Senior Scientists and Engineers: STEM Volunteer Program
In 2004, the SSE decided to develop a Program, similar to TOPS and RE-SEED, to place senior scientists and engineers in middle schools in the Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools (MCPS). The MCPS STEM Volunteer Project now has 30 volunteers supporting K-12 science teachers. In 2008, SSE established a similar program in the Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools (FCPS). Twenty volunteers are now part of the FCPS STEM Volunteer Project and support K-12 teachers in the county. Each volunteer commits to 20 days in a school year, with the specifics of the support developed jointly with the teacher. A set of supporting documents, tailored for each school district, has been developed. The set shown is for the MCPS Project.
Some of the activities being carried out by the SSE STEM volunteers include:
- Working with individuals or teams of students to encourage questions about a STEM topic
- Offering insights on an aspect of a specific field of science
- Relating science to the real world experiences of the students
- Being a resource for the teacher and for students
- Helping teachers with science fairs
- Exploring opportunities for field trips and other programs that might enhance the learning experience
- Interacting with students and offering advice on experiments, investigations, and science projects
- Complementing the teacher’s presentations and adding a practical perspective if needed
- Working with teachers to enhance/improve the course content
- Making presentations based on the volunteers’ expertise when the opportunity presents itself
- Helping teachers design experimental challenges that demonstrate scientific and engineering principles to the students
The volunteer programs have been fully embraced by the vast majority of the participating science teachers. Their enthusiasm is demonstrated below:
- “The volunteers have been instrumental in encouraging students to think about their future as scientists. Sparking students’ interest in science at a young age is a vital part of ensuring a large pool of future scientists in the United States. The contributions of the volunteers have had a positive impact on the students at Georgian Forest Elementary School. Their generosity is greatly appreciated.”
- “There was an air of excitement and intellectual interest that even my reluctant learners responded well to. Having another perspective on making science relevant has the students’ attention and they got a lot out of it. (Yes, it was FUN!)”
The satisfaction gained by the volunteers is demonstrated by the following testimonials:
- “I am helping with 5th grade science every Tuesday and Thursday. We are getting along very well and the students are just great. The students (at first) viewed me as a real, living scientist who knew all. They have learned from me that one of the beauties of science is that it is a constant learning experience and that we, as scientists, surely don’t know everything!”
- “I went to school yesterday and had a blast! They’re just starting the section on genetics, and I explained Mendel, his job, and how science begins with observations. In Mendel’s case, how did pea plants with purple flowers produce offspring with white flowers? As in, ‘WOW! How did THAT happen?’”
- “I view my experiences as very positive. Dealing with students and with the teacher, who is very devoted to teaching, is just a pleasure and rewarding as they truly appreciate my presence and effort. Last year I was asked to talk during Career Day and many of the students have stopped me in the school hall to talk to me. Several have even said that they are thinking of becoming scientists. That is truly hard to beat.”
The motivation of the volunteers is best expressed by the following email:
“I am a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon practicing in Fairfax, Va. From my undergraduate days tutoring physics to my current practice, I have strived to always educate as much as possible. As a dad and business owner in Fairfax, I find myself at a time and place in my life where I would like to give back to the community that supports me and help prepare the next generation of US-trained and employed scientists and practitioners working in STEM fields.
STEM careers are projected to have enormous impact on the future economy. I feel that we have a responsibility to provide solid education and training in STEM, and to help students explore these growing fields. Our students must not only be prepared to compete for jobs in the United States; they must be able to compete in the global community.
I think I have a unique skill set which could be helpful in the education of our students. Please let me know how I may be of help.”
The enthusiasm of teachers and volunteers was demonstrated at the April 2011 AAAS-SSE Annual Meeting, which highlighted many aspects of the volunteer experience through a panel discussion led by Dr. Shirley Malcom, Head, AAAS Education and Human Resources. The panelists discussed the benefits that volunteers bring to teachers and students, the satisfaction gained by volunteers, and the challenges of integrating volunteers into the classroom. An article about the presentation and video clips of the panel discussion can be viewed through the links below.
AAAS News Article (view online, AAAS News Archives)
AAAS News Article (view PDF)
Video about Volunteering – Overview
Video about Volunteering in Elementary Schools
Video about Volunteering in Secondary Schools