As a biologist and aspiring teacher, I have always been curious about many aspects of teaching science. If I were ever to do undergraduate research while here at Mason, I always knew that it would be in the realm of education research.
Last semester my mentor Dr. Reid Schwebach, was working with Dr. Padmanabhan Seshaiyer on a grant to design an institute where teachers from Academic Year Virginia Governor’s Schools could come together to learn more about how to effectively mentor high school students on their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related research projects. Knowing that there was going to be an institute filled with highly qualified Governor’s School teachers/mentors and experts on undergraduate research taking place, I thought it would be a great opportunity to tap into the rich participant pool of the institute by developing a study around it.
I was very curious about how the Virginia Governor’s Schools, specialized high schools who enroll talented and gifted students from all across Virginia, implemented their own mentored research programs, and what best practices the teachers/mentors used to effectively mentor their students. My research project is essentially a phenomenological study of STEM mentorship within the Governor’s Schools.
Most of my weeks are spent reviewing literature on mentorship, coding and organizing data I collected using qualitative data analysis software, and working on a paper that my mentor and I hope to get published later this year. I check in with my mentor at least once or twice a week to share ideas and discuss the project.
During the week of June 23, I was able to attend the 4-VA Summer Institute at the Smithsonian –Mason School of Conservation (SMSC) campus in Front Royal to collect the data I needed for my project. For five days, I met with 19 Governor’s school teachers from all over Virginia and attended a number of lectures on how to engage high school students in research projects, how to use statistical analysis and modeling software useful for research, how to tap into big data and use it to answer unanswered questions, and much more with them. As an OSCAR researcher, I attended every lecture to take notes of the proceedings of the day and to record the comments and questions that the teachers posed. I also had the opportunity to hand out a questionnaire that I had developed (after many rounds of back-and-forth with the good ol’ IRB!) in order to better understand what these teachers/mentors are doing at their schools, and what their initial thoughts on mentorship were. I was able to collect lots of great data by observing the teacher interactions throughout the duration of the institute!
I really enjoyed hearing the thoughts that the Governor’s School teachers had on mentorship, but even more so I enjoyed seeing the teachers collaborate and exchange their ideas amongst each other. I can’t wait to hear about how the teachers have incorporated what they have learned at the institute within their own schools in the institute follow-up later this fall!