Science Education Partnership Awards, July 2006

Science Education Partnership Awards (SEPA) are designed to incorporate inquiry-based learning experiences to stimulate interest in science, further public understanding of health issues, and encourage the next generation of health professionals. With an emphasis on reducing health disparities, the program's K-12 projects target minorities and students in rural and underserved communities. The awards support enhanced training for science teachers; the development and distribution of hands-on science curricula; and websites for students, teachers, and the general public.

Illinois State University

Normal, IL

The Mind Projects Cutting Edge
Health Science Initiative
Award: $1,348,002

Principal Investigator
David Anderson
Phone: 309-438-7175


This project will develop, refine, and disseminate curriculum materials and professional development materials that will bring cutting-edge breakthroughs in health science into middle and high school classrooms across the country. Placing students in the center of virtual online science laboratories will enable them to conduct experiments with dramatic results. A partnership between The Mind Project Learning Community, The MIT Press, Bowie State University in Maryland, and Illinois State University, the initiative will produce customizable enhancement modules that will help K-12 teachers and their students keep abreast of cutting-edge developments in science, especially health science.

University of Alabama

Birmingham, AL

Birmingham Science Education Partnership:
Middle School Inquiry-Based Learning
Award: $1,350,000

Principal Investigator
J. Michael Wyss
Phone: 205-934-6086


Health care disparities in the United States are due, in part, to a lack of early biomedical/health science education among minority and disadvantaged children. This failure of the education system leads to an underrepresentation of minorities in the pipeline to biomedical careers, poor health literacy, and an elevated burden on health care. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Birmingham City Schools (BCS), and McWane Center have forged an effective alliance that has empowered UAB's Center for Community Outreach Development (CORD) and its SEPA-funded high school programs. This alliance has created a self-sustaining model in which the resources of all three partners have been leveraged to greatly enhance BCS science education. As an index of this success, since 1999 nearly 100% of the African-American students who completed CORD's three-year high school summer program have advanced into colleges and universities, primarily majoring in biomedical science subjects. Annually, these programs directly reach about 4,000 minority students and provide intense training to more than 20 of their teachers. However, despite these successes, a majority of BCS students lose interest in science education prior to their high school years. These students must be engaged and given a solid science background earlier in life, if a significant number are to advance into biomedical careers. This new, integrated program is designed to enhance inquiry-based science education for grades 6-8 by providing new opportunities for the students and greatly enhancing science training for their teachers. The challenges of these groups are quite different from the ones CORD faced in its high school programs. Middle school students and their teachers have much less science training than their high school counterparts. Major strengths of the proposed program include: 1) incorporation of proposed inquiry-based, in-class, and McWane Center sessions into the core science curriculum of BCS; 2) integration of teacher training into the regular in-service training of BCS science teachers; 3) partnership with committed professional and undergraduate biomedical students who, with the teachers, will facilitate inquiry-based science and biomedical health education; and 4) engagement of parents and the general public in health literacy education, and increased awareness of the benefits of NIH-sponsored research. The proven partnership of UAB, BCS, and McWane Center will provide a test of the power, cost-effectiveness, and self-sustainability of this inquiry-based model.

University of Arizona

Tuscon, AZ

K-12 Virtual Clinical Research Center &
Medical Ignorance Exploratorium
Award: $1,350,000

Principal Investigator
Marlys Witte
Phone: 520-626-6118


Health literacy and science literacy have been placed at the top of the nation's health and education agendas. This public recognition of deficiencies and a commitment to improve health/science education and innovation in schools and communities meshes with the NIH Roadmap and NCRR strategic plans to "re-engineer the clinical research enterprise," including refueling the clinical researcher pipeline and enhancing public understanding of clinical research. Until we initiated the University of Arizona's Curriculum on Medical Ignorance (CMI), few had capitalized on the power of shifting the science/medical education paradigm to focus on "what we know we don't know," and "what we don't know we don't know, and think we know, but don't," the terrain of all learning and discovery in medicine and clinical research. Nor had many experimented with authentic student-centered inquiry strategies to recognize and deal with scientific/medical ignorance by valuing Questions, Questioning, and Questioners (the 3Qs). In this proposal, we plan to introduce a broadband Internet-based Arizona-wide and then national K-12 audience to: 1) the first ever Virtual Clinical Research Center (VCRC); and 2) the Medical Ignorance Exploratorium, where students can become skilled "Questionators," surf resources, and both query and navigate expanding "Isles of Medical Ignorance" as members of clinical/translational research teams. Through established and emerging multi-institutional/organizational partnerships and Arizona's internationally recognized Telemedicine Program, VCRC and the Medical Ignorance Exploratorium will create progressive, live and Internet-based, age-appropriate and culture-sensitive, collaborative experiences, spanning clinical research topics from artificial hearts, to breast cancer, to gene therapy. These will be designed to engage and progressively involve the participant in the diverse multidisciplinary Teams, complex Technologies, and bench-to-bedside "community Translation" (the 3Ts), investigating the questions that generate the heartbeat of the clinical research enterprise. The three-stage project evaluation model will focus on the principles of: 1) design-test-refine; 2) implement-test-refine; and 3) disseminate-test, incorporating evaluations of both process and outcome using an experimental model assessing dose-response relationships, and mediators and moderators of success and effectiveness both short- and long-term. Thus, the K-12 Virtual Clinical Research Center and Medical Ignorance Exploratorium aim to show the K-12 community how current medical ignorance fuels the 3Qs that energize the clinical research enterprise. Further, showcasing clinical research and clinical research teams in this collaborative, inquiry-driven, Internet-based environment should further the NIH Roadmap by recruiting and assembling the diverse clinical research teams of the future, forging the complex infrastructure for new pathways of discovery, and educating the public about clinical research, thereby facilitating the translation of basic science advances from bench to bedside to community.

University of Maryland

College Park, MD

The Perfect Partnership: Science-enriched
Physical Education
Award: $533,014

Principal Investigator
Catherine Ennis
Phone: 301-405-2478


The long-range objective is to disseminate the science-enriched physical education program to national and local audiences to increase children's health-related science knowledge, interest in science, and science careers, and to enhance their understanding of the clinical trial process. Minority students in urban areas often do not acquire essential academic skills to pursue science careers. Although students' interest in science may develop during adolescence, by middle or high school many students are academically so deficient they are unable to master technical knowledge essential for success. Stimulating children's interest in science and mathematics at an early age is critical to future achievement. It is no secret that physical education is one of the most enjoyable subject areas for 8-11 year-old children. Physical education is often the subject in which many low-achieving students excel. Connecting science with an active, problem-solving approach to physical education can assist low-performing African-American students in increasing their knowledge and interest in science. The Be Active Kids! curriculum was designed, implemented, and evaluated during the initial three-year SEPA Phase I award. Students in grades 3-5 in 15 experimental schools increased their knowledge and interest in science by 18% over students in 15 comparison schools. The Phase II project is disseminating the curriculum at three levels. First, we are disseminating it nationally on the Web at Be Active Kids! The site is used to provide introductory information and access to PDF versions of the curriculum and training support. Second, we will disseminate and sustain the curriculum in the large, urban school district where it was tested, by having it approved by the Board of Education as the physical education curriculum for all students in grades 3-5. We are providing teacher training, materials, and Web-based support for all teachers in this district to implement, institutionalize, and sustain the curriculum. To assess this dissemination, we will test a student sample in 25 schools to examine student achievement and science interest. Third, through a new partnership with the Baltimore After School Institute, we are disseminating the curriculum to after-school program providers. We are providing materials, training, and support to test the dissemination with a student sample to examine student science achievement and interest in science.

University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, MI

Education for Community
Genomic Awareness
Award: $1,341,329

Principal Investigator
Toby Citrin
Phone: 734-936-0936


Long-term objective: Furthering student and community understanding of genomics and awareness of the potential applications of genomic research to improve population health and reduce health disparities. Specific aims: 1) stimulate the engagement of underrepresented K-12 students in the scientific process through new high school curriculum addressing molecular genetics (single gene focus) and genomics (focus on human genome and its interaction with environment); 2) improve student learning of genomics aimed at becoming scientifically literate citizens; 3) develop university-school-community partnerships supporting and sharing curriculum; 4) engage community partners in relating curriculum to community interests and joining in activities advancing student and community knowledge; 5) disseminate the curriculum, professional development and community engagement materials, and provide workshops and Web-based resources to promote adaptation and enactment throughout the U.S.; and 6) conduct formative and summative evaluation measuring achievement of project aims and maintaining continuous quality improvement. School of Education investigators will apply tested methods of project-based science education to develop curriculum representing the current understanding of genomics emerging from scientific research and provide competency to assess critically genomic messages that are proliferating in the media and on the Web. Parents, teachers, and community-based organizations will participate in the shaping of curriculum, will join with students in out-of-school activities enhancing genomic understanding, and will share in the curriculum through student presentations and demonstrations. Genetics scientists will consult on curriculum content and engage in interviews and discussions with students and the community. After piloting the curriculum and related community activities in 10 high schools in Detroit and Flint, a compendium of dissemination materials and Web resources will be prepared and workshops will be presented locally and regionally to stimulate dissemination, replication, and adaptation. Strengthening student and community understanding of genomics and its applications will lead to greater support of these activities by the citizenry, increased interest among youth to enter science careers, and support of programs applying genomics to improve human health and reduce disparities.

