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Hands-on learning and support for the state’s teachers form the backbone of these important UW programs.
By Micaela Myers
Science Initiative Outreach
Jobs that require knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math — known as STEM careers — remain on a high-growth trajectory. However, many Americans are entering the workforce without a basic grasp of STEM facts and approaches. Engaging children in STEM education early offers a host of benefits for academic and career success.
The University of Wyoming’s Top-Tier Science Initiative is making sure Wyoming’s children have ample hands-on opportunities to learn about STEM and become excited about creating, innovating and solving problems. One key offering is the Science Initiative Roadshow, which is made up of graduate and undergraduate students.
“We travel across the state, collaborating with K-12 teachers, afterschool program coordinators and any other community groups that are looking for some active learning in the sciences,” says Director Outreach and Engagement Karagh Brummond.
Currently, they conduct close to 20 visits a year. In addition to working in individual classrooms, they also host school-wide STEM days.
“We’re here to support our K-12 teachers in the state and help them achieve their goals,” Brummond says. “The engaging activities also give the teachers an example of curriculum they can use in subsequent classes.”
In addition to the Roadshow, the Science Initiative puts on a STEM Carnival in Laramie every fall, with approximately 500 students from across the state attending. The 2023 event showcased the new Engineering Education and Research Building, where 40 interactive STEM stations were hosted by departments and entities across campus. In addition to the hands-on learning, the students and their chaperones also get great exposure to campus and UW offerings.
“I think it’s very important that, as the only four-year institution in the state, we are out there supporting students and communities and sharing our energy and enthusiasm,” Brummond says. “Nothing is better than giving back to the Wyoming community!”
Science and Math Teaching Center
Studies show that effective teachers can significantly raise students’ performance. What’s more, teachers who receive substantial quality professional development learn valuable skills and often receive a boost in confidence and retention. The UW College of Education’s Science and Math Teaching Center (SMTC) was created in 1970 to facilitate high-quality research-based support and professional development for teachers across the state.
“The ongoing professional learning provided to our Wyoming teachers — individually, at the district level or through formal degree programs from the SMTC — is a valuable state asset supporting excellence in science and mathematics teaching and learning,” says Science Consultant Bobbi Eichhorst of the Wyoming Department of Education.
Current SMTC projects include K-12 teacher professional development to support science instruction, support for a rural district creating digital science labs and a university-level EPSCoR grant that connects researchers and K-12 teachers to bring Wyoming data into the classroom.
“We have a professional development team that does statewide outreach and engagement,” says SMTC Associate Research Scientist Martha Inouye. “We offer a suite of professional development opportunities for in-service teachers across the state, with the primary goal of providing relevant research-based instruction and support to those teachers.”
The SMTC also offers four master’s degree programs to allow teachers to further grow their endorsements, expertise and income. Colter Huhn, a seventh-grade integrated science teacher at Sheridan Junior High School, researched instructional practices within the new science standards and made connections with other science teachers in the state during his master’s degree program. “The SMTC has helped me build excellence in science and mathematics education by building my background knowledge in the different fields of science through intensive summer graduate programs,” he says.
Cheyenne science teacher Amy Schick recently earned her master’s degree in middle-level science from SMTC. “The program made it possible for me to earn my degree in Wyoming while continuing to teach full time,” she says. “It was very low-cost to me as well. I know that in the future I can continue to count on the SMTC for high-quality up-to-date professional development, and I frequently recommend the SMTC to colleagues for both professional development and the master’s programs.”
Latina Youth Partnership
Latinos/as are the fastest growing population in Wyoming and one of the fastest growing populations in the United States, yet their college attendance lags behind that of white and Asian populations. The Wyoming Latina Youth Conference introduces fifth through 12th graders to all the university has to offer while also bolstering a sense of community and teaching valuable life skills.
“The conference allows girls from around the state to come to UW, be on the campus and see other women like them as their workshop leaders,” says Associate Director Jacqueline “JJ” Shinker, who is a professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics. “Representation really does matter, and it’s empowering.”
Each October, about 300 Latina youth from around the state come to Laramie. The conference kicks off with a keynote speaker and banquet Friday night. On Saturday, the youth attend workshops on campus. Ann Redman started the conference in Cheyenne in 2000. When it moved to UW in 2016, Department of Theatre and Dance Professor Cecelia Aragon took over as executive director and has expanded the conference to include mentorship, leadership, community service and outdoor programs for conference graduates who attend UW. Together, the programming is known as the Latina/o Youth Partnership under the recently established Wyoming Latina Youth Center.
“Something we’re really proud of is that the college students stay with us all of their four years,” Aragon says.
With funding, organizers hope to continue to expand programming across the state by hiring a statewide outreach coordinator. They are already strengthening partnerships with the community colleges, and Shinker earned a National Geographic Society grant to expand outdoor educational opportunities. This past summer, in coordination with Wyoming State Parks, they hosted a campout at Sinks Canyon. This year’s conference invited the attendees to participate in the National Geographic Society Slingshot Challenge, in which youth create videos featuring solutions to environmental problems. Other workshops cover pillars of knowledge, including arts, humanities, financial literacy, STEM, and mental and physical well-being.
