Darwin Daugaard left the classroom for the summer, after his 38th year of teaching, and almost immediately got back to work.
He first did training with an education outreach program from American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Then, he spent seven weeks building on that knowledge with Iowa State University’s Institute for Transportation (InTrans).
Daugaard was one of three high school teachers to participate in ISU’s Research Experiences for Teachers program with InTrans last summer. InTrans has been participating in the program, now 10 years old, for the past four years.
“My experience last summer was a total positive one that involved professional development and research that is very usable in my class,” Daugaard said.
And that’s exactly the aim of the RET program, hosted through ISU’s Center for Biorenewable Chemicals and funded by the National Science Foundation. The RET program provides high school teachers with opportunities to do research and build relationships with professionals in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, so that the teachers can bring new learning experiences to their students.
Applications for next summer are due by March 1, 2018. The dates for next year's program will be June 11 through July 27.
To apply or learn more, visit https://www.cbirc.iastate.edu/education/precollege/ret/.
The types of opportunities through the RET program are varied, even within InTrans.
Daugaard, a teacher in Dell Rapids, S.D., worked with the Bridge Engineering Center’s Katelyn Freeseman and focused on the stability of bridge girders while the deck surface is poured. During his seven-week stay, he had the chance to visit a bridge site as sensors were added and then collect and review the data the sensors provided.
Ankeny High School teacher Joe Carey and Estherville Lincoln Central High School teacher Laura Rosendahl both spent two summers at InTrans in order to continue work on their respective projects.
Carey couldn’t resist the opportunity to continue working on a unique project with research scientist Basak Aldemir Bektas on a project aimed at identifying the bridge attributes that lead to increased bat habitation.
“My decision to return last summer was because I was impressed with the people I interacted with during the summer of 2016,” Carey said. “Basak was very patient with my many questions during that first summer as I learned the statistical software and a little bit about the vocabulary related to bridges.”
Rosendahl was similarly impressed with the InTrans staff, saying they were helpful and they offered a chance to participate in interesting projects. She worked with InTrans director Shauna Hallmark and statewide multidisciplinary safety team (MDST) facilitator Theresa Litteral on traffic safety issues, including merging emergency detour routes that gave her experience with GIS and mapping technologies.
“I knew that the work I was doing was part of some bigger project that would benefit a majority of the people in Iowa (if not beyond), and I liked feeling like I had a part in those changes,” Rosendahl said.
Back to school
Another important aspect of the RET program is bringing the scientists and engineers into the classroom during the next school year.
Rosendahl is currently working as an instructional coach so she’s not in the classroom, but she’s already thinking ahead to the ways to incorporate what she learned at InTrans. The others are looking forward to a classroom visit from InTrans staff later this spring.
Carey already had Bektas in his class last year, and looks forward to her return to help with a statistics lesson he has planned. He said students previously enjoyed learning about the interdisciplinary nature of the work they did on the bat habitat project.
“I and my students have benefited greatly from what I’ve learned through the RET program, both at InTrans and the professional development I’ve received during the last two summers,” Carey said.
Daugaard plans to bring Freeseman to class while the students are working on modeling and then building bridges themselves.
“Our state -- as many others -- is in or will be in dire need of STEM workers in this field of construction at all levels of expertise. I feel it is partly my responsibility to help fulfill those needs,” Daugaard said.