Inside Rensselaer
* New $2.7 Million Grant Brings Rensselaer Graduate Students To Local Classrooms
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New $2.7 Million Grant Brings Rensselaer Graduate Students To Local Classrooms
A new $2.7 million federal grant will place science and engineering graduate students from Rensselaer in high school classrooms across New York’s Capital Region. The five-year grant, awarded through the National Science Foundation, will bring Rensselaer’s cutting-edge research to local school districts in order to expose students to advanced scientific concepts and emerging technologies. Rensselaer’s program, with the theme of “Energy and the Environment,” aims to engage these students with timely topics including alternative energy, efficiency, sustainable design, and other challenges currently facing the global community.

“If the United States is to maintain its standing as the global leader in science and technology, our nation will require a significant increase in the number of young people choosing to pursue careers in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” said President Shirley Ann Jackson. “It is our duty, as educators and educated adults, to excite and encourage in all students a greater interest in these endeavors. Our new program to partner with high schools in Albany and Troy serves to reinforce the dedication of Rensselaer to this effort.”

As part of the new NSF-funded program, Rensselaer will competitively award one-year research fellowships to eligible graduate students. The university will award nine of these fellowships per year, for five consecutive years. The first awards will be announced in the fall of 2008.

Each of these graduate research fellows will be paired with a local high school teacher to co-develop lesson plans, case studies, interactive games, and a research project for the high school classes. A portion of these activities will relate closely to the research being conducted by the graduate student. A total of nine high school teachers, from Albany High School, Troy High School, Columbia High School in East Greenbush, and Questar III BOCES High School, will participate each year. Once the teaching materials are developed, it is expected the lessons will be made available to teachers at other high schools and middle schools in the region.

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* Deborah Kaminski
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Deborah Kaminski
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“Energy and the environment may sound like a very broad topic, but when you break it down to the core scientific principles and disciplines involved, it fulfills the needs of high school curriculums,” said Deborah Kaminski, associate professor of mechanical engineering, who is leading the program. “Sustainability is also a topic that young people care deeply for and take very seriously.”

“We want to help show these high school students how to think like scientists, and tackle real-world problems, such as air pollution or energy efficiency, in terms of critical thinking, gathering data, testing hypotheses, and making predictions,” Kaminski said. “We also want our graduate research fellows to become role models and mentors for local high school students.”

The proposed activities place a strong emphasis on interactive and interdisciplinary learning, to help encourage students to learn through exploration and questioning. One planned activity will be comparing the energy production and greenhouse gas emissions of different countries, and deducing what these countries could learn from one another, Kaminski said. A second activity would be asking students to predict what their hometown will look like in 2020, and to discuss different factors that will affect the quality of life and the environment, and what types of technology can be introduced to improve the situation.

“We want to help show these high school students how to think like scientists, and tackle real-world problems, such as air pollution or energy efficiency, in terms of critical thinking, gathering data, testing hypotheses, and making predictions,” Kaminski said. “We also want our graduate research fellows to become role models and mentors for local high school students.”

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Timothy Wei
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Timothy Wei
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At the end of each year, students from classrooms participating in the program will participate in a Research Expo. Students will also be invited to participate in summer research programs at Rensselaer. Participating high school teachers will also have the opportunity to undertake summer research programs at Rensselaer under the direction of Rensselaer faculty.

Along with receiving funding to further their studies, graduate research fellows chosen to participate in this program will have an opportunity to practice and hone their adeptness at communicating highly scientific and technical concepts to non-experts. Motivating scientists to exercise and improve this skill is an increasing priority for the National Science Foundation.

To be eligible, graduate research fellows must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States. These graduate students will be expected to spend approximately half of their time throughout the grant year working toward the program goals.

Rensselaer School of Engineering Acting Dean Timothy Wei, professors Luciano Castillo and Diana Borca-Tasciuc, along with Questar III High School Teacher Tammie Borland, are co-investigators of the program and grant.

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Inside Rensselaer, Strategic Communications and External Relations
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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 2, Number 11, July 7, 2008
©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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