LARAMIE, Wyo. — University of Wyoming Science Posse fellows are a unique breed, program coordinator Jan Truchot said. Not everybody can or wants to do what they do.
Started in 2006 by Don Roth, former dean of the UW graduate school, the program employs several UW graduate or doctorate students who travel around the state to teach science, math, engineering and other technical fields in middle or high schools. Teachers request a fellow to teach a subject, and the program coordinators match the class with a fellow depending on the teacher’s needs.
Since its establishment, the Science Posse has worked in 57 schools in 21 Wyoming counties, Truchot said.
“We try to integrate their research into what the teachers are already doing, so it’s a really good partnership for both the graduate teacher (Science Posse fellow), the students of the class and the teacher,” program coordinator Megan Schnorenberg said.
The fellows usually spend just two years with the program, but it’s enough to gain teaching experience. The program trains new fellows for teaching before they begin. School teachers and more experienced fellows also become mentors and help younger fellows become better teachers.
“It’s a growing process the whole time,” Schnorenberg said.
Teachers learn more about the subject that the fellows teach and learn new classroom activities; the fellows learn to teach and talk about technical subjects in an accessible way.
“It’s hard for other people to understand when you use a lot of jargon, and our scientists get to practice talking to students and regular people and they develop an amazing ability to communicate,” Schnorenberg said.
In previous years, Laramie High School geology teacher Erin Klauk watched Science Posse fellows work with high school students and, this year, she decided to become a mentor teacher so that her students could work with Science Posse fellows regularly.
Since the beginning of the school year, her students have been working with Science Posse fellow Charles Schmidt on water-related issues, including ground water contamination. As they work, they go on field trips, do hands-on activities and practice inquiry-based learning, but what makes it different from a typical hands-on activity in a regular class is the expertise that Schmidt brings to the classroom.
“It is a good balance between a classroom setting and the hands-on. Sometimes (if) it’s all fun, you don’t really learn a lot. This is a perfect balance between the two,” said Hunter Pruett, an LHS junior. “The way they present it is in a fun and inviting way, but you still learn a lot, so I think the program is very well set up.”
“For the students, it’s a time to enjoy themselves while they are learning,” Schmidt said.
Enthusiasm about helping students around the state is the main quality necessary to get accepted into the program, Schnorenberg said. But enthusiasm isn’t the only thing that inspires some UW students to join the program.
“Several of our fellows both past and present have gone into the field they’ve gone into because a scientist visited their classroom when they were a student,” Truchot said. “We are hoping that when we go in to visit kids, something like that happens; some of them feel sort of like they are giving back because of what they got when they were students.”
“For me, it’s something where I can give back a bit, inspire people to follow in what I am doing,” Schmidt said.
“Your master’s or Ph.D. is on something that interests you, gives you the love of learning. You try to pass it on, and when you do see that happen, that’s a success.”