Seven-thousand feet above Tucson, and surrounded by the horizons, K-12 students are learning about the natural world and the night sky at the University of Arizona's UAScience Sky School at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter.
Led by Alan Straus, director of the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter, and the UA College of Science, the Sky School program brings students out of the city and onto the mountaintop, where they explore, learn about science and the natural world, design their own experiments and interact with UA graduate student scientists.
"Students from public schools gain exposure to science content including geoscience, astronomy and ecology," Strauss said, "and at the same time they're interacting with a graduate student scientist who's challenging them to explore their preconceived notions of what it means to engage in a process of scientific inquiry."
The K-12 students get exposure to scientific concepts and processes – and a chance to run around in the woods – while UA graduate students receive a valuable teaching and mentoring experience. And the teachers who accompany school groups gain cutting-edge scientific content to take back to the classroom.
"It's been a win-win-win for everybody," Strauss said. "These kinds of opportunities haven't existed locally for students in the past."
"Science should be more than just a classroom experience," said Larry Speta, principal of the Academy of Tucson Middle School, who brought his fourth- and fifth-grade students to the SkySchool.
"In our school we believe in the Socratic teaching method, which is teaching them to think: Why is that correct? How can you support it? Where’s the evidence? Does anybody disagree?" Speta said
Thinking is exactly what students participating in the Sky School's flagship multi-day program do, designing their own science experiment and working with a UA graduate student mentor to do research and present their findings to their peers, as if they were scientists at a symposium.
"It's an immersive way of connecting Tucson K-12 students to the science of the University, and simultaneously providing an in-depth teaching experience for our graduate students," Strauss said.
"I love that we let students come up with their own research projects and guide them through the process," said Moira Hough, who is finishing a Master of Science degree in the UA's School of Natural Resources and the Environment and entering her doctoral studies in the UA's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. "They get to learn about something that really interests them and most importantly, they learn how to figure out the answers to their questions."
"Mount Lemmon is really a perfect environment for a program like Sky School because there are so many different ecosystems and so many different possibilities of questions students can ask," Hough added.
"We tested different soil layers," said Niko Plant, a ninth-grade student at Tucson's Tanque Verde High School who participated in the multi-day program. "We found that the top layers were pines and decomposing materials, and we got to test the parent materials that make up the soil, like the rocks around the mountain."
"I hadn't done anything like that before," Plant said. "I felt like I learned a lot more designing my own experiment than having it assigned to me. The best thing, I think, was being able to see what scientists really do in the field."
Shelby Teitelbaum, a 12th-grade student at Tanque Verde High School, agrees. "I liked how we did a research project, but it wasn't sitting at the computer. You got to go and do it."
In addition to carrying out research projects, the students participate in several scientific activities including learning about dendrochronology – the study of annual tree growth rings that can be used to measure past climate, recording observations of nature, and measuring changes in temperature and elevation during the drive up the mountain.
Learning in the Open Air
"Get ready, get ready… look now!"
Pacifica Sommers, a doctoral candidate in the UA's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, stands at the mountain's summit at sunset during the program, directing students to look for the famous green rim caused by light waves refracting through the Earth's atmosphere just when the sun disappears over the horizon.
For many of the students, this is the first time they have stepped outside the city and into the wilderness, or seen the clear, star-filled sky high on the mountain away from city lights.
"The stars look like one color, but if you look through a telescope they're all different colors," Teitelbaum said.
Students get to use the telescopes at the SkyCenter and interact with professional astronomers, answering trivia questions posed to them by the graduate students and their teachers to get a turn at operating the telescope: How many seconds does it take light to travel from the sun to the Earth? What type of ice can you find on Mars? Why is Mount Lemmon called a Sky Island?
After a year piloting the Sky School, "I'm increasingly aware of the value of this experience," Strauss said. "To be involved with our incredible graduate students, faculty and staff in creating something meaningful for the community and for the University of Arizona has been a wonderful opportunity. It's a chance to connect people to the University and to the place where they live, through science. This may then increase their appreciation of it, and ultimately may impact their stewardship of our natural resources."
