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First group of science teachers-in-training show off summer research

by Cheryl Roland

Aug. 5, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of a laboratory.
Future high school science teachers train in the lab.
KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University's inaugural group of Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellows will be showing off the science skills they will bring to their future roles as high school teachers during a poster presentation set for 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10, in the atrium of Haenicke Hall.

The 13 students were recruited for the fellowship program last fall, after WMU was awarded $1 million from HHMI for an initiative designed to put prospective high school science teachers to work in the laboratory as scientists to help them learn how to translate science into practical experiences for their future students. A similar group of fellows will be selected for the program in each of four years so as many as 60 prospective science teachers will be part of the HHMI-funded initiative.

In a free public event, the students who were mentored by faculty from chemistry, biological sciences, physics or geosciences, will show and discuss the results of their summer work in University research labs. Their research covered such topics as the action of enzymes in soil bacteria; the detection of proteins involved in neurodegenerative diseases such as Multiple System Atrophy; the understanding of the relationship between the growth and survival of neurons and the preventing or slowing of neurological diseases; the particle interaction with neutron stars and the effect of road salt on the eutrophication of a local lake.

WMU was one of nearly 200 national research universities nationwide invited to submit a program proposal to HHMI in 2010 to become part of the institute's work aimed at strengthening undergraduate and precollege science education. Only 50 universities, including WMU, were funded. HHMI is the nation's largest private funder of science education.

The WMU program focuses on building cohorts of prospective high school science teachers who are trained first as scientists who can then learn through programming offered by Dr. Renee Schwartz of WMU's Mallinson Institute for Science Education how to turn their own research experiences into practical tools that will help them convey scientific principals to their students.

"We're out to create scientists who choose the profession of teaching," says Dr. Susan Stapleton, WMU's HHMI grant project director who is also associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of chemistry and biological sciences at the University. "School districts should find these students attractive as teaching interns and incredibly desirable as future teachers. We're really building on our past successes in making sure undergraduates have strong summer research experiences."