Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Area Middle, High School Teachers Gain Research Experience Through Summer Program

KINGSVILLE - August 23, 2007

Contact: Jason Marton
jason.marton@tamuk.edu or 361-593-4143

Four South Texas educators got to walk in the shoes of Texas A&M University-Kingsville environmental engineering researchers for some 160 hours this summer.

It was part of the fourth annual Research Experience for Teachers (RET), a program sponsored by the Center for Research Excellence in Science and Technology-Research on Environmental Sustainability of Semi-Arid Coastal Areas (CREST-RESSACA) at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

Under the program, the four were selected to receive hands-on experience with environmental engineering technology through A&M-Kingsville’s Ph.D. program for environmental engineering.

The RET program was coordinated by Dr. Kuruvilla John, director of CREST-RESSACA and associate dean of the Frank H. Dotterweich College of Engineering, and Joyce Coleman, RET program director with CREST-RESSACA.

Coleman noted that this year’s educators were maybe the most diverse RET group yet. They included two previous RET participants, Beth Chase and Larry Lollar. Chase is coordinator of environmental education at Cibola National Wildlife Refuge in Cibola, Ariz. and a former Coastal Bend teacher. Lollar teaches and coaches at A.C. Jones High School in Beeville. The two new RET participants were Susan Hanson, a former science teacher for Wynn Seale Academy of Fine Arts in Corpus Christi, and Dariell Hurst, the program’s first math teacher, from A.C. Jones High School.

The participants took a 10-day class on teaching environmental sciences, funded by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Upon completion, they reported to Texas A&M-Kingsville, where each was matched with a different faculty research group for three weeks. Each group was made up of a faculty advisor and mentoring graduate student.

Chase was teamed up with Dr. David Ramirez to study the effect of tires on air quality.
Lollar worked with Dr. Yifang Zhu on a project examining ultra fine emissions in buses.
Hanson worked with Dr. Kim Jones on comparing methods of using citrus waste for biofuels.
Hurst was teamed with Dr. Jennifer Ren to study her Clean Rivers program and use its data to teach statistics.

The teachers served as observers and participants, helping to gather data and receiving graduate-level instruction and explanation of their research subject.

During the course of the three weeks, the teachers took the advanced concepts they were learning and applied them in the development of middle school- and high school-level lesson plans for the upcoming school year.

At the end of the program, the teachers gave presentations summarizing their research experiences and provided feedback to their university mentors.

“I learned a lot of things in the program, but probably the most outstanding is all of the hard work that goes into researching,” said Hanson. “Since I teach a unit on renewable and non-renewable resources, the research I did on turning citrus wastes into fuel will fit right in. 

“Now that I have an insight on what environmental engineering entails, I will be better able to promote that as a career to my students.”

Second time RET teacher Chase said of this year’s experience, “I came back to the RET program because it is interesting to do the work.”

“I really enjoyed taking the research from the college level to a level that young kids can understand. I also think it is important for students to see how all the basics that they learn in elementary school will eventually lead to use by someone at a more advanced level.

“As an informal educator, I hope to be able to show many kinds of teachers, from biology to chemistry and English to History, how the resource – usually a park – that I represent can help them teach their subject in a way that engages the students and reinforces the content.

“Working with RET and with researchers who worked outside of my area of expertise helped me think outside of my background and will help me think of innovative ways to help others teach what they know well.”

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