Federal Stimulus Funds a Boon for Sustainability Studies at Michigan Tech, Part 2
by Marcia Goodrich, senior writer
Michigan Tech is receiving over $3 million in federal funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, courtesy of the National Science Foundation. All four grants address sustainability topics. In the first part of a two-part series, we reviewed the three research projects made possible by federal stimulus funds. Today, we look at a new fellowship program that will improve doctoral students' communication skills by bringing them into middle school classrooms.
Global Watershed GK12 Fellowships: Diving Deep into Water Topics with Middle School Teachers, Students
Starting this fall, Michigan Tech PhD students will begin an in-depth, collaborative effort to bring the engineering, natural science and political aspects of water resources to middle school students and their teachers. Professor Alex Mayer (CEE), director of the Center for Water and Society, anticipates that the effort will go beyond raising young people's awareness of water issues. "Our goal is to give our doctoral students enthusiasm for communicating their work and a lifelong commitment to working with K12 schools," he said.
Graduate students can have difficulty explaining their research to those outside their discipline, said Mayer. Yet, good communication skills are critical on multiple fronts, including teaching, professional advancement, and particularly for generating public understanding and support for science. "Communicating with lay people is difficult even for us who have been in the business for many years," he said. "If our PhD students can learn to engage middle school students, they can reach any audience."
Over its five-year length, the $2.5-million program will provide two-year Global Watershed GK12 fellowships to 18 PhD students, starting with five in summer 2010. The fellowships will consist of a generous stipend and tuition and fees. Each participant will be paired with a middle school teacher. Under the supervision of their teachers, the graduate students will deliver lessons on water-related topics, including their own work. They will also serve as a resource for their teacher on water-related topics.
The students will work in school districts throughout the western and central Upper Peninsula. In districts that serve a high proportion of Native American students, they will work with a consultant to make sure their lessons reflect native culture.
The program also has an international component. In cooperation with the Colegio Muñoz school system in Hermosillo, Sonora, Spanish-speaking PhD students will be paired with teachers in Mexico, in areas where water shortages have reached a critical level.
"They will give the teachers tools they can use even after the students leave their classrooms, and they will engage the middle school students to pursue careers related to water and watersheds," Mayer said. "They can become ambassadors to the community from their university and connect with tomorrow's citizens while furthering their own professional development."
It will take an extra commitment from the PhD students, adding about a semester to their studies. But it will also give them advantages, especially if they join a university faculty, Mayer said. The National Science Foundation requires that many grant proposals, including the prestigious CAREER awards, include a K12 component. New faculty members who have participated in these fellowships should have no trouble involving K12 students and teachers in their work.
Coprincipal investigators on the grant are Associate Professor Nancy Auer (Biological Sciences), Associate Professor Linda Nagel (SFRES), Chair Bradley Baltensperger (Cognitive and Learning Sciences) and Shawn Oppliger, director of the Western Upper Peninsula Center for Science, Mathematics and Environmental Education).