By Christina Steube
Students from Madison S. Palmer High School in Marks got a hands-on learning experience in a college atmosphere recently when they visited the University of Mississippi’s Department of Biology.
These students attended learning sessions in Shoemaker Hall, where they participated in field sampling, isolated DNA and learned to use a microscope to view microbes.
Daniel Myrick, a first-year biology teacher at the high school, led the trip to improve academic standards and resources for his students. Myrick, who graduated from UM last May, reached out to Ole Miss assistant biology professor Erik Hom to plan this trip and another for the upcoming fall semester.
“As I spent the first three months with my students, I started to realize that not many of these students get the opportunities to spend time around college campuses via sporting events and educational programs,” Myrick said. “How can we expect students to apply and move away from everything they know if they have no experiences of what college is actually like?
“It is too big of a gap to bridge, so I wanted to start with my ninth-graders to show them what we as educators are pushing them toward for the next three years.”
Following the biology lesson, students attended a session with an admissions counselor at the Center for Manufacturing Excellence. The field trip ended with lunch at The Grill at 1810 and a tour of the Olivia and Archie Manning Athletics Performance Center.
Myrick reached out to the biology department to set up a tour that would include more than simply beautiful campus sites. Hom, who founded the pilot program ARISE@UM, designed to provide research opportunities for high school students over the summer, helped coordinate the visit.
After getting Myrick’s request, Hom and Renee Cunningham, assistant professor of math education, visited the school in Marks in November 2016.
“After that trip, I decided to apply for additional grant funding to make some of the things I talked with Daniel and was thinking about possible,” Hom said.
“I was intrigued by Daniel’s interest and wanted to help as best I could, since I’ve come to really believe our problems with STEM education and poor academic performance start well before college. High school is a really formative period for preparing students with the basics and habits to succeed in college and later in life.”
Hom applied for and received funding via his National Science Foundation grant, DEB-1541538. The additional funding included a Research Experiences for Teachers supplement and the Research Assistantships for High School Students supplement to support Myrick’s outreach efforts.
The RAHSS was approved for funding in late January, just in time to plan the field trip.
“We both felt it necessary to bring the students out to UM and begin a steady effort to show them the opportunities for education at college and how exciting science can be,” Hom said. “We want to build relationships, and I do not believe in hit-and-run outreach, so I hope we might be able to continue what we have started in the years to come.”
The two grant supplements total more than $25,000. Hom will use part of the funds to support Myrick’s work by helping him develop teaching modules and supporting field trip activities.
Some of the funds will allow a Madison S. Palmer High School senior who attends UM beginning this fall to participate in summer research in Hom’s lab as part of the ARISE@UM program.
“Part of the draw of teaching and working at UM is the opportunity to lend a helping hand to communities in need in Mississippi – a little bit of help here goes so much further than the much better-resourced places I’ve been before, and I find it quite rewarding to be able to effect change,” Hom said.
Thanks to the supplemental NSF funding, Myrick also will get to work in Hom’s lab this summer on research related to Hom’s primary project under the NSF Genealogy of Life program. Myrick plans to focus on how he can bring research with fungi, algae, field sampling and symbiosis to his classrooms through teaching modules.
The field trip was a huge success, Myrick said. He plans to work with Hom to improve the experience so his high school freshmen can continue to learn from and build relationships with a college professor.
“My students loved being treated like college students where they were just expected to work and do right, and they loved getting to work in the labs,” Myrick said. “What they had been learning recently in my class transferred to an experiment they could do in a college lab, and I think that started to give importance to what they are required to learn in high school.
“My goal was not for them to just love Ole Miss, but I wanted them to love the idea of pursing a college that fits them.”