April 30, 2003

Cornell Students Receive Fellowships

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The Cornell Scientific Inquiry Partnership (CSIP) has announced the selection of 10 new fellows who will be teaching in public schools during the 2003-2004 academic year. The fellows, all graduate students at Cornell, will receive free tuition in return for their participation.

The CSIP fellowship program is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which recently renewed a contract to fund the initiative for three more years. Before this year, the funding had gone to a similar program, the Cornell Environmental Inquiry Research Partnership.

The fellows hone their teaching skills before pursuing careers in a university by participating in a K-12 outreach program, spending 15 hours per week in the classroom.

Applicants were chosen on the basis of their level of interest, past teaching experience and ideas for educational outreach. Prof. Marianne Krasny, natural resources, is the Principal Investigator for CSIP. She helped write the grant to receive funding for the program, and said the selection process focuses on candidates’ “ideas about how they can incorporate their research into a teaching setting.”

Shannon Olsson, a doctoral candidate in neurobiology and behavior and new fellow, said the program is “a wonderful opportunity to gain leadership, teaching and supervisor skills that I will need as a professor.”

Olsson thinks that her field of research–chemical ecology–applies to the interests of younger students because it plays a role in agriculture, horticulture and conservation. “I really love to instill an excitement for science in others,” Olsson said.

Catherine Oertal, a doctoral candidate in chemistry and chemical biology, decided to apply to the program because she knows how much of an impact high school teachers can have on their students. She hopes to expose students to the wonders of chemistry, and wants these “first experiences to be a chance for [her] to make an impression.”

While some of the fellows, like Oertal, study the physical sciences, Tania Siemens, a joint masters and doctoral student in natural resources, has focused her Cornell research on the ecological impact of invasive plants. Her work has already taken her to the Galapagos Islands, where she plans on returning after her year in the classroom. According to Siemens, the goal of the program is to “introduce scientific inquiry to younger students.”

“Public education is a really critical component of conservation,” Siemens said. She went on to say that outreach to younger students who would not otherwise be exposed to this kind of science is important.

Hammad N’Cho, a doctoral candidate in the city and regional planning department, is one of the few fellows not currently studying a hard science. With a background in both the social and physical sciences, N’Cho has already spent time in a classroom and participated in outreach programs in his native Atlanta, measuring ways to reduce female-headed households and poverty. One of the most important aspects of his work, N’Cho said, is “trying to build a sustained education.” Many children from underprivileged areas do not have exposure to college graduates from their neighborhoods, and he would like to give them hope. “I want to show that there are opportunities outside,” N’Cho said.

The other fellows are Dan Arida, ecology and evolutionary biology; Ellie Rice, plant breeding; Katherine Porter, geological sciences; Jamie Skillen, natural resources; Deborah Sills, civil and environmental engineering and Steve Jessup, atmospheric science.

The CSIP fellows will be matched with schools after meeting with their host teachers in May and August.

Although some fellows have the opportunity to teach in other regions of the country if they so choose, most schools are in New York,.

All of the fellows cited a desire to work with children as their first reason for applying to the fellowship program. Hammad N’Cho summed up the feelings of his colleagues by explaining his reaction to learning about the program: “You’re all going to pay me to work with kids?” he said with a smile on his face.

Archived article by Melissa Korn