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Making Waves in Local High Schools

NSF-Funded Science Program Receiving Rave Reviews

Waves and Vibes
Vibes and Waves Fellow Molly Clay, center, conducts diffraction experiments in a physics class at Lowell High School.



Eileen Montbleau says she loves watching science come alive for her ninth-grade students at Lowell High School – thanks to graduate students at UMass Lowell.

“It is great to see my students have the opportunity to be engaged in different lab activities that I don’t have the resources or expertise to provide,” says the Lowell High School science teacher, referring to the Vibe and Waves program.

Since 2009, the program – which is funded by a five-year $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) – has connected UMass Lowell graduate students in science, math, education and engineering with high-school teachers and students in the Lowell and Lawrence school districts.

Vibes and Waves helps the grad students learn how to effectively communicate the nature and significance of their research to a diverse lay audience, and the high school students get a chance to hear about exciting university-level research they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to.

“It is evident through the students’ positive feedback, enthusiasm, thoughtful questions and reflective journals that the Vibes and Waves program is making a positive impact on their learning,” says Montbleau.

The graduate students – who discuss their research, build experiments for the classroom and become mentors and role models for high-school students – are also benefiting.

“Being in the classroom and working with high-school students is very fulfilling,” says Molly Clay, a chemical engineering graduate. “And being a role model for them and opening up their eyes to new ideas and research is wonderful.”

Meanwhile, the NSF hopes that such a program will improve communication and collaboration in the scientific community.

“The NSF Division of Graduate Education is interested in improving the skills of our future scientists and engineers so they can better communicate and collaborate in a variety of settings, including the K-12 community,” says electrical and computer engineering Prof. Kavitha Chandra, the Vibes and Waves project director.

The Science Behind Good Vibrations

The project’s theme is sound and electromagnetic vibrations and waves, and their interaction with the environment. This relates well to core high-school physics and mathematics curricula.

“Working with acoustics, optics and radio-wave communications makes the theoretical learning come alive for both students and teachers,” says Chandra.

Each year of the program, eight graduate students already engaged in thesis-directed research are recruited as fellows, drawing from all of UMass Lowell’s engineering departments as well as computer science, math, physics and education. The fellows receive $30,000 for the year and commit to an intensive regimen of training, classroom observations and orientation.

During the school year, the fellows spend about 10 hours a week each in the classroom, working with participating high-school math and physics teachers. Besides teaching, the fellows guide high-school students in doing research projects of their own.

“I highly recommend the program to any science or engineering major,” says Nicholas Paul Misiunas, a master’s student in electrical engineering. “It’s been a huge boost to my communication and leadership abilities. The students are always eager to hear about the research and it’s so uplifting being able to show them in class something that they are excited about outside the school. It’s truly a unique opportunity.”

More than 70 female students from Lowell and Lawrence high schools visited UMass Lowell and interacted with graduate students in engineering in the spring of 2010.