$2.4M NSF Grant to Help Scientists Learn to Communicate

07/06/2009
By For more information, contact media@uml.edu or 978-934-3224

Lawrence, Lowell High Schools Collaborate With UMass Lowell Grad Students

LOWELL, Mass. ߝ Forget the jokes about engineers with pocket protectors and absent-minded scientists in white lab coats. Today’s world needs scientific understanding and innovation to solve global problems.

With the help of a five-year, $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), UMass Lowell graduate students in science and engineering will learn how to communicate about research. The project, GK-12: Vibes and Waves in Action, connects graduate-level researchers to high-school teachers and students in Lowell and Lawrence.

“The NSF Division of Graduate Education is interested in improving the skills of prospective scientists and engineers, so they can better communicate and collaborate in a variety of settings, including the K-12 community,” said Prof. Kavitha Chandra of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, one of the project leaders. “We expect our participating fellows to discuss their own research, build experiments for the classroom and become mentors and role models to students.”

The project theme on sound and electromagnetic vibrations and waves relates well to the high school physics and math curriculum, say teachers.

Jesus Hernandez, physics teacher at Lawrence High School and participant in a pilot version of the project, said, “The Vibes and Waves program has been beneficial to my students and complemented the topics I was covering. Many of them told me that the program helped them to remember related concepts much better on the MCAS exam.”

Each year, eight graduate students already engaged in research will be recruited as GK-12 Fellows and trained intensively. They will spend 10 hours a week each in physics and math classrooms, working with teachers and students.

“We expect our future researchers, scientists and policy-makers to gain understanding of the community,” said Judith Boccia, director of the Office of School Partnerships, who is leading the project with Chandra. “On the high-school side, the teachers gain professional learning in new scientific issues and research. Instructional quality is improved and more real.”

Industry partners ߝ Raytheon Corp., MathWorks and MIT Lincoln Labs ߝ will provide professional guidance and a mentor network. MathWorks is donating software licenses in support of the project, which will be critically useful.

The Motorola Foundation, after supporting the pilot version of the project, recently awarded a $50,700 Innovation Generation Grant to UMass Lowell’s Vibes and Waves in Action project for the second year.

“Motorola and UMass Lowell recognize that young people have an appetite for new technology, though they may not make the connection between the science and math skills that go into creating the cool tech products they use every day,” Eileen Sweeney, the foundation’s director, said in announcing the grant.

UMass Lowell, with a national reputation in science, engineering and technology, is committed to educating students for lifelong success in a diverse world and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental and social health of the region.. UML offers its 12,000 students more than 120 degree choices, internships, five-year combined bachelor’s to master’s programs and doctoral studies in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management, the School of Health and Environment, and the Graduate School of Education. www.uml.edu.