Spending the Summer Engaging in Research!

24 May 2024

Rabiah Harris, a DoD STEM Ambassador, Shares About Summer Professional Development Experiences

The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center is a Research Experiences for Teachers grant recipient from the National Science Foundation where teachers work with scientists to create lesson plans and units of study during summer break. This invaluable experience helps teachers engage with students in ways that are not available during a regular academic year.

Spending the Summer Engaging in Research!

The following was written by Rabiah Harris, a middle school science teacher and DoD STEM Ambassador. DoD STEM Ambassadors work with the Defense STEM Education Consortium (DSEC) to advance STEM outreach for students who are underrepresented in STEM or military connected. Harris was selected by TIES, a DSEC Partner, as its DoD STEM ambassador for the 2022-2023 school year.

I have spent every summer since 8th grade working. Summer 2022 was the same, except I really didn't know what I was in for! In winter 2022 I applied to the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC). Although I am a physical scientist, I learned as a young adult that I love environmental research and regret that my traditional secondary school experiences were not supportive of my growing love for nature. The RET program organizers make their selections in spring, and I began my adventure in July in the biogeochemistry lab alongside Dr. Genevieve Noyce.

My summer program also included a large amount of time at the Global Change Research Wetland (GCREW), which is part of SERC, tucked away from the main campus in Maryland. Researchers have conducted simulated experiments about climate change at this location for the past 40 years. At SERC I helped Dr. Noyce and her team collect data for future experiments at GCREW, such as measuring plants for the yearly census, collecting and sorting plants, and collecting porewater. This was very different from work I did in college as a physical scientist, and very different from my everyday work with students. I was empowered to ask questions of the scientists, lab technicians, and other staff to learn about the experiments' whys and hows, which directly led to me creating a classroom application based on the work we did at SERC!

As a science teacher I want my students to engage in authentic science. However, since I am almost 20 years removed from undergraduate studies, I have wondered—do I really know what that means? My conclusion is that before SERC I did not have enough first-hand experience in environmental research. But now, between weekly professional development with other RET program participants plus the research at SERC, I am much more confident about bringing the spirit of this work to the classroom. In fall 2022 I introduced the second iteration of an air quality unit that mirrored the spirit of our work at GCREW and the biogeochemistry lab. We analyzed similar plants and students designed an experiment.

Are you interested in scientific research this summer with dedicated time for figuring out how to apply it to your own classroom? Look no further! There is likely an RET program for you! Check out this link and let me know what you did with the hashtag #myRETexperience!

About Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM

Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM’s (TIES’s) goal is to work with school districts to ensure that all young people complete their secondary and postsecondary education “STEM ready.” This vision is intentionally inclusive of all students and reflects educational inequities. TIES defines success not by whether students choose to pursue STEM careers but by whether they have been provided high-value, relevant education that allows them to graduate with the skills and knowledge to make informed choices. TIES’s role in DSEC is to expand partnerships between numerous TIES ecosystem projects and DoD laboratories.

About DoD STEM and Defense STEM Education Consortium

Defense STEM Education Consortium (DSEC) is a collaborative partnership of STEM-focused organizations dedicated to addressing and prioritizing our nation's STEM talent. DSEC aims to broaden STEM literacy and develop a diverse and agile workforce with the technical excellence to defend our nation. Through strategic investment in STEM education and outreach activities, the effort will provide students with more exposure to educational and career opportunities as well as DoD research. DSEC is led on behalf of DoD STEM by RTI International.