Teacher-Researcher Partnerships at UNO Highlighted in Upcoming MUJ

The most recent issue of Metropolitan Universities Journal features research by Dr. William Tapprich and his colleagues involved with the Teacher-Researcher Partnership Program (TRPP) at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), a CUMU member institution. This article examines the creation and enhancement of a “STEM ecosystem” between UNO and the teachers and administrators of the K-12 Omaha Public School (OPS) system. This “ecosystem” provides opportunities for teachers and youth in the Omaha community to conduct genuine research experiments with the supplies, services, equipment, and funding available to UNO in collaboration with, and support from, UNO leaders in a diverse variety of scientific disciplines. The TRPP Project Gallery demonstrates the breadth of science research conducted by teachers in the program.

One such project was the installation of a sustainable rain garden at Omaha Northwest High School (ONWHS) that collects excess water run-off from the streets to sustain plants native to the region. The garden collects and absorbs storm water, preventing it from overflowing storm drains, mixing with the sewage in Omaha’s combined sewer system, and flooding yards in the neighborhood. Rachael Burns, a teacher at ONWHS, worked in collaboration with Dr. Steve Rodie, professor and Director of the Center for Urban Sustainability, and his students to design and implement the 20 foot garden. Dr. Rodie described this collaboration as a “good way to combine curriculum from class and the research design process” for his collegiate students.

Ms. Burns echoed that sentiment, explaining that the project gave her students a hands-on opportunity to appreciate the community they grow up in. “It’s more than just about sustainability,” said Ms. Burns, “they are applying what they learned. They are not just sitting and taking notes, then taking a test. They get to actually do, and by doing, they learn. It’s something they can take pride in because it’s affecting their community.” Ms. Burns’ advanced horticulture class recently became the state winner of the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest, which rewards schools solving community problems using STEM skills. They will now compete at the national level for a chance to pitch their idea in New York City for a prize of $140,000.

According to Dr. Tapprich, many of the TRPP teachers who submitted applications and participated in summer 2015 also participated in the OPS’s K-12 Comprehensive Teaching and Learning Project, and 5 out of 6 participating teachers outlined their plans to obtain Masters and Doctorate graduate degrees as a part of their participation. All of the participants noted how the synergy of the K-12 project, TRPP, and their graduate courses contributed to their effectiveness in STEM education.

Dr. Tapprich and the TRPP team are currently organizing research partnerships for this upcoming summer, riding on the success of their program from this past year’s cohort. They have 17 teachers and 16 research mentors accepted into TRPP 2016 and are in the process of matching teachers with UNO mentors. Several of the 2015 teachers and mentors are returning in 2016, highlighting the positive and rewarding impact TRPP has on members of both the university and the community in which it is embedded.

For more information about how the TRPP program establishes the resources and infrastructure needed to engage K-12 science teachers and their students in scientific research experiences, be sure to check out Dr. Tapprich and colleagues’ article “Enhancing the STEM Ecosystem through Teacher-Researcher Partnerships” in the upcoming issue of Metropolitan Universities Journal.

To see the TRPP in action and for more information about the ONWHS rain garden, click here and here and watch the video below.