Faculty & Staff Science STEM Teacher Leadership

Undergrads teach, inspire high school students

Out front of Lopata House at Washington University in St. Louis, an elaborate game of tag is underway. A group of high school students are zig-zagging through their peers to grab candy from a designated area without getting stuck with a Post-it note. Inside the building, students in classrooms are creating marshmallow towers and playing with plastic eggs.

All this fun and games was done in the name of science education, as part of the annual Animal Behavior and Evolution Day, held Saturday, November 4. It’s the brainchild of Joan Strassmann, the Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences, and a Faculty Fellow with the university’s Institute for School Partnership. Each year, she charges the undergraduates in her Behavioral Ecology course with creating engaging hands-on activities to teach local high school biology students important concepts in animal behavior and evolution. The event drew nearly 50 students from 15 area high schools. Two came from as faraway as Jefferson City, Missouri.

Addisyn Henley has always been interested in science. She wants to be a doctor, and is eyeing WashU for medical school. She was impressed with the college students.

“I like WashU. The people here are so nice and welcoming,” said Henley who attends Jefferson City High School.

“The activities were helpful and a fun way to get the students involved,” said her Jefferson City classmate Sindhi Balakumar.

Erica Ryu, a senior majoring in biochemistry helped lead the plastic egg lesson, highlighting sex allocation and local resource competition. The goal was to make the activity fun. And evidenced by the laughs and smiles the game elicited, it was a success.

“It’s a Saturday morning and people are tired. They’ve been to school all week. Our aim is to provide a fun interactive activity for them to enjoy. You gain more out of that” she explained. “I like talking to people, educating them and making them excited about science. It’s important to me that people understand science and get excited about it!”

“It was a really fun day,” said Nicholas Shannon, who attended with a group of classmates from St. Louis College Prep, and wants to be a chemical engineer. “I’ve always liked science. It’s a natural fit for me.”

Lindbergh High School student Sindhu Bala has her sights set on a biology degree. But she’s wavering between evolutionary biology and animal cognition.

“This event was helpful in learning more about that path,” she said. “It was a lot of fun, and I learned about WashU and the research opportunities available here.”

The Institute for School Partnership’s Faculty Fellows program honors faculty members for their research and work on behalf of K-12 education. The ISP provides support for faculty to connect directly with schools to make meaningful contributions to urban education and offers networking opportunities for faculty to share ideas and expertise about their work with one another.