Research Experience for Teachers (RET)

The RET Program:
The RET program, funded by the NSF , as a supplement through the MRSEC program for the period of 2003-2006, was structured as a three year program whose main goal was to train teachers to establish independent research programs which can be continued on a long term basis either in collaboration with a university or at their home institutions. To achieve this goal, teachers become progressively more integrated into different research teams within the MRSEC, over this period of three years. Throughout this process they were continuously mentored by faculty or graduate students and were encouraged to work closely with high school and undergraduate students. As a result of completing our program, nearly all the teachers reported significant professional advancement in their careers.

The greatest value of the RET program within the former NSF-MRSEC is that it formed the much needed ?glue? between our high school outreach programs and the faculty and graduate students. A synergism was established, leading to strong feeling of mutual respect, between the teachers and the graduate students. The teachers learned laboratory research techniques from the graduate students, while the graduate students learned valuable teaching techniques from seasoned professionals. The teachers helped ease the transition for the high school students between the predictable structured school environment and the open-ended college research setting which can intimidate younger students. Most important, the teachers worked side by side with the high school students, at the same time providing support and valuable role models in research as a lifetime learning endeavor. The summer programs can be very intense and competitive, to a degree which the faculty often do not realize. Hence, regardless of the intellectual ability, high school students still require additional emotional support that university personnel do not have the proper training to provide. The presence of the teachers also created a sense of ?community? among the students. To relieve the laboratory pressure and encourage the students to socialize, they organized recreational programs, such as sailing and fishing on the Long Island Sound, barbeques, a student orchestra, a journal club, baseball games, and canoeing expeditions. To emphasize the social relevance of science, they also organized one trip reflecting the student?s interests to either to a National Laboratory, a high tech company, or more recently a homeland security facility. Finally, they also monitored if the students were communicating effectively with the staff of the MRSEC and helped problem solve when necessary.


Their effectiveness of the RET program was evident immediately in the sharp increase of both the number of students entering the high school and REU programs. This attendance figures are shown in figure 11 and 12 for the two programs. The limit for the high school program was capped at 60 students due to the space constraints in our laboratory. Currently the number of applicants though has increased dramatically. This year we have received more than 250 applications for these positions. The REU program has also increased steadily, mostly from the increasing number of graduates who keep returning each year. Last year we were able to accommodate 26 students, by staggering the periods when they were in our laboratory, but we have reached capacity here as well and this year we were forced to accept only half of the applicants.

Structure of the RET Program:
The goal of our RET program is to convey the excitement of cutting edge research to the teachers, and provide thorough training in the use of experimental methodology that will enable them to establish independent research programs at their home institutions. To this end we have designed a three year summer program which allows the teachers to ease back into research and provides them ongoing support on a permanent basis.Since our MRSEC also views itself as an educational resource to the community, the RET program also accommodates teachers who wish to enhance their effectives in the class room through the introduction of a research component. These teachers do not receive stipends, or take part in the overall evaluation of the RET program. On the other hand this group networks with those in the program and collaborate on specific educational projects that enhance our outreach programs.

In the first summer the teachers rotate among different MRSEC research groups, participate in ongoing experiments, familiarize themselves with the instrumentation, data analysis programs and research data bases. They also undergo safety training at Stony Brook, NIST, and Brookhaven National Laboratory in preparation for their use of those facilities as well.

In order to train them in organizing students, they also assist in managing the High School Summer Scholar program where they lead journal club discussion groups, organize outings, seminars and lectures. The teachers maintain a position of authority, while at the same time demonstrating to the students that learning can be a lifelong experience. We have found that this approach works well, since it helps build strong bonds between the teachers and the high school students, while at the same time decreasing the stress of being in an unfamiliar and often demanding environment.

The goal in the first summer is to ease the transition back into the research environment and give the teachers the tools for future independent work. Therefore, towards the end of the summer they are expected to select a topic of interest, a Garcia MRSEC mentor, and outline a plan of research for the coming year. Even though the program runs basically during the summer months, the teachers are encouraged to keep in contact with their mentors during the academic year. In this way they can have equipment and supplies purchased for them prior to their arrival, obtain help in mentoring students at their high schools, and obtain guidance in assembling class room activities that highlight materials research.

In the second summer the teachers begin work on an independent research project. They are usually assigned a mentor or group of mentors from the Garcia MRSEC staff. The teachers and mentors meet frequently, but at this point the teachers are expected to be able to work independently. The primary function of this stage is to allow the teachers to experience research first hand, and therefore maximize their overlap with more experienced Garcia staff. At this stage we advise the teachers not to involve other high school students, unless they feel that they have completely mastered the project. The goal for this year is to advance their project to the point where they can submit an abstract that will be accepted for presentation at a national conference, such as the MRS, APS, or the ACS meetings. We find that attendance at one of these conferences is very important since it allows the teachers to gauge the importance of their project to the larger scientific community and to keep current with the work of others in the field. Furthermore is allows them to start organizing their project in preparation for writing a presentation with their mentors remain in close contact at least through the conference.

