NSF grant will support UM-Dearborn program for geoscience education and outreach

September 11, 2007

DEARBORN / Sept. 11, 2007---The University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Geosciences Institute for Education and Research has received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) worth more than $1 million over the next five years to expand and diversify its spring and summer earth science programs for Detroit area middle and high school teachers.

“The NSF believes our program could possibly represent a national model for incorporating diversity in the geosciences,” according to Kent Murray, professor of geology and environmental science at UM-Dearborn and director of the Institute.

Established in 2003, the Institute is a consortium of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students and local geologists who work with local earth science teachers and their students to demonstrate how the geosciences can be used to solve community-based environmental problems. Through the program, school teachers participate in faculty research projects sponsored by the NSF, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Our program is designed to extend research and learning opportunities in the geosciences to underrepresented groups within the Detroit metropolitan area,” Murray said. “More important, it includes the continual mentoring of earth science teachers, like encouraging teachers to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in geology, exposing their students to the geosciences and making those students aware of career opportunities in the geosciences.”

Fewer than 20 percent of earth science teachers in Detroit schools had a college course in geology, Murray said. Education Week magazine reported that the dropout rate of Detroit high schools students is more than 40 percent, he noted.

“We have refined the Institute’s goal over the past few years to focus primarily on middle school students,” Murray said. “It’s imperative to reach these at-risk students before they reach high school.

“Although our goal is to enhance the diversity of the geosciences, we think a broader impact locally will be to empower students to stay in school and to go to college.”

For eight week-long sessions each July, and on Saturday mornings during the months of March and April, local middle and high school teachers and their top students converge at the UM-Dearborn campus for hands-on research experience.

For instance, teachers and students have worked with geologists to investigate air-fall deposition from the Central Wayne incinerator and its impact on public health; assisted with heavy-metal analysis of soil from active and inactive brownfield sites in southwest Detroit; and studied the land-use impact on groundwater and surface-water quality.

In 2006, the program was expanded to include a media arts workshop, led by UM-Dearborn lecturer Charlie Meyers, in which students videotape each other as they work on geoscience projects. And Jacob Napieralski, assistant professor of geology at UM-Dearborn, holds sessions about Geographic Information Systems (GIS) where students use software and geographic data to capture and analyze information about their local schools and neighborhoods.

“We think these types of locally relevant, inquiry-based programs can make a difference,” Murray said.


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