"Even if you don’t want to study science, it's still a really cool experience," Teitelbaum said. "I think everyone should go."
The program is equally rewarding for the graduate students who serve as mentors for the children.
"It's fantastic to see how excited the students get through the process," Hough said. "That enthusiasm is contagious, re-energizing me and reminding me what a fascinating world we live in."
"I was fortunate growing up," said Sommers, whose parents are scientists. "I was exposed all my life to people asking questions about the world around us, then setting out to explore and answer those questions."
"I want to be that person, even for one day only, who makes 'science' and 'adventure' make sense in the same sentence for kids," she said.Editor: Alexis BlueWriter: Shelley LittinByline: Shelley LittinByline Affiliation: University CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The Sky School program brings Tucson students out of the city to the astronomical observatory atop Mt. Lemmon, where they explore, and learn about science and the natural world.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image:
Katrina Verduzco hadn't thought much about going to college until a representative from the University of Arizona came to talk to her class at Flowing Wells High School. Then everything changed.
After hearing about opportunities at the University, Verduzco became determined to become a Wildcat and the first person in her family to go college.
She also became determined not to burden her family with college expenses, and she spent much of her high school senior year searching for scholarships and financial aid opportunities.
Her search led her to AZ Earn to Learn, an innovative need-based financial aid program launched last year by the UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University in partnership with Live the Solution, an Arizona nonprofit.
The unique savings and financial education program was designed to provide financial support for incoming college freshmen from low-income families, while teaching them good savings habits.
The program recently was awarded a second round of funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Assets for Independence program, more than doubling its total funds and its reach to potential participants.
Now funded with $3.47 million in grants, AZ Earn to Learn is expected to be able to serve 1,565 students across Arizona.
"AZ Earn to Learn is an innovative initiative that not only provides critical need-based aid, but also helps students prepare for the financial and academic rigor of university life," said Arizona Board of Regents chairman Rick Myers. "I am extremely proud that our state universities are leading the nation in this unique effort and am thrilled that the program is expanding."
To be eligible for AZ Earn to Learn, students and their families must earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Students begin the program with their families as seniors in high school. They are required to save at least $25 a month in a special Individual Development Account for a minimum of six consecutive months, complete financial education classes and receive one-on-one financial coaching and college readiness training.
Once a student enrolls at one of Arizona's three state universities, they qualify to receive $8 for every $1 they saved, up to $4,000 in matching funds – $2,000 from the federal grant and $2,000 from their university of choice. That money can be used for tuition, fees and other approved education-related expenses at one of the three state universities.
The UA will use its share of the second round of funding to extend the program for a second year to existing AZ Earn to Learn scholars at the UA who wish to continue in the program, said Mike Staten, principal investigator on the UA's grant and a professor in the John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences.
"We were worried that one year of support might not be enough," said Staten, also executive director of the UA's Take Charge America Institute for Consumer Financial Education and Research.
"The real question is: Can this kind of match savings support, coupled with some University resources, help get students here and keep them here?" Staten said. "We don't just want them to start, we want them to finish, so we decided to focus Project Two funds on offering our Project One participants a second round of support to get them to continue to save."
When AZ Earn to Learn launched with $1.55 million last year, the UA received the largest share of funding – $1 million over five years. In its first year, the University enrolled about 50 students in the program and continues to recruit more.
For Verduzco, AZ Earn to Learn not only helped her pay for her first year of college, it also helped prepare her to manage money on her own.
"Before this program I never really understood anything financial. It's great that they're coaching us to be financially savvy," Verduzco said.
Since enrolling in the program, Verduzco has saved $45 a month and by December will have $500 of her own money set aside. She also has learned a great deal from the program's educational workshops, offered both in person and online.