University of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA

Partnership in Biomedical Discovery
Award: $1,270,881

Principal Investigator
Lewis Jacobson
Phone: 412-624-4647


The overall objective of this project is to develop a model of how the scientific expertise of a research university can directly impact local K-12 science education. This will be achieved by introducing high school teachers and students to the inquiry-based process that is scientific research. Our fundamental premises are that true knowledge of science requires active engagement in scientific inquiry, and that teachers and students so engaged can become agents of change in science education. To this end, we propose to immerse selected biology teachers and high school students in an eight-week summer research experience, during which they participate directly in cutting-edge research in a university environment. With the participation and guidance of nine university research labs, teacher-student teams in a single lab facility will perform genetic screens for new mutations using three sets of model organisms: bacteria, yeast, and C. elegans. Although these research labs have diverse objectives and employ varied experimental approaches and techniques, there is a common thread in that they use the methods and paradigms of genetics to study health-related problems of interest and concern to the public. Weekly curriculum roundtable meetings among participating teachers, a teacher advisory board, and university faculty will focus on developing inquiry-based education modules and experiment kits—for use in high school and middle school classrooms—and on methods and mechanisms for assessing the impact of such modules. The modules will be tested, refined, and disseminated in one-week curricular workshops for high school teachers. During succeeding years, we will provide experiment kits for high school classes, so that teachers who have been through our programs can implement the inquiry-based curricular modules. Project evaluations aim to compare teachers who have done the eight-week research experience with those who have done the one-week curricular workshop—with respect to adoption and effective use of the inquiry-based methods and modules—to track educational and career paths of student participants, and to assess the impact on learning in high school biology.

University of Tennessee Health Science Center

Memphis, TN

Building Bridges to Health
Science Literacy
Award: $1,342,000

Principal Investigator
Robert Shreve
Phone: 901-448-5506


Building Bridges to Health Science Literacy proposes to raise the appreciation and understanding of health science education and research through community outreach. Beginning with established community resources and partnerships, this project will develop innovative approaches with multilevel impact on the well-being of the community. Memphis Science Partners and the Memphis Educational Computer Connectivity Alliance (MECCA) are established partnerships between the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and the Memphis City Schools, which have been instrumental in bringing hands-on science learning to underserved schools.

The first goal of this NIH-supported Science Education Partnership Award program is to use our existing instructional infrastructure and collaboration with the Center of Excellence for Research Teaching and Learning (CERT), at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, to introduce authentic problem-based learning (PBL) to Memphis schools (K-12). After PBL has been institutionalized in Memphis schools, this instructional process will be extended to multiple academic and community venues to enhance existing inquiry-based learning among underserved students and their families.

The second goal of this project is to develop an educational program to improve the genetic literacy of the general public. The genetic literacy initiative is intended to fill a critical gap in the translational research process, namely enabling the public to utilize genomic medicine in an effective and responsible manner for the improvement of human health. The initial target audience will be individuals participating in genetic research within established clinical research programs at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. A focused, step-wise approach will be used to develop an educational program that has measurable impact and is compatible with established approaches to health promotion. The educational intervention will build on participants' own experiences to develop an appreciation of the genetic basis of disease and the potential impact of genetics on healthcare. Subsequently, significant efforts will be directed toward expansion and integration of related activities. Additional venues to maximize program impact will include development of traveling "suitcase exhibits" and interactive displays in collaboration with the Memphis Pink Palace Museum and school-based Family Health Nights. These new efforts will accomplish significant outreach and will add a novel dimension to the promotion of health science literacy throughout Memphis and the mid-South region.