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College of Science and Mathematics

Enhancing lives through learning, discovery and innovation

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Future Teachers Spend Summer Doing Research at National Labs

November 1, 2012

Contact: Bryan Rebar

student sitting at computer terminal surrounded by large amounts of electrical equipment and wires

2012 STAR Fellow Carey Baxter analyzed data (spectral emission lines of ionized silicon) collected by
a unique device, the Electron Beam Ion Trap (EBIT), at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Her work contributes to understanding the mass of certain binary stars. Baxter plans to teach
high school physics after completing her credential in May 2013 at CSU Long Beach.

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Almost 70 future high school and middle school teachers became scientists-in-training at 14 national laboratories and research centers this summer. They worked on experiments ranging from why there used to be water on Mars to identification of genetically distinct ocean species.

The students were part of the CSU-wide STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Teacher and Researcher Program (STAR). Cal Poly manages the internship program, which gives aspiring science and math teachers the experience they need to teach hands-on science.

"STAR fellows are more prepared to teach in a way that has their students doing science in the way scientists do science," said STAR Program Director Bryan Rebar. "They can walk into their classrooms and say, 'I know what skills are needed and we’re going to do the same things that go on at NASA.'"

Funded by grants from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the National Science Foundation Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, STAR just completed its sixth year.

Jessica Potter, a 2010 biological sciences graduate, worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in 2010 and 2011. She now teaches eighth grade science at Fesler Middle School in Santa Maria, Calif.

Potter credits her summer at JPL with giving her the tools to provide a more challenging classroom experience. "I learned that science is really messy. So I like to give kids the freedom to come up with their own ways to come up with answers to the questions they have. It takes the focus off of me and really challenges them to take their thinking to the next level," Potter said.

In addition, STAR fellows develop a supportive professional network during the program. Those connections improve the likelihood fellows will stick with a teaching career.

"I have a community of teachers who have the same philosophy," Potter said. "That’s been a huge source of encouragement and ideas."

Recruiting and keeping good STEM teachers is important for current middle and high school students, whose future employers will be looking for STEM graduates.

"We’re not producing enough people in the STEM fields based on where the jobs will be," Rebar said. "One way to address that is to make sure you have quality teachers who can get students interested in STEM. STAR provides those teachers."

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