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GEAR UP, UW Students To Teach Science to Wyoming Middle, High School Students This Summer

June 1, 2012
Woman conducting experiment
Laura Grossnickle, Western Wyoming Community College's assistant coordinator of GEAR UP, heats water in an aluminum can over a hot plate. Once the can filled with steam, she turned it upside down into a bucket of ice water. The experimental training, for GEAR UP Wyoming members statewide, took place during an NCAR presentation at the group's state meeting in Riverton April 19. (GEAR UP Wyoming)

GEAR UP Wyoming and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) -- with an assist from University of Wyoming students -- are teaming up to bring atmospheric and computational science to the state's middle and high school students this summer.

The educational outreach program, part of the National Center for Atmospheric Sciences (NCAR)-University of Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) partnership, is designed to expose income-eligible students in Wyoming to atmospheric and computational science, and potential career opportunities in those fields. The NWSC facility in Cheyenne is slated to open this fall with a number of UW faculty scheduled to use the supercomputer to model their research.

This summer, nearly 250 middle and high school students will attend "science academies" at Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs June 14 and 21; at Northwest College in Powell June 26-27; and at Central Wyoming College in Riverton sometime during the third week of July. GEAR UP Wyoming staff, as well as UW graduate and undergraduate students, will present science lessons to attending middle school and high school students.

"We're trying to broaden the activities students are exposed to which, in turn, will help them understand the variety of careers available to them," says Gabe Eklund Rowley, student program coordinator for GEAR UP Wyoming. "We want to put that bug in their ear early in life."

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is a federally funded, statewide grant in Wyoming that provides services to 2,000 income-eligible students in grade 7-12 each year. GEAR UP's goal is to increase the number of eligible students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education. The organization provides academic support, college preparation and family services through its offices located in each of Wyoming's seven community colleges.

At the GEAR UP state meeting in April, UCAR personnel trained GEAR UP Wyoming staff and UW students how to teach computational science to different age levels, Eklund Rowley says.

Education is a central component of NCAR's mission and the mission of the forthcoming NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center, says Teri Eastburn, manager, school and public programs, Spark UCAR Science Education.

"Our work in science and computational thinking advance our understanding of the earth system, but science and computational thinking matter outside of the classroom and laboratory, also. They're both critical to understanding the world in which we live, and the problems that face us or that we are working to understand," Eastburn says. "That's why partnerships and collaborations among NCAR, NWSC and Wyoming educational initiatives like GEAR UP are critical."

UW students trained to spread science

This summer, UW is running an eight-week Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), which is funded by the School of Energy Resources. Under the supervision of Felipe Pereira, a UW professor of mathematics, 10 UW students are working together on a computational research project related to CO2 sequestration, according to Shader.

UW undergraduate students involved are Hunter Storaci of Longmont, Colo.; Guo Hui of Shanghai, China; Spencer Buda of Grand Junction, Colo.; Nels Frazier of LaGrange; and Heidi Solomon of Gillette. UW graduate students participating are Swapnil Tilaye of Mumbai, India; Pamela Ramaeker of Gillette; Michael Huntington of Littleton, Colo.; Nick Anderson of Douglas; and Prosper Torsu.

During this immersive experience, UW students will learn what it means to be a researcher; how to apply and be chosen for graduate school; discover educational and job opportunities in the sciences; and figure out how to communicate science verbally to various age groups, says Bryan Shader, special assistant to UW's vice president for research and economic development, and a mathematics professor.

"We will be providing two things -- science activities related to atmospheric science and weather that was delivered by NCAR, as well as some computational modeling activities developed by UW," Shader says. " ... Our primary goal is for (middle school and high school) students to have a cool experience with science and computational modeling. We just want to whet their appetite to the possibilities."

Once trained, the UW students will be grouped and sent to the science academies at the community colleges.

"We want the (middle and high school) students to start thinking like scientists. That means asking the right questions and finding the answers," says Huntington, a doctoral student in mathematics from Littleton, Colo. "Then, we move on to computational science modeling and hope that the students will be able to see how scientific problems are approached and potentially solved through the use of computers."

Exposure to computational science won't end with the summer science academies. GEAR UP Wyoming will be sending middle and high school students to the NCAR facility in Boulder, Colo., and will organize field trips to the NWSC when it opens this fall, Eklund Rowley says.

"As much brick and mortar as there is over there (NWSC), there's been an equal amount of planning and energy devoted to making sure this facility impacts education," Shader says. "This impacts education in Wyoming, the Rocky Mountains (region) and the U.S."

The NWSC is the result of a partnership among the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR); the University of Wyoming; the state of Wyoming; Cheyenne LEADS; the Wyoming Business Council; Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power; and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. NCAR is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The NWSC will contain some of the world's most powerful supercomputers (1.6 petaflops, which is equal to 1.6 quadrillion computer operations per second) dedicated to improving scientific understanding of climate change, severe weather, air quality and other vital atmospheric science and geo-science topics. The center also will house a premier data storage (11 petabytes) and archival facility that holds irreplaceable historical climate records and other information.

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