Graduate Fellows 2011

Graduate Research Fellows
Bayley, Timothy

Bayley, Timothy

Before beginning my PhD in Hydrology and Water Resources, I taught junior high science at a Title I school in Phoenix, Arizona as a Teach For America corps member. During the two years that I was teaching, I saw the disparity in educational opportunity that exists between low-income school districts and their wealthier counterparts. There are many systemic and social issues that contribute to this disparity. One factor contributing to this gap is the lack of exposure to applied math and science in low-income areas. For my NASA Space Grant Fellowship I am developing state standard aligned lesson plans that will expose high school students to science that is being conducted in Arizona. My hope is that this program will give students a vision for the type of work that they could be involved in if they pursue a career in the sciences and that the context of real research will provide meaning to classroom studies.

University of Arizona and NASA scientists are involved in many cutting edge projects that apply to the world around us. University of Arizona led projects such as the Biosphere 2, Critical Zone Observatory, the University of Arizona weighing lysimeter facility, and COSMOS all have components that relate directly to Arizona high school science standards. These projects are a great opportunity to put Arizona science standards into context for Arizona students while highlighting the work being done by University of Arizona and NASA scientists.

The lessons that I am developing each have interactive or lab based projects that follow a theme, such as evapotranspiration or soil moisture. They are also directly applicable to required high school science classes such as biology and physics. Lessons each include pre-lab reading assignments, lab modules, homework assignments, in-class videos featuring UA/NASA scientists, standards aligned teaching guides, and rubrics for grading assignments. All materials will be hosted on a Biosphere 2 website and will be accessible to teachers online. After students have worked their way through the in-class lessons and have acquired a basic set of knowledge, they will participate in a field trip to Biosphere 2. At Biosphere 2, students will be able to interact with ongoing work being conducted by UA scientists. Field trip activities will directly relate to the knowledge learned through classroom activities. These lessons will be used by Biosphere 2 as their permanent high school field trip program. The expected impact of this work extends far beyond the project development timeline, hopefully impacting many students.

Blount, Seafha

Blount, Seafha

Seafha is a Yurok tribal member and a PhD student in Natural Resources Studies with a minor in American Indian Studies. She has worked as a Learning Center Instructor at Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School (“Ha:san”), a Native American charter school in Tucson, for three years. Her outreach project involves both Ha:san and Klamath River Early College (KRECR), a charter school on the Yurok reservation.  Through her experiences at Ha:san and by living on the Yurok reservation, she has gained insight into teaching Native American students in a culturally relevant atmosphere and is familiar with the extremely adverse circumstances many Native American students face.

One significant limiting factor in preparing high school students for college programs and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields is the difficulty for teachers to incorporate innovative technology in their curricula. Beyond challenges to widespread incorporation of innovative technology in high schools, charter schools that serve a majority of Native Americans are at an extreme disadvantage in accessing those technologies.  Native Americans are severely underrepresented in college enrollment, especially in STEM fields. In addition, while there is a very large volume of literature about the potential success of teaching science with respect to Native American culture, little of it is based in schools and other contexts that focus on Indigenous learners and their communities.

Seafha is working with students at KRECR and Ha:san to teach them about spatial technologies used in natural resources management, such as air quality, water quality, wildlife and fisheries monitoring. There is a strong focus on the link between culture, place, natural resources, and community health. During the summer of 2011, Seafha coordinated a workshop with various activities, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS), compass and map navigation, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and telemetry. In hands-on exercises, the students were able to demonstrate that they had learned how to use these technologies.  Partners included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Yurok Tribe Environmental Program, and Yurok Tribe Education Department. She will introduce similar activities to the Ha:san students in Phase 1 of her outreach project.  In Phase 2, she will work with each school’s science teacher to modify the activities such that they can be incorporated into lesson plans.

This outreach project serves NASA’s major educational goals by aiming to attract and retain students in STEM disciplines.  It continues NASA’s tradition of investing in education and supporting educators who play a vital role in preparing, inspiring, exciting, encouraging, and nurturing our future workforce.

Kahn-Thornbrugh, Casey

Kahn-Thornbrugh, Casey

Wuneekeesuk! (Good day!)  My name is Casey Kahn-Thornbrugh and I am a Mashpee Wampanoag tribal member from Massachusetts.  My family relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico when I was in middle school, and I have lived in New Mexico and Arizona ever since.  I have always been interested in weather, landscapes, and human cultures across Earth.  This is the primary reason why I chose geography, with a focus on climate science, as my primary discipline of study.  I am currently a Ph.D. student in the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona. 

