Science Reach High School Classroom Through Summer Program
Dr. Paul Cooke,
veterinary biosciences, conducts research on the physiological effects
of steroid hormones, such as plant estrogens. His laboratory, which
has generated findings of international interest, may seem an unlikely
place for a high school teacher, but thats just where teacher
Shelley Epperson of Mattoon (Ill.) High School spent last summer.
Epperson was one of 20 teachers selected nationally to participate in
a program that matches teachers with researcher-mentors in actual laboratories.
Throughout June and July she drove 50 miles every day to the Urbana
veterinary college, where she was immersed and involved in the daily
activities of Dr. Cookes lab.
It was worth every mile, she says.
When she returned to her classroom in August, her students recognized
that she had been really challenged by her summer experiences. I
think its good that they see me as a lifelong learner who isnt
afraid to try something new, says Epperson.
Teacher Shelley Epperson
spent last summer working in the research lab of Dr. Paul Cooke.
Epperson, who has
taught science for 20 years, stumbled into teaching genetics about 8
years ago when another teacher retired. Now a self-described DNA
junkie, she learned all she can through workshops and reading.
A program in Mattoon called the Foundation for Academic Excellence
has enabled her to equip her classroom with some high-tech capabilities
of a biological research lab, such as doing DNA fingerprinting and conducting
polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
One outcome of her time at the College is that she will require all
students in her advanced class to read scientific abstracts and to make
a class presentation about the research.
I have many, many students that are very interested in research
and biotechnology because of my experience, and they are already asking
when and how they can visit a lab or school that would give them more
information on how to pursue careers in this area, she says.
Epperson believes that one of the most important lessons she can take
to her classroom is a deeper understanding of the opportunities and
benefits of a career in research, and especially how those opportunities
are available to women and members of underrepresented ethnic groups.
If I could just go around here, Id probably have the whole
world, she says of the diversity she encountered in the College
research faculty and students.
The Frontiers in Physiology summer research program is organized
by the American Physiological Society and sponsored by that and other
organizations, including the National Institutes of Health. Epperson
and the other teachers selected for the program began discussing issues
via the Internet in April. In July all 20 were flown to Washington,
D.C., for a weeklong, expense-paid workshop to learn hands-on, inquiry-based
teaching methods. This fall they are developing and field testing at
least one classroom module. In April 2003 theyll attend the Experimental
Biology Meeting, which draws more than 15,000 scientists worldwide every
But the Frontiers in Physiology program doesnt really
end then, because its benefits will continue to accrue to these teachers
students for years to come.
Epperson hopes to begin an ambassador program where high school students
can communicate an enthusiasm for science to younger children and open
them to the possibility of a science career.
In their heads, those doors begin to close very early, she
says of younger students. High school students are valuable role