Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust supports Iowa State University program for K-12 teachers

By Elaine Watkins-Miller, Iowa State University Foundation

The Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust of Muscatine, Iowa, has committed $253,248 to support Iowa State University’s Research Experiences for Teachers program. The program, which provides middle and high school teachers hands-on research experiences with career scientists at Iowa State in the summer, will expand to include professional development during the academic year.

“The Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust’s dedication to improving the education of Iowa’s youth and its support of scientific advancements will have far-reaching and long-lasting impact,” said Jeanne Serb, who is director of the Office of Biotechnology and oversees the program. “Over the career of a single teacher, the RET program has a positive impact on thousands of middle and high school students.”

Through RET, middle and high school teachers work side by side with scientists from across the university who have been awarded National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and other federal grants. The professional laboratory experience helps teachers build linkages for and with the students in their classrooms. As one RET participant noted, students accord greater legitimacy to teachers who have worked in a research lab and used the scientific methods and instruments the students are studying. Teachers not only participate in the process of science as it happens, they see firsthand how science helps solve world issues.

The teachers who participate in Iowa State’s RET program learn new laboratory skills and become true collaborators in the laboratories of their faculty mentors, making valuable contributions to the research. In the past five years alone, RET teachers have worked with faculty researchers from a variety of disciplines at Iowa State on more than 60 research projects. One teacher helped develop a small molecule-activated genetic switch to control on and off states for protein activity. Another RET teacher earned co-authorship status on a biochemistry publication.

The hands-on experience translates into new curriculum activities and better science, technology, engineering and math instruction for K-12 students. Through professional development from K-12 master teachers, participating teachers learn how to incorporate the real-world science into the curriculum at their schools.

Teachers also gain additional tools to inspire their students to learn more about science and engineering career paths. Teachers can share the latest developments in STEM fields and better explain to a student what a career as a scientist, engineer, mathematician or other STEM professional is like and how it contributes to our communities and our world.

With an annual cohort of up to 20 teachers, the program has supported the training of 200 K-12 participants and engaged 110 faculty over a decade. Through the funding from the Carver Trust, which will be spread over three years, the Office of Biotechnology seeks to build on this success by expanding options for Iowa teachers. This includes coordinating with more faculty members from across campus to offer a diverse array of research opportunities.

The value of the program is further magnified because it strengthens researchers’ grants by effectively addressing the broader impacts criterion required of many federal proposals and the opportunities to secure additional funding.

In addition to the RET program, the Office of Biotechnology facilitates and advances programs in research, education and outreach that contribute to Iowa State University’s goals in the area of biotechnology. The office oversees the biotechnology programs developed by the university’s Biotechnology Council and the Office of the Vice President for Research.