environmental teacher and entrepreneur
Of Neon Bugs and Entrepreneurs:
Kim Bent, BC Alumna
Scientist, Teacher & Business Owner
She drives a neon green Volkswagen Beetle covered with black magnetic polka dots, adorned with large wooden "antennae" and sporting "SCI-BUG" license plates. She's a businesswoman, an entrepreneur, a scientist, a teacher and a video producer. Soon, she will host her own weekly interactive children's show, which will be shot with TV cameras and broadcast live over the Internet. And if you give her a chance to talk about her "Catch the Science Bug" business, her energy and enthusiasm will make you wonder if you can find a career that excites you as much.
Kim Bent (B.S. 1992, M.S. 1995) aspires to be the first female Bill Nye, The Science Guy. "Only not like Bill Nye," Kim says. "He's always exploding things. I just love to excite children about science, just give them good science that's applicable to their daily lives."
Kim has always had a passion for science. But her interest in the environment was piqued when, as a child growing up in New Jersey, she witnessed first-hand the connection between local pollution and illness. "One of our neighbors had an auto body shop and was dumping chemicals," she says. "The local cows were keeling over from drinking contaminated puddles."
Her parents brought a lawsuit to stop the dumping, but none of the neighbors would join the fight. "They didn't realize that the chemicals from the repair shop would eventually seep into the ground," Kim says, "and everyone's ground water supply would be at risk." It was Kim's first lesson in the pressing need for environmental education.
At BC, Kim pursued this fascination with environmental issues, majoring in Environmental Geoscience and then staying on for her Master's degree. Little did she know that researching and writing both a senior thesis and a Master's thesis would prepare her for running a business. This demanding process, she now says, gave her the skills to manage any large project: "you start from scratch, work independently, do your own research and find people you need to help you."
After receiving her Master's from BC, Kim spent a year and a half working as an environmental scientist for Aneptek Corporation in Natick. And though this job allowed her to develop her technical skills, she felt compelled to share her enthusiasm for science and the environment with others. She dabbled with the idea of becoming a science broadcaster, then turned her energies to finding a teaching job in the public schools.
At this point, her Boston College connections began to pay off. Through BC's Career Network, Kim conducted an informational interview with the vice-principal of the high school in Marblehead, who put her in touch with the high school principal in Hopkinton, who hired her to teach biology, chemistry and physics.
Kim loved teaching, and she loved working with young people. But after two years, she also began to feel the tug of family history. Both grandfathers had run their own retail businesses, one a liquor store, the other a garden center and lawnmower repair shop, and Kim had often visited their shops. "I loved going to their businesses," she says, "loved helping out and thinking, 'My grandfather owns this!' And I've always wanted to have my own business."
As Kim pondered how she might create a business that combined her love of science with her enthusiasm for teaching, she recalled that many of her former students had seemed unprepared for scientific inquiry. By ninth grade, she says, "students have an attitude that science is so bad. Their opinions are already set."
Indeed, even in the college preparatory classes she had taught, Kim says, "most students struggled with the basic scientific concepts. They didn't have the vocabulary or understanding expected of them by the science curriculum." She began to dream up ways of reaching students at an earlier age, before they had closed their minds to the adventure and fun of science, and a business was born.
"Catch the Science Bug" began as a traveling science program, bringing hands-on science activities to Boston-area elementary schools. Kim's mission: "expose younger children to science to make them more 'science literate' and raise their environmental consciousness."
Kim currently offers five programs, which range across a variety of science topics. "What Floats Your Boat?" follows the Science Bug on video to the Spirit of Boston, a 975-ton ship. Each student then builds his or her own clay boat to see if it can remain buoyant. "Making Electrifying Connections" employs levitating disks, jumping cereal and homemade lightning to demonstrate principles of electricity. And "Where Do You Get Your Drinking Water," Kim's first brainchild, features an aquifer model and a skit in which students take on the roles of Polly the Polluter and Harriet the Hero.
Under the guidance of Rex Trailer, host and star of the old Boomtown television series, Kim is now creating a weekly "Catch the Science Bug" children's show, which will be televised over the Web at FreeNetTV. The show will feature a different science expert each week and will allow time for Kim to respond to questions that children send by e-mail while the show is "on the air."
If this all sounds like fun and games, then you've probably never run your own business. With just days to go before shooting on her half-hour video was to begin, Kim had to contact over 50 Volkswagon dealers to find a standard-shift Beetle in the right color. During the shoot, she cracked the windshield attaching the long, wooden antennae. And, while some scenes needed only one take, others took up to seventeen.
When things go wrong, Kim tries to remember L.L. Bean's inauspicious start. "When he first sold his boots," she says, "the glue holding them together was poor, and all the boots he sold came apart and were returned. I think of that and just keep going."
Persistence may, indeed, have its rewards. Says Kim, "It would be great to be one of the first women role models in science." Watch your back, Bill Nye, the competition has arrived!
UPDATE on Kim, December, 2006: Catch the Science Bug recently aired on PBS Rhode Island on November 13, 2006. Four episodes are complete and five more in various stages of production. The programs are broadcast periodically until 13 episodes are completed. Kim's website, http://www.sciencebug.org, will have upcoming air dates. The programs can be viewed throughout RI and southeastern MA but can also be seen in other towns such as Marlboro via WSBE being on cable.