For my NASA Space Grant project, I am working with the Water Resources Department of the Tohono O’odham Nation, Tohono O’odham Community College (TOCC), and the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) project to develop a culturally relevant climate science curriculum for Tohono O’odham K-12 and tribal college students.  I will be surveying and interviewing community members and teachers on the Tohono O’odham Nation to learn about the aspects of weather and climate they feel are most important in their lives and for Tohono O’odham students to learn about.  I will be developing the curriculum with the information from the surveys and guidance from the Water Resources Department, TOCC, and CLIMAS.  Over the next year, this curriculum will be piloted through weather and climate teaching workshops offered in communities on the Tohono O’odham Nation.  The output product will be a climate science curriculum that will be given to the Tohono O’odham Nation to be used to teach K-12 and tribal college students.

I was motivated to do this project after my three years of teaching geography and science classes at TOCC and from working with Tohono O’odham youth during summer science and agriculture-based camps out on the nation.  In my experience, teaching science in ways that relate to people’s lives and culture makes science easier and more enjoyable for people to learn.  In this way, I feel my project strongly contributes to NASA’s mission of attracting more students from underrepresented communities to participate in science.

Merrick, Melissa

Merrick, Melissa

My outreach program aims to incorporate San Carlos Apache high school students participating in the Bylas and San Carlos summer youth program, sponsored by Mount Graham International Observatory, in my doctoral research on the process of natal dispersal and settlement in federally endangered Mt. Graham red squirrels. My goal is to provide important hands-on experiences with spatial technologies such as radio telemetry, map and compass, GPS, GIS, and remotely sensed imagery for students to help us understand what landscape features influences where juvenile red squirrels explore and eventually settle. In the field we will see different squirrel behaviors, forest types, and conditions, and in a GIS we will be able to examine home ranges and other spatial data such as roads, fires, and forest damage due to tree death, that may impact squirrel space use. I will use hands-on, inquiry-based approaches to field study in combination with visiting speakers from federal agencies and universities to instill excitement about ecological research and increase appreciation regarding the value of STEM-based education, particularly among students traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields.

Nakazny, Kostya

Nakazny, Kostya

I am in my second year of the Masters program in Educational Psychology at the University of Arizona. My greatest interest is in technology enhanced learning environments in the STEM fields. I work closely with my institutional partner, the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum (ASDM) and its Education Director to design and develop an online student built interactive web based portal. The interactive portal allows teachers to easily manage classes, create groups, and evaluate students’ work. Students use NASA aerial and satellite temporal images and other resources to investigate a geographical area on such topics as water resources, urban heat islands, wild fire impact, and others. Once an investigation is complete the students report significant findings and present before/after images of the area using intuitive tools of the interactive web based portal.

I will develop 2 or 3 complete lesson plans that will cover topics such as water cycle, urban water use, wild fires in Arizona and others (the exact topics will depend on the needs of the ASDM). The lesson plans will be project-based and include the latest findings in educational research.

My previous experience in working on technology enhanced learning environments and what I learned in the first year of my Masters program lead me to believe that it is very important to understand how teachers evaluate and use available technology for educational purposes. I am developing a questionnaire that will shed light on the process teachers go through when evaluating technologies for educational purposes. The design and functionality of the web portal and the findings from the answers to the questionnaire will form part of my Maters thesis. 

Ramirez, Monica

Ramirez, Monica

Monica will be working with the US Environmental Protection Agency, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the towns of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona to determine the quality of vegetables grown in home gardens neighboring the Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter Superfund Site (IKMHSS).

Monica has developed the Gardenroots project is in response to community concerns regarding the quality of produce from home gardens. She will be working with local vegetable gardeners to determine if their soils and vegetable gardens have been impacted by the mine tailing waste from the IKMHSS. Monica will carry out a citizen science program that will actively engage community members in the sampling collection process and in the design of project's outreach materials. Citizen Scientists of the Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona area will be:

  • Trained in how to collect water, soil and vegetable samples from their gardens for micronutrient and metals analyses,
  • Better informed regarding the quality of the vegetables they grow, and issues related to soil and water quality in Arizona and the Southwest US; and
  • Empowered, as they will communicate the information revealed by the project and be ambassadors for the environment in their community.