"It teaches you to be confident about money instead of being scared and not understanding," said Verduzco, who also is an Arizona Assurance scholar. "The program is so supportive, and there's always someone there to answer your questions."Editor: Alexis BlueWriter: Alexis BlueByline: Alexis BlueByline Affiliation: University CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The unique savings and financial education program was designed to provide financial support for incoming college freshmen from low-income families, while teaching them good savings habits.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image:
Park(ing) Day -- a collaboration between the Living Street Alliance, the Sustainable City Project, the Downtown Tucson Partnership and the University of Arizona College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture -- returned to Tucson in the form of mini, temporary parks the size of parking spaces. These experimental "parklets" were designed as green space, herb gardens, seating, bike parking and a place for children and families to play.Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Arts and HumanitiesYouTube Video: Tiny Parks Pop Up on City Streets Video of Tiny Parks Pop Up on City Streets Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: Park(ing) Day -- a collaboration between the Living Street Alliance, the Sustainable City Project, the Downtown Tucson Partnership and the University of Arizona College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture -- returned to Tucson in the form of mini, temporary parks the size of parking spaces. These experimental "parklets" were designed as green space, herb gardens, seating, bike parking and a place for children and families to play. Long Summary: Park(ing) Day -- a collaboration between the Living Street Alliance, the Sustainable City Project, the Downtown Tucson Partnership and the University of Arizona College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture -- returned to Tucson in the form of mini, temporary parks the size of parking spaces. These experimental "parklets" were designed as green space, herb gardens, seating, bike parking and a place for children and families to play. UANow Image: Include in Olympic coverage: noInclude in UANow: yesDate of Publication: Monday, November 25, 2013
A group of 10 University of Arizona students have just earned Fulbright awards for 2013-2014, earning the institution billing for being a top nationwide producer of such award recipients.
The U.S. Department of State recently announced the complete list of colleges and universities that produced the most 2013-2014 Fulbright U.S. Students.
"The University of Arizona is thrilled to have 10 Fulbright recipients this year," said Karna Walter, assistant director for student engagement at the UA's Honors College. "These students are doing amazing research and teaching English in a variety of countries around the world, from Loas to Brazil."
Other doctoral/research institutions listed as top producers – with anywhere from 10 to 39 recipients – include Harvard University, Princeton University, Stanford University, Ohio State University and the University of California, Berkeley, among others.
All told, more than 1,800 U.S. students, artists and young professionals in more than 100 different fields of study have been offered Fulbright Program grants to study, teach English and conduct research in more than 140 countries throughout the world.
The 10 UA-affiliates, some of whom have graduated, are:
- Alumni Jovan Ruvalcaba and Tucker Bungard were each funded to complete English teaching assistantships in Brazil.
- Graduate student Desneige Hallbert, a graduate student in the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, was funded to travel to India where she is volunteering and engaged in community-based work.
- Lily House-Peters, a doctoral candiate in the School of Geography and Development, was funded to conduct a study in Mexico. Her dissertation-related research centers on impacts of climate change, economic policy, geopolitics and drought on water use and land use decisions
- Daniela Ugaz, who earned her Master of Fine Arts, who has translated electronic health-related publications into Spanish, was also funded to conduct work in Mexico.
- Christine Lazcano, an undergraduate, was funded to complete an English teaching assistantship in Oman.
- Michele O'Shea, a dual degree student at the College of Medicine and Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, is conducting research in Malawi under the special Fulbright Fogarty Fellowship.
- Elizabeth Phillips, who earned a master's degree from the College of Public Health, was funded to conduct a study in Nigeria.
- Jesse Washburn, who earned a master's degree in art education, was funded to complete an English teaching assistantship in Laos.
- Undergraduate student Monica Xiong of neuroscience and cognitive science, received funding for a study in New Zealand.
Dating back to 2006, the UA has had at least 10 recipients for the majority of years. The University's' Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships (ONCS) administers the competition for the Fulbright Program, which is the U.S. government's flagship international educational exchange program.
The primary goal of the office is to help top UA students and alumni successfully compete for nationally competitive scholarships. Housed within the UA Honors College, the ONCS helps students identify potential scholarships and then assists with the application and interview process.Editor: La Monica Everett-HaynesByline Affiliation: University CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: With 10 UA students earning Fulbright awards for 2013-2014, the UA once again has been named a top producer of such scholars across the U.S.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: