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Student Outreach Feature Stories

Working with Underserved Children

Committed, but Flexible, Russell Cave Elementary Program

In 2002 CAER staff wanted to create a long-term partnership with a neighboring elementary school that consistently scored low on standardized tests. Through trial and error -- the weekly visits to fourth-graders became a streamlined, sophisticated, multidisciplinary approach to learning science.

Russel Cave students and CAER scientists
Russell Cave Students
Russel Cave students and CAER scientists
Russell Cave Students

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The initial years were a well-intentioned attempt by non-educators to strengthen Russell Cave's science curriculum by introducing hands-on experiments and demonstrations. The early show-and-tell program contained a bit of everything and ranged from chromatography to sound waves to making weather thermometers. The kids loved it. However, our partner teacher was looking for something more than entertaining her students for an hour a week. She wanted a deeper learning experience with some longevity.

Russel Cave students and CAER scientists
Russell Cave Students
Russel Cave students and CAER scientists
Russell Cave Students

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The program has become a single-topic project that requires multiple weeks to complete and provides a much deeper learning process for the students. Today's program involves an explanation of coal, fly ash, and cement, followed by a civil engineering lesson on creating various mixtures that harden into small mortar blocks. Timing, hardness, and components of these blocks are then charted, graphed, and using statistics, the students apply and analyze the data. The blocks are ultimately crushed by the students, using 'cool' equipment.

As important as the crosscutting math and science learned is, the partnership formed between the university and a local elementary school is as well. So many well-meaning outreach partnerships fail after the first blush of newness and excitement wanes. It was important to CAER that this was a program that can continue and be refined and improved over the years, changing to meet the times.

 

University Connections

Undergrads and Grad Students Both Have a Place at CAER

Undergraduate Students - Throughout the school year, you can find at least 20 undergrads working at the CAER. In the summer that number increases to 45 or more. The burgeoning summer numbers illustrate that many undergraduates want to work here; and we have the research for them. The CAER employs UK undergraduates on an informal basis, and participates in the College of Engineering's Co-op program, where students perform research in their fields before graduation. This is designed to take place on alternating semesters for a total of three terms. Several researchers are also adjunct faculty members of UK departments and teach courses in mining, mechanical, and chemical engineering; geology; and chemistry.

Graduate Students - The CAER takes a multi-pronged approach to preparing science professionals for the future. It creates an environment where graduate students can perform research while being connected to the real world. They develop connections between academic-style research training and industrial research practice; participate in graduate education where Ph.D. students learn how potential commercial applications can fulfill the pursuits of basic scientific questions; and how those answers are put into practice.

Vence Easterling is a perfect example of this. A chemical engineering Ph.D. candidate working in the Biofuels Group, he made news for his catalytic converter research, looking for ways to cleanse vehicle emissions. The story appeared in UKNOW and was publicized by Ford Motor Company.

ESIREM Exchange Program

Since 1999 the CAER has hosted materials engineering students from the University of Burgundy's ESIREM program in Dijon, France. These students work at CAER for five months in order to finish their senior internship requirements. This is the second decade that this exchange program has existed between ESIREM and CAER. The students return to France to present their work before faculty members in September. This is part of a larger university-wide partnering program with the French school that includes UK's Colleges of Agriculture and Business.