Noyce Scholarship Prepares Future STEM Educator
Hands-on learning is an essential aspect of Wittenberg’s liberal arts education, especially for students such as Makenzie Daniels, class of 2015 from Hilliard, Ohio, who wants to be an educator herself.
A biology major and education minor, Daniels is working toward certification for teaching Life Sciences in grades 7-12. It was her combined passion for science and education that led her to apply for the Robert C. Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the program was created in response to the critical shortage of K-12 educators of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in high-need areas.
When Wittenberg received the national grant for $1.17 million in 2011, it was only one of two private liberal arts university recipients that year. Daniels is one of four Noyce scholarship recipients at Wittenberg for the 2013-2014 year. Thanks to the scholarship, she had the opportunity to pursue the STEM Educators Research Internship at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Wash., last summer.
“The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program is an incredible opportunity that Wittenberg offers for future STEM educators, and I would suggest this internship for anyone interested in STEM education.” - Daniels '15
Daniels worked at the Columbia Mammoth excavation site in Kennewick, Wash., where the MCBONES Research and Education Center began excavating in 2008. Volunteer excavators collect soil samples but only keep sediment larger than one millimeter to study. To see if MCBONES has been overlooking valuable data, Daniels collected soil samples and examined the smaller particles in search of seed and plant materials.
Daniels also had the chance to troubleshoot new equipment in the Aquatic Research Laboratory (ARL), where researchers explore how pressure change and dam passage in the Columbia River affect Chinook salmon. Using what they termed “the Mega Tube,” a 12-foot acrylic tube filled with flowing river water, Daniels and another intern set out to design a buoyancy test to discover the depths at which fish have enough air in their swim bladders to float without swimming.
Looking back on the experience, Daniels credits the Wittenberg biology department for preparing her well for the internship. Her stream ecology course with Amber Burgett, associate professor of biology, readied her to study and dissect previous research in her project areas.
Daniels knows that passion is contagious, and she recognized the same appetite for learning in the PNNL community that fuels the Wittenberg experience.
“I had never really been excited to study plants or fish before this summer,” Daniels said, “but it was easy for my co-workers to get me excited because all the scientists and interns at PNNL are extremely passionate about the work they are doing.”
The same curiosity and problem-solving skills needed in the classroom helped Daniels turn some of the internship’s frustrating times into some of the best.
“Some of the best moments were each time we had a failure with the new equipment. I know that sounds strange,” she admitted, “but each failure brought us closer to a success.”
In addition to conducting research, Daniels engaged in weekly education enrichment classes to learn how to apply her research specifically to STEM education.
“I think one of the best realizations that came out of this internship was that I am in the right profession. This internship made me fall even more in love with education, and it sparked my fire to be a great STEM educator.”
For students starting an internship—especially those who share her passion for STEM education—Daniels advises them to keep an open mind, make the best of their experiences and take advantage of the opportunities that Wittenberg provides.
“The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program is an incredible opportunity that Wittenberg offers for future STEM educators, and I would suggest this internship for anyone interested in STEM education.”