UCAR > Communications > Staff Notes Monthly > July 2001 Search

July 2001

New study is taking a closer look at SOARS

2001 SOARS protégés (front row, left to right): Monica Rivera, Casey Thornbrugh, Segayle Walford, Ernesto Muñoz-Acevedo, Kate Dollen, Maribel Martinez; second row: Eric Noble, Summer Sands, Andrew Church, Brad Navarro, Pauline Datulayta, Sarah Tessendorf, Tamara Singleton; third row: Michael Johnson, Yasmin Rodriguez, Fabiola Navarro, Theresa Johnson, Rynda Hudman; back row: Shanna Pitter, Resa Kelly. (Not pictured: Yarice Rodriguez.)

Sandra Henderson and Resa Kelly. (Photos by Carlye Calvin.)

Like a mechanic peering under the hood of a Lamborghini, Sandra Henderson is trying to find out how SOARS stays revved up. This spring Sandra embarked on a study commissioned by the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science program. The goal: learn what aspects of the six-year-old program are working best and how they might be transferred to other disciplines.

SOARS has exceeded the expectations of its founders, including UCAR president Rick Anthes and SOARS director Tom Windham. Already, 32 protégés—most from underrepresented groups—have entered into graduate programs and nine have completed master's degrees. Three are on their way to doctorates.

As the renewal of the SOARS proposal drew closer earlier this year, Tom and Rick wanted to go beyond obvious measures of success—and so did NSF. "They recognized SOARS as a model," says Tom, "and they saw a need to share that model and the lessons learned with the atmospheric sciences community." One goal was to look more closely and qualitatively at how the program has influenced protégés, mentors, and UCAR itself.

Many staff already know Sandra; she's been at UCAR since 1996 with the middle-school enhancement program LEARN: Atmospheric Science Explorers. Less well known is that Sandra has an extensive research background in environmental science, with an emphasis on climate change issues. Later this summer she'll be defending her doctorate in science education from Oregon State University (OSU).

"Most evaluations are of interest [only] to funders and program administrators," says Sandra. "A research study like this hopefully appeals to a broader audience—university and laboratory science educators, people interested in diversity programs, and scientists at research universities." She'll be looking at SOARS as it operates in an atmospheric research setting, "but content doesn't have to drive the program. The lessons learned from SOARS could be applied at any research laboratory studying any topic of interest."

A master's-level geographer, Sandra spent 12 years at the Environmental Protection Agency in Corvallis, Oregon. Her shift to science education was part of a personal metamorphosis in the late 1980s. "At that time, ozone depletion and global warming were just coming into the public consciousness. There was not a lot of teaching material available." Over time, as people called for information, Sandra became the lab's contact person and eventually its first director of education. In 1991 Sandra landed an internal EPA grant to partner with local K–12 teachers to develop global change teaching materials. That project piqued her interest enough to send her back to graduate school at OSU. Her doctoral thesis delineates best practices in partnerships between K–12 science teachers and scientists at national research labs. Since moving to Boulder in 1993, she's split her time between LEARN and a variety of consulting gigs with NOAA, NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

"What does it mean that SOARS is considered a successful program?" she asks. "If you wanted to do a program similar to SOARS, how would you do it?" To answer these questions, Sandra is asking protégés and mentors for their thoughts via e-mail and in-person interviews; she'll also examine how they interact. Sandra has already gotten a "phenomenal response" from mentors in her first e-mail requests for feedback. "To get a real feel for the entire program, it's necessary to collect information from all participants. Then you can go further." For instance, she may compare the experiences of new versus returning protégés. In the end, "We'll have a really rich, descriptive study," one that will probably be submitted to journals serving meteorologists as well as science educators.

Sandra herself is a SOARS science research mentor this summer. Her protégé is Resa Kelly, a graduate student in chemistry education at the University of Northern Colorado. Resa is working with Sandra on the SOARS study, which gives her a chance to help evaluate the program as she participates in it. According to Tom, "The study is a formal learning opportunity that would not have been there otherwise. We try to capitalize on all activities as opportunities for student learning."

• Bob Henson

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UCAR > Communications > Staff Notes Monthly > July 2001 Search

Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Tue Jun 26 15:04:26 MDT 2001