The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Northern Arizona University a $2.9 million grant to bolster the interdisciplinary preparation of its graduate students in the biosciences and strengthen bioscience education at schools across northern Arizona. The five-year grant is launching a program of graduate fellowships and placing the new graduate fellows in K-12 classrooms several hours each week.
Already, the Biotechnology Integration Opportunities for Teacher Education and Content (BIOTEC) program has selected five NAU graduate students to receive the new fellowship, which includes stipends worth $30,000 per year, benefits, tuition and fee waivers, and support to attend a national conference to present their research. In addition to pursuing their own scientific investigations, the fellows will work 10 hours per week beside teachers in Flagstaff high schools to translate current biotechnology research into classroom lessons.
The BIOTEC program was funded under the NSF’s Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) initiative, designed to support graduate students in becoming both proficient researchers and proficient communicators of scientific concepts. The program aims to achieve the latter goal by matching GK-12 Fellows with classroom teachers, with whom they will design bioscience curricula and present lessons to students. And by engaging students in scientific inquiry, the GK-12 Fellows will help to stimulate student interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to put scientists in local classrooms where they can involve students in the process of science,” said Catherine Ueckert, an NAU associate professor of biology, who wrote the BIOTEC grant. The program will be hosted in NAU’s Center for Science Teaching and Learning (CSTL).
Besides supporting NAU graduate students, the program includes funding for professional development of classroom teachers, both through Teacher and Fellow team activities and supplementary workshops for teachers. After the first year of the program, additional GK-12 Fellows will be named and Teacher and Fellow teams replicated beyond Flagstaff at Ganado and Pinon high schools, as well as in northern Arizona elementary and middle schools.
Anita Antoninka, a doctoral student in biology and one of the initial GK-12 Fellows, said that she is excited to develop her teaching skills and to support students’ exploration of careers in science.
“The experience developing curriculum, working in a classroom, and learning to bring current research into the classroom will help me as I seek a career as a university faculty member and researcher,” she said.
NAU is not the first Arizona institution to receive support through the GK-12 initiative, which the NSF established in 1999. Both Arizona State University and the University of Arizona have GK-12 programs aimed at strengthening STEM education, such as ASU’s Down to Earth Science program and UA’s Biodiversity from Molecules to Ecosystems (BioME) program, which aims to help stimulate students’ curiosity and excitement about the relationship between science and their daily lives.
The GK-12 programs are closely aligned with the recommendation of Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap, developed in 2002, that the bioscience leaders “encourage the state’s citizens to become a more informed citizenry in the biosciences and encourage young people to explore and pursue scientific and technical careers.”
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