Making Connections: Crossing Borders to Engage Students in Unique Learning Experiences

University of Toledo
Sammy Spann
University of Toledo logo

Sponsored - The University of Toledo’s global reach provides opportunities for budding scientists around the world to become the problem solvers of tomorrow and student leaders who have a positive impact on their communities today.

A new Rocket Kids program led by Sammy Spann, Ph.D., UToledo vice president for student affairs and dean of students, provides a unique opportunity for college students to help active-duty service members while exploring the world.

Kevin Czajkowski

Through the program, which is funded with an $11.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, college students earn 15 credit hours while providing quality child development and care at U.S. Army bases in Germany, Italy or Belgium.

“We are proud to offer UToledo students and college students across the country the opportunity to participate in this unique international experience,” Spann said. “Rocket Kids is a great way to travel to a fun and exciting location, build your resume and most importantly gain hands-on experience with children and youth.”

The program pays for travel expenses and housing and provides a stipend of about $2,100 during the 12-week semester. U.S. citizens enrolled at a U.S. college or university are eligible to apply. All majors are welcome.

Marysa King, a first-year UToledo student studying middle childhood education, is among the first participants of the Rocket Kids program and will be heading to Europe during summer semester.

“This is such an exciting opportunity because not only do I get to do what I love and am most passionate about, which is working with children, but it is also an amazing way to give back to those serving our country and their families,” King said. “I also love to travel and see different cultures, so it is a great learning experience as well.”

Students in Ohio and as far as the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia are collecting scientific data and asking research questions critical to the study of urban heat islands and climate change thanks to a NASA-funded STEM project led by UToledo.

Thousands of students in 6th, 7th and 8th grades across the U.S. and around the world upload their surface temperature measurements — asphalt, concrete, dirt and grass, in both sunlight and shade — to a database shared with climate scientists through NASA’s GLOBE program.

Participating schools and classrooms are trained and connected through the coordination of Dr. Kevin Czajkowski, Distinguished University Professor of geography and planning in the UToledo College of Arts and Letters, who launched GLOBE Mission EARTH.

“Are the student observations accurate?” Czajkowski said. “The answer is yes. We use National Weather Service observations to compare. They’re gathering street-level information to supplement satellite readings and ultimately help local governments make important decisions about how to make their cities safer in a warming world.”

The project began in 2015 and has since gone international expanding to 42 countries with more than $24 million in funding and partners including NASA Langley Research Center, Boston University, Tennessee State University, Palmyra Cove Research Facility and University of California at Berkeley.

University of Toledo
Charlene Czerniak

Another project led by UToledo that engages young people in hands-on STEM education activities is successfully improving math and science scores for thousands of students in pre-K through third grade across the country.

Created by Charlene Czerniak, Ph.D., professor emeritus of science education and a research professor in the UToledo College of Engineering, the NURTURES program seeks to improve STEM education through teacher professional development, family engagement and community outreach.

Teachers are provided with the option of a two-week summer institute or 10-week fall institute, both consisting of the same amount of contact with facilitators, to strengthen their science content knowledge and instruction skills. During the school year they participate in monthly Professional Learning Communities and receive coaching.

The program also features take-home kits called Family Packs that explain how to dive into a child’s curiosity through specific science experiments. Providing the materials needed to complete the activity, take-home bags contain engaging activities designed to encourage family science inquiry and discourse using household items.

“Our research continues to suggest that students across the nation who have had a NURTURES-trained teacher outperform their peers on standardized tests in science, mathematics and literacy,” Czerniak said.

Students with NURTURES-trained teachers exhibited dramatic gains in mathematics and science scores, adding on average 26 points to a student’s mathematics test score and 14 points to a student’s science score compared to original assessments.

University of Toledo
Kristin Kirschbaum

The NURTURES program benefits 135 teachers, 2,700 underserved and

underrepresented pre-K-through-third-grade students, and 10,800 military-connected family members throughout the United States.

For the past dozen years, UToledo also has supported young scientists in classrooms by providing access to sophisticated scientific instruments remotely through the SCOPE program led by Kristin Kirschbaum, Ph.D., director of the UToledo Instrumentation Center.

More than 7,000 elementary, middle and high school students in the U.S. and around the globe have used the instruments, which include a scanning electron microscope, confocal light microscope and gas chromatography-mass spectrometer.

One popular project during the COVID-19 pandemic was young students using a scanning electron microscope to look at the sizes of holes in different styles of face masks and then compared those to known sizes of viruses, droplets and other particles to figure out which type of face covering is most effective.

Through these programs, UToledo’s work in making connections engages students in unique learning experiences.