For their efforts as part of the AAAS Senior Scientists and Engineers (AAAS/SSE) Volunteer Program, teachers Sumaya Fahmy and Mike McGough, along with volunteer Gary Temple, were honored with the Outstanding Teacher-Volunteer Partnership award for their collaboration and impact on science education in Montgomery County, Maryland.
The award was the first of its kind for the AAAS/SSE program, which has been pairing scientists, engineers, and mathematicians with public elementary, middle, and high school teachers for 12 years with the objective of enhancing science education in public schools across the United States. The three recipients worked together at Earle B. Wood Middle School, but only Fahmy and Temple were able to attend the award ceremony at the program’s Annual Meeting on 27 April.
“The idea is not to supplant, replace or in any way interfere with the teachers, but rather to enhance the teacher’s job,” said Rush Holt, AAAS CEO and executive publisher of the Science family journals.
Left to right: AAAS CEO Rush Holt presents Gary Temple and Sumaya Fahmy with the Outstanding Teacher-Volunteer Partnership award along with Donald Rea to the right | Juan David Romero
As part of the award, the winners received a certificate of appreciation and membership to AAAS as an encouragement to continue inspiring science students and as an incentive for others to get involved in strengthening STEM education in their community.
“Sumaya Fahmy, the teacher I’ve worked with for the past 5 years, has been a terrific partner, an outstanding teacher of science to the kids, and very skilled at seamlessly integrating me into her classes and making it very fulfilling,” said Temple, retired program director at the Human Genome Research Institute. “I feel honored to be among the first recipients of this award. It’s been more than just a singular effort. It was that I was lucky enough to be placed by the AAAS/SSE group into a school that welcomed more STEM work.”
The program is presently active in nine school districts. However, according to Donald Rea, SSE volunteer program coordinator and retired Jet Propulsion Laboratory chemist, there are more than a million STEM professionals in the U.S. over the age of 60, so more volunteers could get involved and he would like to see the program multiply.
As part of their Annual Meeting, the AAAS/SSE Volunteer Program also invited Feng Zhang, bioengineer and core faculty member at Broad Institute, to talk about how mentorship inspired him to pursue STEM and eventually go to Harvard, Stanford, and become a leading pioneer in genome editing tools and CRISPR technologies.
According to him, what first inspired him to learn more about science as a kid was a class where his mentor showed “Jurassic Park,” introducing him to the concepts of DNA, genes, and the basis of how one might be able to engineer biological systems.
Feng Zhang at the AAAS/SSE STEM Volunteer Program Annual Meeting speaking about mentorship and CRISPR | Juan David Romero
“My excitement about the topic was noticed by my teacher and this is where having phenomenal mentors and also just teachers who cared about the development and education of young kids really played a huge tremendous role,” said Zhang, commending AAAS for its efforts to increase mentorship through the AAAS/SSE program.
Rea said volunteers with backgrounds such as engineering can also make a significant and unique contribution in middle schools and high schools by bringing to the classroom hands-on engineering experience they have gained while working for a living. “And most of the teachers are not going to have that experience, so that can be very valuable additional help,” Rea said.
“I hope and I wish that this can be replicated all over the country…In fact, I think there are places in every state where this would be possible,” Holt said.