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UW Professor Recruits High School Students to UW through Science Lessons

December 13, 2017
man in front of classroom full of teenagers
Danny Dale (standing in front of a whiteboard), a UW professor of physics and astronomy, and Jessica Sutter (standing in front of the projector screen), a UW astrophysics graduate student, talk to Sheridan eighth-graders about NASA's search for Earth 2.0. Since last spring, Dale has traveled to a number of the state’s high schools and junior high schools, where he provides science lessons and discusses cutting-edge research opportunities, all in an effort to interest students in college and attending UW. (Pat Clair Photo)

Years ago, Danny Dale used to visit Laramie’s Beitel and Spring Creek elementary schools -- where his daughters attended school -- and taught mini-science lessons to the young students there.

Now, years later, the University of Wyoming professor of physics and astronomy is doing something similar. But, this time he is visiting some of the state’s high schools and junior high schools, with a focus on student recruitment by sharing various science lessons with students and explaining how UW undergraduates are involved in cutting-edge research internships.

These are research internships UW’s Science Initiative ultimately enables, Dale says. The Science Initiative charts a clear course for these science programs to rise to top-tier status in the nation and builds upon Wyoming's STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiatives -- the location of the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne; construction of the Michael B. Enzi STEM Facility; and the Wyoming Governor's Energy, Engineering STEM Integration Task Force.

“I thought I would reach out to high schools and let them know what we are doing at UW in terms of research; how it relates to NASA; and how UW students, even freshmen, are involved in that research,” says Dale, who began his visits last spring.

So far, Dale has visited Laramie, Cheyenne East, Greybull, Kelly Walsh and Sheridan high schools, as well as Sheridan Junior High School. He plans to join UW President Laurie Nichols and a few state legislators when they make a stop at Rock Springs High School Dec. 14. Dale says he hopes to visit Natrona County High School and Kelly Walsh High School (again) next May.

“Each trip is different. When I went to Greybull High School, four kids were taken out of a class,” Dale says. “When I went to Kelly Walsh, there were four classes totaling 80 kids and, at Cheyenne East, there were 60 kids.

“I like to talk to students in their hometowns about UW and the students from their school doing research here,” Dale says. “It’s a good recruiting tool.”

During his latest visits to the Sheridan schools, Dale focused his lessons on dark matter in space and the search for exoplanets.

“My story is exoplanets -- planets outside our solar system,” Dale explains. “It’s Hannah Jang-Condell’s (a UW associate professor of physics and astronomy) research. It’s pretty cool.”

The UW Science Initiative began in 2014 when Gov. Matt Mead and the Wyoming Legislature challenged UW to develop a plan to address outdated science laboratories at UW and improve the quality of instruction and research in the sciences. A task force, appointed by Mead and informed by faculty representatives, developed a transformational vision for UW's core science programs in botany, zoology and physiology, molecular biology, chemistry, and physics and astronomy.

“Our message is that students should go to any school (UW or community college) in Wyoming,” Dale says. “If a student wants to transfer after they get the associate degree, come to UW. We just want to get students to go to college.”

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