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IGERT Trainees use Multiple Approaches for Public Education and Service


Students funded through the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program in Indoor Environmental Science and Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) have actively engaged in public outreach and service. Related activities have included improved awareness of indoor environmental science and engineering issues in high schools, public education, and general support of science activities at the elementary school level.

Three activities undertaken by IGERT trainees, affiliates, and faculty members involved attempts to raise awareness of indoor environmental science and engineering issues at the high school level. For the second year in a row IGERT trainee Diana Hun teamed with IGERT affiliates Donghyun Rim and Chi Hoang, as well as IGERT faculty participants Richard Corsi and Kerry Kinney, to help educate 200 minority high school students on indoor environmental issues as part of UTs Minority Introduction to Engineering (MITE) program. On two occasions Drs. Corsi and Kinney provided short lectures on the importance of the quality of indoor environments. These lectures were followed by demonstrations related to candle soot, air movement in homes (using a scale model home with smoke releases) and the use of thermal manikins to simulate the influence of human buoyant plumes on air flow in rooms.

Our IGERT program has also provided opportunities for high school teachers to learn first-hand about indoor air quality and to bring their experiences back to their own students. During the summer of 2007, three high school teachers from Texas and Georgia worked in indoor air quality laboratories at UT, completing research toward their masters theses in Science Education. All three teachers worked with IGERT faculty participant Dr. Richard Corsi, and interacted daily with a large number of IGERT tarinees and affiliates. They attended weekly IGERT student group meetings and IGERT social events. Teacher Jill Flatt studied the hydrolysis of 2,2,4-trimethyl-1,3-pentanediol, a key component of latex paint. Teacher Judy McConnell studied levels of terpenes (commonly used as scenting agents) in homes in Central Texas. Teacher Annie Chatfield studied emissions of p-dichlorobenzene from a large number of consumer products, including the effects of air flow over the products on emission strengths. Each teacher was an integral part of the IGERT program for the summer period, and brought what they learned back to their high school classes, hopefully to the next generation of indoor environmental scientists and engineers.

In addition to providing demonstrations for students and hands-on experimental experience for teachers, one IGERT trainee (Ellison Carter) and three affiliates (Jason Fialkoff, Amanda Gonzalez, Priscilla Guerrero) developed a series of lectures and experimental activities related to indoor environmental science that can be incorporated into high school science curricula. In doing so they studied the requirements of materials necessary for standardized tests in Texas, interviewed numerous teachers, and will test their lectures and activities in high school classrooms in May. The goal of these activities is to provide high school teachers with well-defined and interesting activities that will expose high school students to the field of indoor environmental science and engineering, and to provide an increasing pipeline of future college students with an interest in the field.

Address Goals

The aforementioned outreach activities go to the heart of learning, not just for the public that receives information from our IGERT students, but also for our IGERT students. Students need to “boil down” complex subjects in such a way that the general public can understand those concepts, and then act to improve its own indoor environments. In doing so, our IGERT students employ state-of-the-art demonstrations of pollutant emissions, air flow in buildings, and the effects of human beings on indoor air flow. Once it goes on-line our trainees and affiliates will track the number of individuals who access the public information website, to determine the extent that the public learns from their efforts. Similarly, our trainees and affiliates are attempting to get their public service announcement aired on television in order to reach a very audience. They are also working to have their indoor environmental science and engineering module incorporated into high school science curricula. These efforts go to the strategic goal of learning through literacy of all citizens.