June 2011

K – 12 outreach opportunities


Don’t let excuses get in the way of interacting with teachers and students.  

One of the more enjoyable and effective outreach activities scientists can engage in is interaction with K – 12 teachers and their students. I can’t count the number of times I have come across an outstanding first-year student who got into science because he or she was mentored by a teacher who interacted with faculty members at a nearby college or university. Interactions between K – 12 teachers and students and science faculty can take many forms, including opening up your lab to summer research projects. This often is supported by funding agencies, professional societies, and colleges and universities in a variety of ways, and in this day and age when high school students know that research experience gives a competitive advantage when it comes to college applications, finding students to participate in summer research is not a problem. Finding teachers interested in pursuing summer research also is not a limitation. The problem is first finding faculty members willing to invest the time and energy in mentoring students and second, making connections between those faculty members and students and teachers.

For more information

• Contact Weiyi Zhao to apply for an ASBMB summer research award.

• Go to the ASBMB website to learn more about the ASBMB STEM outreach seed grant.  

There are many excuses you can use for not getting involved: it takes time away from writing grants and papers and training students; it doesn’t help get grants funded; you’ve got too much to do already. However, keep in mind that getting K – 12 kids and their teachers involved in science will increase public awareness of science and help them understand the need for basic research funding. And since congress members listen to their constituents, outreach actually may help you get your grants. The opportunity to try out experiments without having to make a major commitment is another reason to get involved, and it also provides a chance to help students communicate scientific ideas to a general audience. And finally, there is the satisfaction of seeing students make the right connections between results and ideas and watching them get excited about science.

Several years ago, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology reinstated a program to provide funds for K – 12 teachers and their students to do summer research with faculty mentors. ASBMB still has money set aside for this initiative and will make up to three additional awards this summer. If you’re interested, it’s not too late to apply. Contact Weiyi Zhao to find out more.

In another attempt to foster increased interactions among K – 12 teachers, students and society members, ASBMB held a workshop titled “STEM outreach: fostering partnerships between colleges/universities and junior high schools” at the 2011 annual meeting. The workshop involved a number of faculty members as well as teachers from local high schools interested in finding out more about how to create such connections.

As a follow-up to this workshop, the society, with funding from the National Science Foundation, now is accepting applications for small seed grants to provide incentive and support for the development of outreach programs and partnerships between teachers and researchers. ASBMB plans to award ten grants, of up to $2,000 each, to teams consisting of one or more junior high school teachers (or other K – 12 educators) and one or more research scientists. Seed funds can be used for a variety of purposes, including the purchase of laboratory equipment, materials and supplies; relevant transportation costs; fees associated with pertinent professional development training; and release time to allow one or more partners to participate in planning and training. The application deadline is June 15th. 

J. Ellis Bell (jbell2@richmond.edu) is professor of chemistry at the University of Richmond.

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