High School Teachers’ University Research Experience Enriches Their STEM Lesson Plans

Achievement date: 

Two North Carolina high school STEM teachers participated in biomedical device research projects in a summer program at North Carolina A&T State University (NCAT). In addition to working with faculty and graduate student teams on ongoing laboratory research, the teachers also developed teaching modules for use at their home schools. This Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program is sponsored by the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Revolutionizing Metallic Biomaterials (RMB), which is headquartered at NCAT with partner institutions including the Universities of Pittsburgh (Pitt) and Cincinnati (UC).


RMB’s RET summer program is an essential part of their efforts to increase interest in and awareness of research and STEM careers by getting pre-college teachers on board and prepared to share their on-campus research adventures with their own students. RET begins with a day-long orientation to get participants acclimated and prepared for the program, including introduction of many of the individuals with whom the RETs would make contact, as well as training on documentation, including laboratory notebooks and intellectual property (IP), and safety, led by the campus safety office. Two workshops were presented by senior research faculty during the program: “Responsible Conduct in Research,” and “Presentation Techniques.” Seminars were also held on topics including bioethics, computational biomechanics, IP, and an overview of an ongoing research effort into better materials for use in biomedical devices. Participants engaged in a teachers-only field trip to the BRITE Center at North Carolina Central University, where they were joined by other teachers from across the state and spent the afternoon in well-equipped laboratories to perform testing on certain samples as part of a case study. At the end of the RET program, the teachers presented their six-week research experience and a “poster defense.” Throughout the summer, the RETs spent time on their own adapting their research for use in their classroom settings.


As a testament to the RET program’s effectiveness, both teachers participating in 2017 had participated in the RET previously. Kesandra Farmer teaches Science at T. Wingate Andrews High. She received both her BS in Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise Science and her MSEd in Health Promotion and Wellness from Virginia Tech. The objective of her RET research was to study the physical properties of titanium nitride when deposited by pulsed laser deposition under specific conditions. Christopher Washington graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1996 with a BS in Biology. In subsequent years, he taught at the middle and high school levels in North Carolina and Connecticut on subjects including Chemistry, Physical Science, Biology, Astronomy, Forensics, and Environmental Science. His RET research primarily focused on looking at the effects of the varying amounts of zinc present in magnesium-zinc alloys and how varying amounts of zinc affected grain structure (size) as well as chemical and mechanical properties of various samples of known zinc content. In addition to their research with faculty/graduate student teams, NCAT’s School of Education assisted Ms. Farmer and Mr. Washington in preparing teaching modules to use at their home schools.