Cornell and five other universities will share a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a training program that educates middle school, high school and college teachers in how to deliver an interactive curriculum that promotes the development of bioenergy and bio-based products to students.
Corinne Rutzke, a senior research associate in biological and environmental engineering, will create the program’s activity-based educational tools at Cornell. Rutzke is also the director of the newly formed Northeast Bioenergy and Bioproducts Education Program and the executive director of the Northeast Sun Grant Initiative Institute of Excellence.
“It will give science teachers the tools to bring depth to their lessons,” Rutzke said. These tools include hands-on activities, lab kits for students to make sugar from switchgrass, and SMART Boards in classrooms, she added.
According to Rutzke, SMART Boards are installed in a lot of schools around the country but teachers don’t know how to use them.
“The overarching goal is to try and really excite kids to take science, technology, engineering and math courses,” Rutzke said. “They are going to be the generation facing the technological barriers we face today.”
Rutzke said she hopes to inspire students to pursue careers in science and engineering.
“Kids today are really interested and take very seriously topics about the environment,” Rutzke said. “We’re using that in hopes that, like the space programs in the 1950s and ’60s, it will inspire students.”
Rutzke will host intensive training workshops for science teachers on Cornell’s Ithaca campus in conjunction with the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research. She is currently recruiting teachers for the 2012 summer session. According to Rutzke, there will be similar sessions at the five other sites.
The other institutions that received grant funding are the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Delaware State University, The Ohio State University, and The Ohio State University’s Ohio Bioproducts Innovation Center and the Energy and Climate Center at Pace University Law School.
Each institution will supplement the curriculum based on its specific expertise, the Cornell Chronicle reported.