Members of the Students Discover team recently visited the Nation’s Capital to present at the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE) Washington Symposium. This conference highlighted university, college, and community programs that are incorporating STEM education into real world applications. We were invited to speak about Students Discover and shared our experiences passionately. As part of this conference, we also met with Representative David Price of North Carolina’s 4th district to talk about our work and discuss the successes of the Students Discover program to date.

Liz Baird, Director of Education at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, kicked off our panel discussion on Monday, September 29, by explaining how Students Discover is groundbreaking in its implementation of citizen science research into the formal classroom setting. She described how students, teachers, and museum scientists are operating as one giant research team, and how this special collaboration started during the three-week summer externship that Students Discover Kenan Fellow teachers spent in the labs at the museum.

Dr. Stephanie Schuttler, postdoctoral research scientist on the eMammal project, talked about how integral the teachers were in transforming eMammal research into an engaging and educational module for middle school students. Graham Middle School teacher Dayson Pasion bragged about his field and data analysis experience at the museum. Christy Flint, coordinator of the Micro World Investigate Lab, described how the museum’s facilities provided enriching and hands-on experiences for the teachers that would help them conduct their research in the classroom and the lab. Hilburn Academy teacher Kelsie Armentrout shared what happened when she introduced eMammal camera trapping project to her eighth grade class. She shared that her students were so engaged with the project that many came to class a period early to practice the camera set up.

Finally, Malinda Faber, Research Associate at the Friday Institute, explained how Students Discover is going to be formally evaluated to measure educational outcomes and the success of scaling in different educational contexts. Not only will the four citizen science-based modules be used in the Kenan Fellows’ classrooms, but they will be broadly disseminated for use across North Carolina and beyond (even internationally). We want to share what we’re doing with the world!

The highlight of the DC trip was meeting with Representative Price. We shared the story of Students Discover’s development and our early successes with the project to date. Representative Price was impressed by the fantastic work done by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina teachers. He was happy to see such strong connections between multiple institutions including local school districts, NC State, the Museum, and the Friday Institute and was pleased that we were learning so much from each other. He also acknowledged that our work is a prime example of how museums directly benefit education and why national funding for such programs needs to be protected.

We also managed to work in some playtime into our work trip! Despite a busy schedule, we squeezed in short visits to the National Museum of the American Indian, The National Portrait Gallery, the United States Botanic Garden, and of course, the US Capitol. We also met up with Isabel Orendáin of the Museo de Paleontología de Guadalajara and Rahul Khot of the Bombay Natural History Society, partners in a Museums Connect Grant funded by the State Department, who were also in DC at the same time as our meeting. This project is an extension of eMammal and will facilitate the connection of classrooms between India, Mexico, and the US for students to share research photos as well as cultural traditions starting in 2015.

We had a great time in DC and look forward to the continuing success and development of Students Discover.

Dr. Stephanie Schuttler is a Post-Doctoral Researcher with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in the Earth Observation and Biodiversity Lab, working with middle school teachers in the Students Discover program to incorporate eMammal, a citizen science camera trap study, into their classrooms. Follow her on Twitter @StephSchuttler.