demonstration.

There are dozens of good science lessons that I can highlight as I make the liquid nitrogen ice cream. I can customize the lessons for any class level or almost any subject. Some of the ESL students have surprisingly good science vocabularies, even those who have been learning English for only a few months. I have no problem explaining how heat capacity and density applies to what they are seeing.  To make ice cream, I pour liquid nitrogen directly into a mixture of heavy cream, whole milk, sugar and vanilla. The ice cream freezes and the nitrogen boils away. As the liquid nitrogen boils, the nitrogen gas that is given off is still cold…so cold that any water vapor in the air condenses and we make clouds.  I love hearing students respond as they feel the cold clouds and watch them sink to the ground. They tell me that the reason the cold clouds sink is that “cold air is more dense than warm air.”  They are exactly correct.

Saliq can’t use his hands. Sitting next to me, eyes glued to the bubbling flask, he makes sure he does not miss a thing. His head down with one ear on the table, Saliq can feel the clouds.

1 year later:

I received an email from Southside this morning. It was about an essay students wrote for an assignment called “School Experiences that Have Inspired Me.”  One student wrote that he did not know how much he loved science until he saw liquid nitrogen ice cream. He knew that he did not have all of the required prerequisite courses, but he was going to do the best he could to find a way to major in science when he attends college. The essay was signed, “Saliq.”

Michelle Kielty-Briggs, one of my colleagues in the Professor in Residence program, recently wrote “You cannot put a price on education or a meaningful future.”  She noted that“ The authors of “At Risk Youth” tell us that the most powerful protective factor in a child’s life is the presence of one caring adult.”  Like her, I am grateful that our university has invested in the future of young students by allowing faculty to invest our time in the lives of students.

Making a difference in the lives of students historically marginalized from science—this is what sustains me.


Citation: At-Risk Youth: A Comprehensive Response: For Counselors, Teachers, Psychologists, and Human Services Professionals (Counseling), 4th edition, J. Jeffries McWhirter – Arizona State University, Benedict T. McWhirter – University of Oregon, Ellen Hawley McWhirter – University of Oregon, Robert J. McWhirter, Cengage Learning, 2007

Professor Klevickis, known as ” Cindy ” to both faculty and students, earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin and her doctorate in Biophysics at the University of Virginia. She has taught full time at JMU since 1994 and was a part-time faculty member since 1982. 

Cindy is the advisor for the Roop Residential Learning Community for future K-12 teachers at JMU. She is also the James Madison University Professor in Residence at Huguenot High School in Richmond, VA.

Keeping in mind that students tend to teach in the same way they were taught, Cindy’s classes embrace the concepts associated with reform in elementary math and science. Cindy is also a great promoter of student empowerment and community service learning. She takes students seriously and students respond with remarkable achievements.