Grant supports summer internships focusing on STEM education

August 17, 2016

Lisle, Illinois ~ Benedictine University is assisting more than a dozen students with paid summer internships as part of a two-fold plan to introduce them to the teaching profession and further develop marketable career skills.

The initiative is part of a greater focus within the College of Science’s Benedictine Educating STEM Teachers program to encourage more students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields to consider teaching as a profession.

The program is supported by a $1.2 million Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Grant awarded by the National Science Foundation.

“We are hoping through these experiences that students will consider a career in teaching, but it is more pragmatic than that,” said Allison Wilson, Ph.D., professor of Biological Sciences at BenU. “It’s more about seeing how nontraditional classroom education occurs, which may lead students to be more willing to practice teaching in terms of volunteer work.”

Since it was awarded in 2012, the grant has assisted dozens of undergraduate students and adult career-changers with stipends for teaching in high-needs schools after they graduate. It has also been used to expose incoming freshman and transfer students to the teaching field through the University’s Learning Assistant program and an Exploring Careers in Science course.

The new summer internship positions were created through existing partnerships with Brookfield Zoo, the DuPage County Forest Preserve and the Morton Arboretum.

“All of them are unique to this program,” Wilson said. “Our partners went to their staffs and said ‘What do you need? How do you need extra help?’”

At Brookfield Zoo, students are serving as senior roving naturalists, engaging guests to the zoo with information and close-up animal encounters with arachnids, crustaceans and insects, as well as reptiles, amphibians, fish and a variety of other domestic and exotic animals. The internship includes a week-long certified interpretive guide training program.

Through the DuPage County Forest Preserve, a student intern is helping to plan and lead lessons as a science camp assistant at the Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center in Oak Brook.

Another is working as a naturalist assistant at the Willowbrook Wildlife Center presenting “Critter Chats,” which provide visitors with nature discovery discussions and activities. The student will also design an exhibit guide for the center and take inventory of animal artifacts. A third student is interning as a science program assistant, helping the forest preserve’s district headquarters develop and deliver engaging science programs.

At the Morton Arboretum, students are assisting science camp instructors in nature discovery classes and other outdoor education activities; designing a self-guided experience for visitors to the arboretum; conducting research on nature play spaces and their impact on early childhood education; creating a website to capture research and evaluations of different projects for arboretum staff; planning, writing and producing scripts for guided walks or tram tours, special events or labels for collections, gardens and natural areas; and developing content for adult education classes.

The University also offers summer internships through the Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum where students organize and prepare educational kits filled with natural history specimens and activities (called Discovery Boxes) and lead lessons for children attending Summer Fun Day Camp.

“The internship I had working with children at the Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum was such an engaging experience. It gave me a lot of experience working through and explaining key topics pertaining to the natural sciences,” said Elementary Education major Samia Quadri. “Through all of the responsibilities I had, I was able to learn and gain a lot of experience that I will need as a future educator.”

At the end of the internships, students may give presentations at different forums such as the Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Arts Symposium.

This all provides a great experience for BenU students and gives them an advantage in their career field. A second round of summer internships is planned for 2016.

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Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls nearly 10,000 students in 56 undergraduate and 19 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the sixt consecutive year in 2016. A 2016 PayScale Inc. report ranked BenU one of the top 10 colleges in Illinois for return on investment and in the top 20 percent nationally. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommision.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, admissions@ben.edu or visit ben.edu.

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