The youth also enjoy a resource fair with information on colleges and careers.
“We added financial literacy and work readiness to the pillars of knowledge for the conference, preparing young women on what to expect in the working world after they graduate from college — building up their soft skills and people skills,” Aragon says.
Shinker is motivated by the impact representation and mentorship makes. “There aren’t a lot of women of color in STEM,” she says. “I have had conference graduates in my class say things like, ‘I never thought I could be a scientist.’ I’m very committed to helping young women meet their potential in fields they may not normally see themselves in.”
Wyoming Trustees Education Initiative
Like many rural areas, Wyoming faces a shortage of trained teachers. To address this, UW launched the Trustees Education Initiative with an emphasis on the “four Es” — exploration, experiential learning, embedded practice and entry. This translates to career exploration, experiential learning for pre-service teachers, embedded practice in Wyoming school districts and continued support during entry into the profession.
A number of innovations and programs have emerged from the initiative, including the Wyoming Early Childhood Outreach Network (WYECON), which brings UW expertise and resources to early childhood educators around the state. This focus is key because, from birth to age 5, a child’s brain develops more rapidly than any other time. High-level abilities such as communication, problem solving and self-esteem form during these early years, making quality early education imperative.
“WYECON was created to increase collaboration with statewide early childhood partners and to support the early childhood education workforce to improve the quality of early learning experiences for Wyoming’s youngest children,” says Director Nikki Baldwin.
As a partner in a federal Preschool Development Grant, WYECON recently led the development of Wyoming’s Coherent Path to Quality — a statewide guide to quality early childhood education — and the revision and publication of the Wyoming Early Learning Standards.
“WYECON has made a huge impact on our instruction and the success of many students,” say Afton Elementary School kindergarten teachers Lisa Garner and Angela Burton, who have worked with Baldwin extensively, especially regarding active learning. “Now, instead of sitting at a desk doing paper-pencil work, students are designing, building, making and testing hypotheses, all while exploring and learning about a wide range of topics. Nikki has given workshops, helped us to set up learning centers, taught us how to interact and document the progress that children are making, all while aligning to the rigorous standards expected of our young students. An additional benefit of this paradigm shift to play-based learning is the growth that we are seeing in children’s social-emotional growth. Most importantly, the influence of this shift has brought fun into learning, and the students are exceeding our expectations in meeting the standards.”
The College of Education also offers three early childhood certificates and endorsements to educate those in the field. In a partnership with the Departments of Workforce and Family Services and the Ellbogen Foundation, WYECON created the Wyoming Early Childhood Professional Learning Collaborative in 2019, which provides free professional development for the early childhood workforce.
Nicole Philbin, director of education and programming at Children’s Learning Center in Jackson, has partnered with WYECON and finds this help invaluable: “WYECON has really elevated the early childhood field across the state and created a network of professionals who are dedicated to the essential work of early education teachers in Wyoming.”
Malcolm Wallop Civic Engagement Program
Teaching is a valuable and challenging profession. With added demands, teacher shortages are mounting. In 2023, 55 percent of teachers reported reduced planning time due to staff shortages and other factors, and teachers work an average of 400 hours of overtime each year. But thanks to the UW Wallop K–12 Curriculum Project, the state’s teachers have a plethora of high-quality, standards-aligned lessons and multimedia materials to draw from for their social studies and English language arts classes.
Last school year, 133 middle and high school educators representing 64 schools in 19 counties and the Wind River Indian Reservation accessed Wallop catalog content. The project is a partnership between the UW College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education. A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities helped fund an expansion to the free catalog of resources, and the program also hosts a summer workshop for teachers.
Daniel McLane, a social studies and computer science teacher at Riverton High School in Fremont County School District 25, attended the summer 2023 Wallop Professional Development Teacher Workshop. He has been using the Wallop K-12 catalog materials for the last two years, which he says “has been by far my favorite way to cover the Wyoming standards in American government courses, and I do this with each of the three branches of government. The students respond well and thoroughly enjoy this activity.”
Professor Jean Garrison co-directs the program with fellow School of Politics, Public Affairs and International Studies Assistant Professor Jason McConnell. “I believe it’s a national imperative that our students not only understand how their government works from the local to national level but also how it can work for them,” she says. “To me, it’s as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. We live in a society that requires involved citizens. It’s the reason our forefathers created a free public education — it’s the understanding that the health of our society relies on the health of our citizens.”
A grant from the Wyoming DataHub helped the Wallop program launch the Profiles in Wyoming Resilience interactive map. The photo-voice project invites users, including K-12 students, to submit photos and share what they mean to them, including the opportunities and barriers they experience in their communities.
The Malcolm Wallop Civic Engagement Program was inspired by former Wyoming U.S. Sen. Malcolm Wallop who, in his distinguished career serving in the U.S. Senate for three terms and in the Wyoming Legislature, is remembered for his commitment to civil discourse, public education and public service.