CORVALLIS - Oregon State University has received a new three-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation for an innovative science outreach program in Oregon public schools.
The initiative will add to the university's existing K-12 partnerships that are already among the most ambitious of any in the nation, helping Oregon's younger students improve their basic education while increasing their awareness of opportunities and careers made possible by higher education.
The program will allow for 14 OSU graduate students in a range of scientific disciplines to become teaching assistants or "adopted scientists" for students from kindergarten through high school, working at school districts in Corvallis, Lincoln County and the Portland metropolitan area.
"Our idea is not only to improve science education, right now, in our public schools," said Dan Arp a professor of botany and plant pathology and director of the new program, "but to help these graduate students realize they can and should have a lifelong involvement in the education of our children. These scientists of the future will probably have careers in academia, public agencies or private industry. They are not planning to become K-12 teachers.
"Parents, college students, working scientists and public school teachers have to believe we're all on the same team with the same goals," Arp said.
The new program will begin about one year from now after graduate students are selected and provided with some training in education during summer, 2000. After that, the students will spend six months as adopted scientists in grades K-6 or teaching assistants in grades 7-12, working about 10 hours a week in classes and five hours in preparation while they continue their regular graduate studies.
They will then finish the one-year fellowship doing extended outreach through other programs.
The new program, in fact, builds upon several other efforts that OSU has either developed or participates in, some of which have become national models for K-12 outreach. The existence of those programs was part of what helped OSU successfully obtain the full funding requested for the new program - an event rarely encountered in the world of competitive grants.
All of these educational and outreach initiatives reject the concept that an interest in science suddenly sprouts in college, Arp said, but rather believe that it must be encouraged and nurtured at far younger ages, educational levels and across all spectrums of race, gender and economic backgrounds.
And they try to provide valuable assistance to K-12 teachers who may not have a science background or face difficult demands on their time and possible activities.
Such programs include:
- The Science and Math Investigative Learning Experience, or SMILE program for elementary, middle and high school students across Oregon, aiding Hispanic, Native American, black or other students in studying and eventually pursuing careers in science and mathematics.
- The Scientist Education Partnership, or SEPS, in which OSU "scientist-parents" routinely go into K-12 classrooms to aid teachers and improve the level of science instruction.
- Science Connections, a collaboration with Portland public schools to get OSU faculty and both graduate and undergraduate students involved in science education and student mentoring.
- Saturday Academy, a statewide program to enhance science education that OSU has participated in for years.
- Collaboration and assistance with activities and outreach efforts of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
By its design, the new program will continue the university's emphasis upon bringing improved science and math education to minority and disadvantaged students.
Graduate students will come from OSU's graduate programs in molecular and cellular biology, mathematics, physics, chemical engineering and bioresource engineering, and will receive an $18,000 annual stipend that is unusually generous by most graduate fellowship standards. Arp said he expects considerable competition among many of OSU's most talented graduate students to participate.
"It's important to note, too, that this program will be designed to work closely with the changes taking place in K-12 educational models, and that these students will be working as partners with the local teachers on the goals they already are pursuing," Arp said.
Such approaches as inquiry-based learning, communication of content, use of appropriate learning styles, use of technology and involvement in research will all be educational features of the new program.