Between earning his undergraduate degree, Ph.D., and working as a research scientist, Marcus Foston spent 13 years at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Around year 10, he said his mother asked him exactly what his job was.
“I told her I was a professional student and to a certain extent, that is still true today. I spend most of my time teaching or learning. I am still a student at heart,” said Foston, associate professor of energy, environment, and chemical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis.
His passion for lifelong learning has inspired him to engage with K-12 students in the St. Louis region through faculty engagement opportunities facilitated by the Institute for School Partnership. He’s particularly focused on engaging women and minorities.
“Often, underrepresented students are not given the opportunity to engage with STEM subjects early enough, in a way that is inspiring, exciting and hands-on,” he said. “Even more importantly, many youth, especially those who are socio-economically disadvantaged, are more discouraged than ever, feeling that going to school is not a viable route to success and that they have no place engaging in STEM subjects or pursing goals of higher education.”
Foston has participated in several ISP programs. A relatively new initiative called SciZoom is a series of free virtual webinars, facilitated by ISP instructional specialists, that connect K-12 students with WashU faculty. Students learn about the latest scientific research and innovation.
ISP Executive Director Victoria May said the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the ISP to innovate and technology allowed it to connect to classrooms with a wider impact.
“We saw a need to deliver interactive content tailored to teachers and students,” May said.
For several years now, Foston has also participated in “Researcher for a Day” events, providing middle school students with first-hand exposure to engineering and chemistry through an intensive experience in his lab.
“Washington University has a unique resource in the Institute for School Partnership,” Foston said. “The ISP has been an amazing and critical partner in my lab outreach program, not only connecting my group with local St Louis K-12 institutions and educators, but also helping to organize logistical and technical support that has made my outreach effort enjoyable and impactful. “
One of the priorities of the ISP is assisting faculty to engage with the K-12 school community. These faculty collaboration efforts include support of faculty-led workshops and speaking engagements. Recruitment of teachers for teacher-researcher partnerships, and recruitment of students for lab research experiences and events.
Foston said it’s important for university faculty, like himself, to nurture the next generation of scientists and engineers and increase STEM awareness for all students, especially those furthest from opportunity.
“As university faculty working in STEM research at one of the top academic institutions in the country, it is important to engage with K-12 students in the St. Louis region, especially underserved students on a personal level. This faculty engagement and STEM outreach should be designed to inspire, excite and motivate.”
The SciZoom series resumed this fall with Washington University Professor of Biology Yehuda Ben-Shahar. For a full list of fall speakers and to view past recordings, visit the Institute for School Partnership website.