A dwindling national pool of students choosing to become scientists captured the attention of faculty at the University of Rochester, who noticed that students often lost interest in science well before they arrived at the University.
So faculty members developed a program, aimed not at high school students but rather their teachers, to encourage more young people to become scientists. Each summer since 1991, the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Center for Photoinduced Charge Transfer has hosted high school science teachers for eight weeks to do full- time research on a project already underway in the center.
"We're looking for a way to have an impact on high school education," says Jack Kampmeier, professor of chemistry and associate director of the center. "Our view is that the best device for getting young people turned on to science is a teacher who is both informed and excited. And nothing informs and excites like research. We think it is the best form of continuing education for a high school teacher."
Many teachers who have been through the program depart with new perspectives.
Edward J. Awad, who teaches at John Marshall High School in Rochester, attended last summer. He worked with Samson Jenekhe, an associate professor of chemical engineering.
"The biggest thing I learned at the University was how competitive my students will have to be," Awad says. "It opened my eyes to the collegiate level." He says he is now better able to advise his students about doing research projects and about their prospects for college.
Bob Trowell, a teacher at the South Carolina Governor's School for Science and Math in Hartsville, S.C., says he got a much better understanding of the research process and the people who do it. "I will take back to my school many ideas that I can use immediately."
David Wiener, a physics teacher at Penfield High School, says the program renewed his interests in scientific technology. "Public school teachers have limited access to sophisticated research equipment," he says. Wiener says he now has a better understanding of the current level of technology to pass on to his students.
"This is exactly what we're trying to accomplish," says Kampmeier. "We expect that the teachers will serve as amplifiers for their experience; one teacher can reach scores of students, and dozens of teachers can reach hundreds."
Twenty-seven teachers, many of whom had never done research before, have participated in the program so far. About half are area residents and half come from other states. Another 12 will arrive in June.
The teachers are paid a $6,000 stipend by the NSF. A short course, seminars, and group meetings supplement their research experience. The teachers are mentored by graduate students and post-doctoral associates as well as by senior scientists in the center. Because the center's research involves the active collaboration of University and industrial scientists, the teachers get the chance to see the development of both fundamental ideas and their relevance to industrial applications. rmd