This summer, New Mexico’s science educators were given a unique opportunity to strengthen STEM learning experiences in their own high school classrooms. In its second year at UNM, the Research Opportunities for Science Educators (ROSE) program, in partnership with the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED), brought 20 science educators, or “Scholars” as they are referred to in the program, throughout the state to UNM’s campus.
Hosted by the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, the program included faculty throughout the College of Arts & Sciences as well as the School of Engineering, this five-week immersive experience gives Scholars the opportunity to work in UNM’s state-of-the-art facilities to gain hands-on experience in current scientific research. By learning what STEM researchers do and how they do it, Scholars were not only able to enrich their own understanding but their students’ learning opportunities as well.
Scholars are matched with an existing research group at UNM and provided with an immersive experience that advances research outcomes on campus and provides them with a wealth of knowledge that they can take back to their classrooms to educate the next generation of STEM leaders.
Scholars are selected from middle and high schools with high enrollments of underrepresented minority students. This year, they represented multiple communities across the state including Zuni, Crown Point, Cuba, Raton, Clovis, Ruidoso, Las Cruces, Deming, and the Albuquerque metro area.
Organizers of the program were Professors Jeff Rack and Stephen Cabaniss, and Associate Professor, Susan Atlas. Together, they made every effort to ensure that Scholars were provided with the resources necessary throughout their five weeks at UNM. This included housing, access to their research group’s laboratories, the UNM library, and the Center for Advanced Research Computing (CARC). Scholars also received training in current research and safety training techniques and were provided with a weekly stipend throughout the duration of their five weeks on campus.
“Through this program, the Scholars update their content knowledge in chemistry, learn new experimental techniques, and discover how research is performed,” said Rack. “We learn about their challenges teaching chemistry in High Schools and Middle Schools, and all of us create new friendships.”
In addition to their research projects, Scholars were exposed to a community of researchers throughout the state that will serve as a resource to them beyond the program. As the ROSE program grows, so will access to STEM education throughout the state of New Mexico.
Throughout the five weeks, Scholars were able to get to know one another and provide feedback through various activities, including weekly lunch meetings, panel discussions with Chemistry faculty, and research presentations. They participated in “taking it back” discussions which provided an opportunity to discuss ways that they could bring the concepts and tools they were learning back to their high school classrooms. Two workshops offered by Prof. Yi He’s group showed the Scholars how to use molecular modeling and visualization software to “bring molecules to life” in the classroom.
Inez Jacobs from Mark Armijo Academy attended the ROSE program in its first year at UNM in 2021 and enjoyed the experience so much that she came back again this year.
"As a returning ROSE scholar, my desire to have the opportunity to learn about and use analytical techniques in our research project was important to me,” said Jacobs. “Through our summer research program, my colleague, Rito Escareno, and I went through the process of protein expression from start to finish. From making our initial qualitative observations to quantitative ones, from less expensive equipment to very expensive equipment. Using feedback from all forms of data is valuable.
“This lesson and this experience are valuable in educating students on experimental design. Which tools to use? What information will you get? Which questions will you answer? I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the phenomenal team in [Assistant Professor] Mark Walker's lab.”
At the completion of the program, Scholars presented posters to share their projects with their colleagues and UNM faculty. Deb Thrall and Ellen Loehman from the New Mexico Science Teachers Association, were also in attendance at the closing ceremony to share their support of the Scholars and the ROSE program.
The experience overall has been very popular with the teachers who have participated and there seems to be much enthusiasm for it as a whole. In its initial two years, the number of applicants greatly exceeded the number of principal investigator (PI) hosts available. Organizers look forward to building on this success next summer.
The ROSE program is funded jointly by the State of NM Public Education Department and UNM. “We are grateful to our colleagues at the NM PED, including Gwen Warniment, director of the legislative education study committee; Jacqueline Costales, interim deputy secretary of teaching, learning, and assessment; and Shafiq Chaudhary, director of math and science for their strong support of this program,” said Rack. “Without them, this valuable program never would have happened.”