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National Science Foundation GK-12 Program

Dec 1, 2010

CCU Principal Investigators: 

Craig Gilman (P.I., Program Manager/Coordinator, Fellows Advisor)

Rob Young (Co-P.I., Fellows Advisor)

Kevin Godwin (Co-P.I., Fellows Advisor)

Sharon Gilman (Co-P.I., Assessment)

Austin Hitt (Co-P.I., Assessment)

Karen Fuss (Co-P.I., Liaison with Horry County School District)

"We had so much fun in science class today!" said an eighth grader stated after class recently.  That "fun" was packed with learning, and much of it was due to the presence of a CCU GK-12 Fellow in the classroom.

GK-12 stands for Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education, and the program, funded by the National Science Foundation, awards fellowships to graduate students in STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to enhance their skills as scientists and educators and to bring their knowledge and assistance into local public schools.  The Fellows from CCU's GK-12 program are from the Coastal Marine and Wetland Studies graduate program.  Fellows are assigned to a specific Horry County middle or high school teacher for the school year and spend two days each week in the teacher's classes.  Teachers and CCU undergraduates are also supported to participate in the Fellow's graduate research during the summer.  The
program is an incredible win-win experience for all parties involved.  Graduate students are developing the critically important but often neglected skill of teaching and communicating
science to non-scientists, undergraduate science majors are participating in hands-on research, teachers have access to scientific expertise and much-appreciated assistance in the classroom, and middle and high school students receive enriched science and math learning with special emphasis on the marine and wetland processes and issues critical to our coastal region. 

Semesters are busy and teachers often don't have the time to research and bring in learning activities for all the topics they would like.  Graduate Fellows bring in creative lesson
plans, new perspectives, and inquiry-based teaching methods to get the kids engaged and active in their own learning.  GK-12 Fellow Danielle Tarpley is able to take real life data of winds
and waves from her studies of Coastal Hypoxia to teach "plotting" in the classroom.  In another classroom, Christopher Smith is teaching different ways to use the scientific method and
recently coordinated a field trip with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, which allows kids the opportunity for discovery and to have fun while learning.  Over 100 lesson plans and classroom activities have been developed or used by Coastal's GK-12 Fellows, and all are available on the CCU GK-12 Program's award-winning web site  (http://kingfish.coastal.edu/GK-12).

CCU's GK-12 Program is half way through its 5 year, $2.2M grant and has already seen widespread success for both the graduate students involved and the public schools where they teach.  Thus far, the program has awarded support to 20 graduate Fellows, 21 undergraduates, and 20 Horry County teachers, and it has directly impacted the education of over 2500 middle and high school student who have had a scientist in their classroom the entire semester.  According to Dr. Craig Gilman, marine science professor and director of Coastal's GK-12 Program, the initial results show that test scores in the classes with a GK-12 fellow are above the county and school averages - a considerable accomplishment since some significantly underperformed prior to the program.  "My classroom has come alive and blossomed from the addition of the fellow's presence," said teacher Cherrie Willoughby of Green Sea Floyds Middle School, adding that her Fellow "has enriched my class beyond belief."  The graduate Fellows, too, value this opportunity to either include or exclude teaching on their list of possible career choices.  Most come away in awe of just how difficult teaching is.  The leadership and classroom management skills gained will prove invaluable to most. 

NSF GK-12 grants are among the most sought after awards for graduate STEM programs in the US, due to the quality of the program model, the level of funding, and the relatively long duration.  Most awards go to universities with multiple graduate STEM programs, such that from hundreds of graduate students, only a handful of fellowships would be awarded each year.   The award, therefore, is a significant distinction for CCU, which has only a single STEM masters program in Coastal Marine and Wetland Studies and is able to award fellowships to a substantial proportion of its students.  Coastal's NSF GK-12 grant ends in June of 2013, and beyond that, the future of the program is unknown.  Because the program has shown such a value to the faculty and students of both CCU and the Horry County schools, the loss of this program would be a loss for the community.  In addition to gearing up to apply for another round of funding, Dr. Gilman will focus on fund-raising efforts in the next 2 years prior to the grant expiration.