UA science grad students in new role

February 2, 2007

By hammersmith

[Source: Eric Swedlund, Arizona Daily Star] — Dozens of UA graduate students will bring their expertise to K-12 classrooms as science mentors over the next five years under a new outreach program administered by the Bio5 Institute. With a $3 million federal grant, the program will team University of Arizona graduate students in life sciences with Tucson-area K-12 teachers, setting up yearlong partnerships that will focus on curriculum development as well as teaching collaborations. The program is known as BioME, short for Biology from Molecules to Ecosystems. “What’s rewarding to me about getting this is it’s very competitive and it’s really building on a very strong base of outreach programs that have been working for a number of years,” said Vicki Chandler, Bio5 director.

The grant will provide stipends for up to 10 graduate students a year to join the program, as well as stipends for the K-12 teachers to take on the additional work. The grad students will have summer training and then work one-on-one with teachers in the classroom for a year. Students who have completed two years of research toward an advanced life-sciences degree are eligible. Chandler said the aim is for the graduate students to help provide an introduction to science for the younger students and use research-based activities in the classroom to inspire them. “You can interest kids in biology I think easier than some areas because it can be very real to them. They experience it. It’s a really good way to interest kids in science in general,” she said.

The National Science Foundation award is the largest outreach grant the Bio5 Institute has received, Chandler said. “This is so important. We hope to get more students in the math-engineering-science pipeline in the U.S. In many ways as importantly, our society is getting more and more technology-driven and these kinds of knowledge are impacting our lives more and more,” Chandler said. “People know the buzzwords, but they don’t really understand. The better people are educated at a basic level, the better decisions are going to be made.”

Graduate students enjoy the opportunity to mentor younger students, said Candice Rupprecht, a hydrology graduate student who participated in a previous science teaching program. “The value is it built confidence in the teachers because we supported them and provided the technical capability.”