A GK-12 lifer reflection

It has been nearly a year since I was last involved with the GK-12 program at KU, and I want to share with you my reflections on the program. I want to begin by expressing how overwhelmingly grateful I am to have had the opportunity to be a GK-12 Fellow at KU, especially under the superb leadership of Dr. Case!

One of the most important objectives of the national GK-12 program is to improve the science communication skills of graduate student fellows as they learn to talk about their research with K-12 students and the public. I began my 2011-2012 fellowship terrified to present even standard scientific talks to audiences. My full-immersion experience in Ms. Reno’s 7th grade physical science class, often designing and presenting full-lectures and activities in 1.5 hours class periods multiple times per day rapidly desensitized me to my own speaking fears. I am pleased to report that the first major scientific presentation that I gave at the end of my fellowship was my dissertation defense, and it was the first talk ever in which I was able to speak calmly and with confidence. How’s that for a measure of GK-12 communication skills success?

Another objective of the GK-12 program is for fellows to become ‘real’ science mentors in the classroom. I thoroughly enjoyed getting my 7th graders geeked about science inquiry and I hope I was able to make a lasting impact on them. I think one of the biggest revelations for them was that scientists are not [all] old, balding, white men and opportunities exist for them to become researchers if they so chose. I remain in contact with my partner-teacher, and she has recently told me that her students still ask about me, and I often think about them. When thinking about my experience, I realize that my exposure to K-12 public classrooms created the unexpected emergent properties of solidarity and advocacy. Prior to GK-12, I did not understand the challenges, nor the broken-ness, of our public education system, specifically pertaining to scientific literacy. I now strongly empathize with both teachers and students and will be much more likely to act on my convictions to try and improve our educational system in any way that I am able.

Finally, I thoroughly appreciate the professional development opportunities that GK-12 provides. When I applied to be a fellow, I expected my GK-12 experience to be a one-and-done situation. I never imagined that I would now be the Project Manager of the GK-12 program at Michigan State University’s W.K. Kellog Biological Station (website here). The MSU and KU programs are widely different in scope and implementation, but they both contain the strong core goals of improved science communication and professional development for graduate students, increased science literacy and inspiration for K-12 students, and professional development and curriculum support for K-12 teachers.

The only disappointment that I associate with the GK-12 program is the discontinuation of the project on a national level. I am unaware of the specifics of why the program was pulled, but I do know that in my experiences at KU and now at MSU, the discernatble outcomes far exceeded the program directives. I sincerely hope that GK-12 or another graduate student training/K-12 initiative is re-instated quickly, to preserve the momentum gained in this fantastic program.

~Sarah Bodbyl Roels

If you would like to chat with me further about the GK-12 program please feel free to contact me at bodbyl@msu.edu


About Sarah Roels

I'm a former Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. I study mating system evolution in plants, using the model system Mimulus. I now work at Michigan State University as their GK-12 project manager.
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