June 23, 2009

STEM Partnership with University, Industry and K-12 Good for America

Michael A. de Miranda, Ph.D.
School of Education and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Colorado State University

Creating a highly educated workforce in science and engineering is one of the most significant challenges to the advancement of the competitiveness of the United States economy. The last century saw an exponential growth in information technology led by the silicon revolution. Such advances in engineering and technology create powerful tools and systems that have never before been available. Biomedical engineering is one discipline that is benefiting from this technological revolution and serves as the collaborative platform to bring research conducted in the design and development of nano scale bio sensors at Colorado State University and industry into the K-12 classroom.

The recent Graduate K-12 award from the National Science Foundation to an interdisciplinary team of CSU researchers, led by Tom Chen, Michael A. de Miranda and Stuart Tobet, bring together engineers, chemists, mathematicians, biomedical and computer scientists to detect molecule movement in biological space through the design of nano scale silicon bio sensors. Understanding how molecules move is essential for understanding the functions of multi-cellular tissues and organ systems in response to external chemical and physical stimuli as well as for intercellular communication. This means in the future, being able to better understand diseases like Alzheimer’s, depression and cancer at the early cellular level by detecting how cells behave.

What makes this interdisciplinary team focused on this biomedical engineering problem so unique is the combined research and educational model being used to advance this science while at the same time providing the scientific and engineering advanced educational training to a team of graduate student research fellows.  The eight research fellows participating in this project also participate in a program designed to teach them transferable skills like teamwork, communication, research ethics, leadership and global responsibility. These essential skills combined with their scientific, engineering and mathematical education is designed to train a new generation of research scientists who can work effectively in interdisciplinary teams but also communicate their work to the general public and contribute to the education of K-12 students and teachers.

By design, this project strategically immerses the graduate fellows and their advisors with K-12 teachers. The research content fellows bring to the classroom forms the basis for deeper understanding of cell biology using engineering approaches accessible to students in K-12 STEM classes. Eight teachers from four school districts work with the eight graduate fellows and their advisors at CSU during each academic year to collaborate on updating curricular material for K-12 schools, designing new content modules and participating in summer research activities in CSU research labs for professional development and content knowledge capacity building for teachers. By coming to know and understand the complexity of high school STEM classrooms, graduate fellows will learn to communicate biomedical engineering related materials that are relevant to course material for high school science, technology, engineering and math classes.

Closing the educational cycle by bringing advanced research topics back into the high school STEM classrooms will help generate interest and more important make relevant educational and career connections for students. In addition, the resident research scientists and mathematicians will become a permanent part of the classroom learning process. Serving as role models, these young men and women will collaborate with teachers to bring their research content into the classroom and become examples to K-12 students in what you can achieve. There is a saying spoken in Spanish “Si se Puede” translated it means “Yes you/we can.” This is the message the entire team of CSU researchers, graduate research fellows, industry partners and participating teachers want to send to our next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians who now sit in America’s schools.