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Success of Socrates Fellows Program Shows After One Year

June 18, 2009

By Lorraine Albert

Photo of Lindsay Lewellyn teaching two children
Socrates Fellow Lindsay Lewellyn (center) teaches Castle Park High students how to test for diabetes using mock fluid specimens.

For ninth-grader Priscilla Maestro, it is just a normal day in her biology class at Castle Park High School in Chula Vista as she and fellow students evaluate mock samples of urine and blood as part of learning a medical procedure used by hospitals and clinics to determine diabetes in patients. Examining and making note of the changing colors of the samples as designated chemical solutions are added, she is using her knowledge in biology to not only learn a technical procedure usually reserved for medical professionals, but in the process, is also better understanding how science is applied in real-life situations.

Maestro and her classmates are among many other students in nine high schools throughout San Diego County who since last year have gained important hands-on experiences in science through UCSD's Socrates Fellows Program, a federally funded initiative that pairs graduate students in research with classroom science teachers and their students.

The Socrates Fellows program is funded by a $3-million grant from the National Science Foundation. Now in its second year at UCSD, the grant -- administered by Dr. Maarten Chrispeels (principal Investigator, or PI, of the program) and Dr. Kim Barrett, (co-PI) --pairs UCSD doctoral students with high school science teachers to learn from each other how best to present cutting-edge science research in classrooms to excite and motivate high school students about science.

The Socrates program funds nine team pairs of teacher-graduate students per school year. Each team works together throughout the year to develop interesting ways to integrate the graduate students' research focus into the curriculum of the high school classrooms. The goal of the program is to get more high school students interested in science and maybe even in continuing their education in science after high school. The program is also aimed at exposing science teachers to current science and research advances, and at the same time, helping give graduate students better insight into translating their research into high school classroom situations in exciting ways.

The Socrates program builds from the success of UCSD's Biobridge program, which started in 2005 to enhance scientific interest and achievement among students at high schools in underserved communities of San Diego County.

After its first full year of operation, the program is deemed a success by participating grad students, teachers and high school students.

Through her exposure to the Socrates initiative, Maestro says that she is able to remember her high school science information better because of one-one-one interaction with grad students and her teacher. One of Maestro's lab partners, ninth-grader Jessica Felarca agrees, adding that the interactive experience "makes it more fun," and that this experience has made her more aware of career opportunities in science as she looks to college.

Jasmin Gonzalez, an eleventh-grader at Castle Park adds, "The program shows you that science is much more than equations and elements --science is actually involved in the real world." Equally important, she says the Socrates experience has allowed her to develop a close student-mentor relationship with Socrates Fellow Kate Hansen. "I've learned so much from her," says Gonzalez. Like many of the other participating high school students, she feels she was able to be exposed to so much more science experiences than if being taught just by one teach the entire year giving students more individual attention.

Not only does the Socrates Fellows program help increase high school students' interests in science, it also helps the teachers and the fellows themselves, comments from this year's participants reveal.

Lindsay Lewellyn is a sixth-year graduate student at UCSD, studying Biomedical Sciences, and was paired with Castle Park High teacher Darci Kimball in Kimball's nine-grade science classroom. Says Lewellyn: "In graduate school you are rarely taught how to communicate your research to a more general audience. I think that being part of the Socrates program has helped me to become a better communicator both of my own research as well as other topics in science." She adds that "being part of the Socrates program has strengthened my desire to pursue a career in both teaching and research, and it has also shown me how important science outreach programs are to inspire and inform future scientists as well as the general public."

Kate Hansen, another Fellow at Castle Park High (paired with teacher Rachel Stein) and who is pursuing graduate degree in Biological Oceanography, also feels like the Socrates experience has helped improve her graduate school experience. "It's different from being a TA (teaching assistant) in a large class or a lecture hall for a day," she says. "Here, you actually get to know the students." Hansen adds that it's also opened her eyes to the difficulties of teaching to audiences who are not necessarily interested in science. "It helps teach me to communicate my science in a way that people can understand."

It is also apparent that participating science teachers have also benefited. Says Kimball: "Lindsay brings in cutting edge research which has really helped all of us, and she keeps the experience relevant, contextualized and engaging." Stein (who is herself pursuing a graduate degree in education) tells of similar benefits she has gained from graduate student Hansen: "Science is always changing. Having Hansen here helps give my lesson plans a modern, current twist. It makes what I teach fun and hands-on with a research focus that was lacking before."

This year's Socrates Fellows (and their UCSD faculty advisors) were: Alfred Chappell (Biomedical Sciences: Dr. Kim Barrett [faculty advisor]); Megan Eckles (Biological Sciences: Dr. James Nie); Kate Hanson (Biological Oceanography, Scripps Institution of Oceanography: Dr. James Leichter); Samuel Lasse (Biological Sciences: Dr. Colin Jamora faculty advisor); Rosa Leon-Zayas (Marine Biology, Scripps Institution of Oceanography: Dr. Doug Bartlett); Lindsay Lewellyn (Biomedical Sciences: Dr. Karen Oegema); Johnnie Lyman (Climatology, Scripps Institution of Oceanography: Dr. Richard Norris); Ignacio Vilchis (Biological Oceanography, Scripps Institution of Oceanography: Drs. Mike Landry and Lisa Balance), and Sheila Walsh (Marine Biology, Scripps Institution of Oceanography).

This year's High School Teachers in the Socrates Fellows Program were: David Buse (Southwest High School); Chris Everett (Mira Mesa High); Jeff Kepper (Helix High); Rachel Stein (Castle Park High); Darci Kimball (Castle Park High); Jennifer Jackson (Chula Vista Middle School); Nathan Samuels (Mt. Miquel High); Frank Luera (Mt. Miquel High), and Don Mackay (Southwest High).

Socrates Fellows for the 2009-2010 school year are: Gloriana Gallegos (Biological Sciences); John Goeltz (Chemistry and Biochemistry); Johnnie Lyman (Geological Oceanography); Kristina Pohaku Mitchell (Chemistry and Biochemistry); Andro Rios (Chemistry and Biochemistry); Nellie Shaul (Scripps Institution of Oceanography); Christine Shulse (Biological Sciences); Shamin Sinnar (Biological Sciences), and John Yamauchi (Biological Sciences).

Socrates Teacher Fellows for 2009-2010 are: Dominic Dirksen (Steele Canyon High School); Gerald French (Montgomery High); Danika Garcia (Castle Park High); Jessica McSwain (Hilltop High); Duke Raley (Eastlake High); Colleen Robinson (Helix High); Victor Rodriquez (Southwest High); Rachel Stein (Castle Park High), and Lisa Yoneda (Mira Mesa High).

For more information on the Socrates Fellows Program.

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