In the third summer the teachers are expected to take their projects to the point where they can publish the results in a refereed journal. The goal in this summer is to focus on completing at least one phase of the experiment which can be submitted for publication in a refereed journal or conference proceeding. The teachers work together with their mentors in writing the manuscript and sheparding it through the publication process. During this summer the teachers are also expected to begin mentoring other high school students in preparation of transferring some of the research activity back to their home schools.

Follow up: The teachers may opt to return to the program for following summers as regular members of specific research teams. At this stage they have the same obligations as other center members; namely productivity in research, mentoring, and outreach. All graduates from the RET program, regardless of their ability to return, are assured continued access to center facilities, guidance, and participation in center sponsored conferences and outreach events.

Recruitment procedures: We advertise the RET program on our web page and by a general mailing to the science coordinators from New York Metro area high schools. The mailing list was provided to us through the Stony Brook Alliance for Minority Participation. Most high schools in New York State have research programs and hence there is a strong demand for research coordinators. We therefore receive approximately five applications for each position available. The profile of the teachers we recruit consists of individuals who had previously engaged in research either at the undergraduate or graduate level and were forced to interrupt their career due to family or job related obligations. Furthermore we require;

(a) Interest in a field of research relevant to our center i.e. Polymers, Chemistry, or Bioengineering.
(b) Willingness to incorporate high schools students in their research.
(c) Ability to initiate new research programs at their home institutions.

Evaluation Procedure
The criteria listed below were developed to evaluate our program and poll the 15 teachers that have thus far participated in it. We are collaborating in this effort with the Department of Technology and Society, which has hired an independent evaluator to assess on campus programs. The results will be available by January 2010.

I. Quality of the research:
- Ability of the teachers to perform meaningful original research as evidenced by participation at national conferences, preparation of manuscript for publication in refereed journals, initiation of research projects at their home institution, which involve high school students.
- Other research related accomplishments such as submission of proposals, participation in the editorial process of journals, organization of scientific or educational conferences, development of teaching aids to enhance science education.

II. Impact on professional advancement of the teacher

III. Impact on promoting high school student research activity as evidenced by
(a) Mentoring students in the summer program
(b) Initiating research programs based at the home institution
(c) Preparing students to enter national science competitions
(d) Development of teaching or experimental modules to enhance class room teaching through research related activities.
(e) Publications in education journals
(f) Submission of proposals for educational programs

RET participants for the 2008-2009 Year:

Robert de la Cruz teaches physics at Valley Stream High School and joined the RET program in order to help him start a research program at his high school. The major outcome of his participation in the RET program has been his decision to enroll in the PhD program at Stony Brook through the NSF-AGEP program. His goal is to pursue a PhD in materials science and education. Last summer he mentored two students.

John Jerome has been with the program for five years. He has been one of our most popular mentors, and has supervised more than 20 high school students during the time that he has been in the program. He and his students have participated in ten national conferences and they have coauthored eight papers that have appeared in refereed journals, were awarded one patent and have filed five disclosures. His students have also continuously placed among the national finalists in the Siemens competition and in the Intel competition. John works closely with the AMP program at Stony Brook and his influence is directly responsible for our success in increasing the minority participation within our programs. John has applied for independent funding from the American Chemical Society and the Department of Energy in order to continue his research at Stony Brook and Brookhaven National Laboratory. As a result of his participation in the RET program, John was promoted to associate dean of sciences and is now in charge of undergraduate research programs and high school outreach at Suffolk Community College.

Julian Salazar is a licensed teacher for children with special needs. He came from Puerto Rico four years ago and has supported himself working at three different jobs in order to complete medical school prerequisites. His goal is to attend medical school and specialize in childhood psychiatry. His sensitivity and ability to help students with certain cognitive disorders has had a major impact in allowing our program to include students with disabilities. His project on plastics in the environment was chosen again as an Earth Day presentation and together with his students, he presented his work at EUREKA undergraduate symposium. This summer will be his final year in the program. In the coming year he has obtained a New York City grant to start a research program for junior high school students in his school.

Robert Winston is the Coordinator of Science Research & AP Physics B. This was his second year in the RET program, He supervised and mentored our students in combing single stranded DNA on Polymers. As a result of the program, Robert was also offered a second position as science coordinator for the Davis-Renov-Stahler High School in Cedarhurst, New York.

Joanna Figuereido has a Master Degree in Biology and joined the program in order to resume her interest in Biology research. She had been the assistant Director of Research at Smithtown High School and had mentored prior high school students participants. She joined the program in order to, in her own words, "catch up with the students, and be a better mentor". Her high school expanded into two branches, Smithtown East and Smithtown West, and she was promoted to Director of Research for Smithtown West. She is returning this year to the program and will work on her own project regarding thin film processing. Her goal is to publish the results in a chemistry teaching journal.