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Monday, Oct. 20, 10:41 a.m.
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Future teachers ‘master science’ at Jackson Lab

Thanks to a $230,000 grant awarded last month, the Mastering Science Program, a joint project between Bar Harbor’s Jackson Laboratories and the University of Maine, has begun.

Starting this spring, UMaine science and math teachers-to-be will participate alongside Jackson Lab scientists for a semester in research designed to enrich their science experience.

“[Science and math teachers in Maine] have taken a lot of science courses, but real research in science is not typically a part of teacher education programs,” said Jeff Owen, assistant director of the Center of Science and Mathematics Education Research. “Yet teachers are supposed to be able to teach their students how to do science, and many teachers haven’t actually done science. This is a wonderful opportunity to go to a world-class research center and interact with world-class research scientists and do independent research.”

Owen said the students will perform their own research alongside a scientist at Jackson Lab, an internationally recognized center for mammalian genetics research. The grant, awarded by the Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation, will pay for stipends and a living allowance for the four teaching students, who will be selected each spring semester for five years. In addition, participants are granted a tuition waiver for courses they take at the lab.

In June, 2003, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute awarded the program an initial grant of $539,779. The program was originally scheduled to last three years, with the Hughes foundation providing 90 percent of the cost. Jackson Lab then approached the Balfour foundation for funding, which provided the remaining 10 percent, as well as another two years, making it a five-year program, Owen said.

Susan McKay, a professor in the department of physics and astronomy and director of UMaine’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education research, will direct UMaine’s portion of the program, initiated through her communication with Jackson Lab staff.

“Participation in cutting-edge research provides a valuable perspective and deeper understanding of science and mathematics for these future teachers,” she said in a recent press release. “These teachers will be able to share their enthusiasm for research with their students, raising students’ aspirations.”

Jackson Lab has supported student research and training education through mentored research internships. Existing internship programs include the Summer Students Program for college undergraduates and high school students, and the Academic-Year Internship Program for area high school students. The lab also supports a post-doctoral training program with more than 50 trainees currently on campus, and a courses and conference program.

At an Oct. 23 Balfour press conference at UMaine, Jon Geiger, Jackson Lab’s educational programs manager, said the program will improve science education throughout the state.

“We are pleased to be associated with the university’s research-based masters degree program that addresses how students actually learn math and science,” he said. “Combining that focus with the laboratory’s strength in mentoring students in experimental genetics, the Mastering Science program for student teachers in science and math promises a unique and powerful boost to science education.”

The program is not commonly offered at universities in the United States, but could spark similar initiatives nationwide if proven to enrich science education, Owen said.

“Throughout the five years, the grant requires an assessment of the effectiveness of sorts … If the outcome of that assessment indicates that providing teachers with real scientific research experience positively influences the education of their students, then that will get out in the literature, and hopefully other such collaborations will spring up all over the country,” Owen said.