Cornell program that gives full financial support to graduate students teaching in U.S. schools given $1.5 million by NSF to expand its work

ITHACA, N.Y. -- A Cornell University program that provides funding for graduate students to teach in public schools across the United States has been awarded $1.5 million by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue and expand its work for another three years.

The program, Cornell Scientific Inquiry Partnerships (CSIP), is an expansion of the earlier Cornell Environmental Inquiry Research Partnership (CEIRP). Since its inception in 2000, CSIP has provided full support for about 10 graduate students a year to work with teachers in public K-12 schools, serving as scientific role models in the classroom, as well as teaching and developing curriculum materials.

While graduate students at Cornell have many opportunities to teach and conduct outreach in local schools, CSIP is the only program on campus that fully supports graduate students who teach outside the university. Each fellow receives free Cornell tuition, plus an annual stipend of $21,500 and paid health insurance.

To date, the program's focus has been on environmental science. This spring, however, competition for program funds will be opened to graduate students in other fields.

"We would like to build collaboration with more programs," says Marianne Krasny, professor of natural resources and joint principal investigator on the NSF grant with Nancy Trautmann of Cornell Center for the Environment. The two work with the university's faculty and staff in engineering, physics and materials science to recruit participants for the program from other scientific disciplines.

Many CSIP fellows have used their graduate research to introduce students to scientific investigation. Sean Mullen from Brodheadsville, Pa., is helping ecology students at Ithaca's Alternative Community School to study nutrient cycling, energy flows and sustainable agriculture through "aquaponics" -- a combination of fish farming with hydroponic methods of growing vegetables without soil. With Mullen's help, the students designed and constructed self-contained aquatic "ecosystems" of tilapia, lettuce and nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and they are conducting their own experiments on different lettuce-growing methods and nutrient limitation.

The research projects designed by the CSIP fellows frequently get students more involved in their local communities. Ph.D. candidate Tania Schusler from Rockford, Ill., is working with students at Mynderse Academy in Seneca Falls, N.Y., to investigate the environmental, economic and community effects of a nearby landfill.

Other fellows have focused on teaching students about the nature of science. In 2001 fellow Nancy Gift introduced her students to the process of peer review by discussing a series of National Geographic magazine articles documenting the discovery of a dinosaur fossil that later was shown to be a forgery.

Even more important than the fellows' scientific expertise, says Trautmann, is their ability to serve as role models for their students, most of whom have never met a scientist.

"In addition to the science our graduate students bring to the classroom, every single teacher tells us what wonderful role models they are," says Trautmann. "They're young, they're enthusiastic, and they're usually really excited about some aspect of science that high school students haven't thought to be excited about before."

The CEIRP program was one of 31 graduate-teaching projects nationwide originally funded by the NSF. Upon completion of this second round of funding, the CSIP program is expected to be self-sustaining. Krasny and Trautmann, in search of permanent support, are hoping that their program will gain the attention of individual investigators and research centers seeking to incorporate outreach and education into grant proposals.

This release was prepared by Lissa Harris, a Cornell graduate student and News Service science-writing intern.

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