October 2011

Grants aim to enhance STEM education in middle and high schools


As we all know, we are experiencing a national crisis in education – and science education specifically. Student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics has declined steadily since the mid-1960s (1). In addition, persistence in the STEM fields also has been on the decline, with minority groups experiencing a higher percent of STEM field attrition; about 50 percent drop out or change majors (2). As a nation, we are watching our competitive edge in science, engineering and technology slip away to other developed countries and to some developing countries (3). How are we as a nation to compete if the next generation is behind? As a scientific community, it is our duty to strap on our boots and to get on the ground to make sure the future of our country is secure.

One initiative pioneered by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, with some support from the National Science Foundation, is called Hands-on Opportunities to Promote Engagement in Science (HOPES). Led by the society’s Minority Affairs and Education and Professional Development committees, the initiative began with a workshop at the annual meeting in April in Washington, D.C. There, middle- and high-school teachers were brought together with research scientists from the D.C. area to promote partnerships and to give educators seeking ways to enhance their teaching by incorporating hands-on classroom activities the opportunity to meet and connect with partners in this endeavor.

The workshop 

On the morning of April 9, workshop participants spent three hours hearing about partnership models, taking part in hands-on activities and networking with potential partners. The workshop had three goals. First, it aimed to remove one of the barriers – not knowing one another – that prevents collaboration between teachers and scientists. Second, it aimed to give participants examples of successful partnerships as potential models for collaborative efforts. And, third, it offered NSF funds, in the form of seed grants, for 10 teachers to encourage and support the development of partnerships and classroom activities.

The proposal evaluation process 

More than 50 applications from teachers and scientists from across the country were received. A panel of four reviewers, two from the MAC and two from the EPD, reviewed and ranked the applications. Impact was judged based on the project rationale, the actual inquiry-based activity plan, feasibility and sustainability, and the direct effects on students. In addition, the project description, strength of the partnership and letters of support were evaluated. The final criterion used was the plan for assessment of the project. A long-term goal of the initiative is to encourage continued partnerships with scientists and teachers across the country. The dissemination of these projects could provide ideas, making assessments very valuable.

The awardees 

 STEM_Adams_Sandra   STEM_Durso_Richard 
Adams Durso

The 10 recipients of $2,000 seed grants and their partners are listed below:

Sandra Adams of Montclair State University (Montclair, N.J.) in partnership with Ronald Durso of Fair Lawn High School (Fair Lawn, N.J.). Durso is the K – 8 technology supervisor and 9 – 12 science supervisor at Fair Lawn. The project, titled “Integrating molecular biology research techniques into the high school science classroom,” will engage more than 150 students in grades nine through 12 annually in basic molecular biology methods while they participate in inquiry-based, hypothesis-driven activities.

 STEM_Janet_Bisogno   STEM_Dominique_Shimizu 
Bisogno Shimizu

Mary Jo Koroli of the University of Florida Center for Precollegiate Education and Training (Gainesville, Fla.) in partnership with biology teacher Janet Bisogno of Celebration High School (Celebration, Fla). The project, titled “Teach tech: increasing the use of biotechnology in high school science classrooms,” will help purchase equipment for the school’s biology students and support basic hands-on experiments. Bisogno’s colleague Dominique Shimizu will assist with professional development activities.

  STEM_Alvaro_Estevez   STEM_Marissa_Fuse 
Estevez Fuse

John T. Tanacredi of Dowling College (Oakdale, N.Y.) in partnership with science research teacher Maria Brown of Sayville High School (West Sayville, N.Y). The project, titled “Molecular ecology of the Atlantic horseshoe crab (L. polyphemus) as a mechanism to enhance inquiry-based STEM education at Sayville middle and high-schools and beyond,” will expose about 100 middle- and high school students and up to 10 minority undergraduate students seeking teacher certification at Dowling College to ecological studies of the increasingly endangered species.

Alvaro Estevez of the University of Central Florida (Orlando) in partnership with chemistry teacher Marisa Fuse of Bishop Moore Catholic High School (Orlando). The project, titled “The biochemistry of bacteria,” will teach about 100 sophomores and juniors about the diversity of bacteria and allow them to investigate biochemical reactions experimentally. Students will analyze how certain compounds are biologically transformed.


Michele Bahr of Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratories (Woods Hole, Mass.) in partnership with Whitney Hagins from Lexington High School (Lexington, Mass.). Hagins, a veteran educator, has headed Lexington’s science department for the past four years. The project, titled “Wolbachia and students: discover the scientist within,” will give about 70 10th-graders molecular biology laboratory experience and focus on the symbiotic relationship between the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis and the 20 percent of insects that it inhabits. One future, postproject plan is to have the students talk via Skype with students at the Wettingen School in Switzerland about their joint Wolbachia studies.


