NSF funding puts NAU researchers at the head of the class

The National Science Foundation recently awarded a five-year, $2.9 million grant to the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences to support graduate students as they pursue innovative research and share their knowledge with younger students along the way.

Grant recipients will receive support for their research and will spend 10 hours a week collaborating with teachers in local K-12 classrooms to improve the instruction of science, technology, engineering and math.

The Biotechnology Integration Opportunities for Teacher Education and Content grant, also known as BIOTEC, “is a wonderful opportunity to put scientists in local classrooms where they can involve students in the process of science,” said Catherine Ueckert, an associate professor in biology who wrote the grant.

Local teachers not only will get help in keeping up with scientific research, they also will get curriculum support and be able to attend workshops.

The 2008-09 BIOTEC fellowship package includes a $30,000 annual stipend for up to two years, benefits and tuition and fee waivers, and an opportunity for the students to present their research at the annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Recipients for 2008-09 are Leslie Gilmore and Shalamar Georgia-Clark, who are pursuing master’s degrees in biology, and Anita AntoninkaLaura Hagenauer and Bala Chaudhary, who are pursuing doctorates in biology.

Although BIOTEC recipients don’t have to be planning a career in teaching, the fellowship is designed to help the emerging researchers learn how to convey the purpose of scientific research and how it provides the foundation for improving personal and community health.

“I am excited to develop better teaching skills and interact with students in a way that will get them motivated about careers in science,” said Antoninka, who is studying the effects of global climate change. “The experience developing curriculum, working in a classroom and learning to bring current research into the classroom will help me as I seek a career as a university faculty member and researcher.”

Hagenauer, who is researching community and conservation and restoration ecology, said the fellowship is a perfect match for her career goals.

“My career goal is to be a strong scientist with good communication skills, because I think that research without communication doesn’t accomplish much,” Hagenauer said.

During the initial year of the BIOTEC grant, the fellows will be teaching in Flagstaff high schools. During subsequent years, eight more graduate students will receive BIOTEC fellowships, and Ganado and Pinon high schools as well as northern Arizona elementary and middle schools will be included in the collaboration.

Maribeth Watwood, chair of biology, Julie Gess-Newsome, director of the Center for Science, Teaching and Learning, and Kenric Kelser, a professional development coordinator in the Center for Science, Teaching and Learning, were co-principal investigators on the grant.