Education initiative at UO advances STEM learning statewide

A University of Oregon scholarship program funded by the National Science Foundation is enhancing teacher education on campus and creating a ripple effect in public schools around Oregon.

Experiencing Science Practices through Research to Inspire Teaching, also known by the acronym ESPRIT, is a collaboration between the College of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences made possible in part by the UO’s STEM Careers through Outreach, Research and Education, or STEM CORE, a center that supports undergraduate research opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math, along with other programs that create opportunities in K-12 and community college settings.

The ESPRIT program recently held a signing ceremony to celebrate its six new scholarship recipients. The ceremony took place at UO’s HEDCO  Building. 

This year’s ESPRIT scholars are: Zoe Wender and Jack Husmann, both incoming UOTeach graduate students, and undergraduates Meghan Chrissakis, majoring in biology; Maya Treder, a general science major; Jackson Robinson, a physics major; and Sam Pabst, also a physics major.

ESPRIT is designed to recruit, prepare and support UO science majors for K-12 science teaching careers in high-need school districts. The program arranges for veteran teachers to serve as mentors for recently graduated teachers to support their continued growth. A number of the program’s alumni are now teaching in high-need schools across Oregon.

“In a program like this, we are in position to witness a multiplier effect where the students in our program go on to positively change the lives of hundreds of young people every year,” said Bryan Rebar, associate director of STEM CORE.

Maya Treder, a senior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in general science, received an ESPRIT scholarship this year. 

“When I found out I'd be receiving the ESPRIT Noyce senior year scholarship, I was gobsmacked,” she said, admitting to shedding tears of joy. “The feelings of relief, excitement, validation and overwhelming thankfulness are still fresh every time I think about my future.”

Halli Roussell received the ESPRIT scholarship in 2018 during her senior year of college, which helped cover some of her expenses as well as funding her master’s degree in 2019. She now works as a science teacher at Lincoln Middle School in the South Lane School District.

“The ESPRIT program helped me to visualize what STEM education could look like, helped plug me in to other people in the community I could learn from, and gave me more resources and support to bring STEM to students, especially to those who are historically marginalized from STEM disciplines,” she said. “I definitely would not be in the same place without it.”

Rebar takes pride in seeing the program’s alumni go out into the community.

“Nothing is more gratifying in education than seeing students with whom you worked go on to use what they've learned to make the world a better place,” he said.

In recent news, STEM CORE will be spearheading the coordination of the Central Western Oregon Science Expo held biannually on the UO campus for K-12 students from various southern Willamette Valley counties, which serves as a gateway to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. 

STEM CORE continues to lead or co-lead K-12 outreach programs in partnership with faculty members. Those include the Eugene Water and Electric Board Solar Challenge for middle school students, the Slinky Seismometer project, NSF-supported brain-themed projects in partnership with the local STEM middle school Arts and Technology Academy, fossil workshops and more. 

“I would really encourage anyone considering the next step of their career in science to apply for the ESPRIT scholarship,” Roussell said. “This is so much more than a one-and-done type of scholarship. You get so much more support and longer-lasting impact than one sum of money to help you financially.”

Visit STEM CORE’s homepage to learn more.

—By Alyson Johnston, College of Arts and Sciences