Patricia Halpin of the University of New Hampshire at Manchester in partnership with fourth-grade teacher Heather Cantagallo of Sunapee Central Elementary School (Sunapee, N.H.). The entire fourth grade (about 36 students in 2011) will take part in the project, titled “Getting fourth-graders excited about the cardiovascular system.” Students will learn about the importance of exercise in their daily lives and be asked to devise hypotheses and methods to test them. Blood pressure and heartrate monitors will be purchased, and students will collect data and plot their results, which will facilitate discussion and allow students to draw conclusions about their results. The monitors will be used annually.

 STEM_David_Holtzclaw   STEM_Carol_Moravec 
Holtzclaw Moravec

J. David Holtzclaw of Transduction Technologies (Omaha, Neb.) in partnership with Kristin Swanson of Norris Middle School (Omaha, Neb.), Shelly Avery of Santee Community Schools (Santee Indian Reservation, Niobrara, Neb.) and Carol Moravec of Lincoln Southeast High School (Lincoln, Neb.). Holtzclaw will continue work he began as an academic research scientist in collaboration with his three partner schools. The funds for the project, titledInquiry-based learning of K – 12 physiology and nutrition concepts using pedometers,” will pay for pedometers, teaching stethoscopes and aneroid Sphygmomanometers with nylon blood-pressure cuffs. More than 100 students annually will conduct grade-appropriate studies by developing hypotheses, designing experimental approaches, collecting and analyzing data, validating results and learning to defend conclusions based on analysis of results.

 STEM_Duboise_Monroe   STEM_David_Nordstrom 
Duboise Nordstrom

Monroe Duboise of the University of Southern Maine (Portland, Maine) in partnership with biotechnology teacher David Nordstrom of the Foster Technology Center located at Mount Blue High School (Farmington, Maine). The center houses the only high school biotechnology program in the state, draws students from five rural high schools and engages students in extended laboratory-based research projects. The collaborative project, titled “Bacteriophage discovery and molecular characterization in a high school biotechnology program,” involves isolation, discovery and characterization of bacteriophages in the environment and will teach students about the importance of maintaining lab notebooks. Projects will culminate in student-created research posters or reports at a symposium.

 STEM_Poli_Dorothybelle   STEM_Amy_Chattin   STEM_Ashly_Dowdy 
Poli Chattin Dowdy

Dorothy Belle Poli of Roanoke College (Salem, Va.) in partnership with Amy Chattin and Ashly Dowdy of Franklin County High School (Rocky Mount, Va.). Poli will engage the high-school students in research on the respiration and photosynthesis of bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts). Students will be introduced to the use of volumeters/respirometers and to techniques such as electrophoresis and protein concentration determination. Then students will be asked to hypothesize additional experiments. The project, titled “Bryological respiration and photosynthetic comparisons: a case to connect Virginia high school students to active research,” will serve 30 students of various grades who are not enrolled in advanced-placement courses but who are likely to attend college.

 STEM_Wyss_Michael   STEM_Williams_Mary   STEM_Loop_Trudy 
Wyss Williams Loop

Michael Wyss of The University of Alabama at Birmingham in partnership with Mary Williams and Trudy Loop of The Altamont School (Birmingham, Ala.). The Altamont School serves students in grades five through 12 who have excelled in science and recently have exhibited a heightened interest in neuroscience. Altamont science teachers actively nurture this curiosity by offering inquiry-based science classes and supporting science-fair interests. In addition, during the 2010 – 2011 school year, Altamont observed its first Brain Awareness Week and participated in the first Brain Bee in Alabama, thanks in part to a partnership with the UAB Science and Technology Honors Program. The project, titled “Exciting students about neuroscience: The Altamont School-University of Alabama at Birmingham outreach partnership,” will extend the Altamont-UAB collaboration by supporting hands-on activities centered on neuroscience research.

The selection committee commends the successful applicants and would like to encourage all others to continue with collaborative plans. Each grant recipient will submit a report at the end of the upcoming academic year. The workshop will be replicated during the annual meetings in San Diego in April and in Boston in 2013. Funding to support the teacher-scientist collaboration also is being sought.


1. Astin, A. W.; Parrott, S. A.; Korn, W. S.; & Sax, L. J. (1997). The American freshman: Thirty-year trends. Higher Education Research Institution, University of California at Los Angeles: Los Angeles.
2. White, Jeffry L. (2005). Persistence of interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics: An analysis of persisting and non-persisting students. Ph.D. Dissertation, The Ohio State University. http://etd.ohiolink.edu/send-pdf.cgi/White%20L.pdf?acc_num=osu1115846872
3. Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trends_in_International_Mathematics_and_Science_Study 

STEM_Regina_Stevens_TrussRegina Stevens-Truss (Regina.Stevens-Truss@kzoo.edu) is an associate professor of chemistry at Kalamazoo College and a member of the ASBMB Minority Affairs Committee and Educational and Professional Development Committee.

found= true1505