Innovative UTPA course connects RGV teachers with top level scientists
Posted: 07/23/2004
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Thirty-two Rio Grande Valley teachers are taking the opportunity this summer to interact with and learn from top experts in applied and biomedical sciences during a live, interactive video course offered at The University of Texas-Pan American.

The course - SCIE 6303 - is called "Recent Developments in Applied Sciences" and this year focused on biomedical sciences. Designed for elementary and secondary education graduate students, the three-week, tuition-paid course provides two-way interactive video presentations three days each week from faculty of The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) in Houston.

In its ninth year, the unique course was originally conceived and developed by Dr. John Villarreal, professor of chemistry; Dr. John McBride, professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction; and Dr. Robert Reeve, professor of education, as part of the graduate education program for teachers, particularly science teachers. Reeve has been the class facilitator since inception.

Dr. Gilbert Castro, vice president for Academic Administration at The University of Texas Health Science Center, talks with UTPA graduate students via an interactive video course - SCIE 6303 - focusing on recent developments in biomedical sciences.
McBride said the course brings Valley teachers in contact with world renowned scientists and updates them on cutting edge research.

"A major goal of this course is for teachers to improve the science achievement of students in the Rio Grande Valley. It gets students excited about careers in science and helps them develop pathways to achieve their career goals," McBride said.

In SCIE 6303, lecturers in Houston and students at UTPA are able to see and interact with one another via a live video hookup. The class is held in a specially equipped Academic Services Building lecture room fitted with a wide screen and two television monitors managed by the video resources unit of the Department of Information Technology. Group interaction and presentations, local speakers and resource development and networking supplement the course.

Jacob Schneider, a biology teacher at Med High, said he was attracted to the class because his school is offering a new course this year called "Research and Design."

"We are getting to talk to researchers in these biomedical research fields as well as learning about careers and pathways for students, basically careers that are out there that they have no idea are there. Students often think of M.D. but not Ph.D.," he said. Schneider said if you get a student early on a track it increases the chance they will stay and complete school.

Schneider said this type of class helps teachers who might get stagnant in their field or who don't have time for teacher development to keep updated on recent research and innovations.

Topics covered during this year's course have ranged from "From Discovery to Patents," which examined the process of research from initial discovery to the patent process to "What to do with the Human Genome," which addressed questions arising from the international research project to map each human gene and to completely sequence human DNA.

Speakers, many from the GSBS, have included top level faculty researchers noted in their fields including Dr. Gilbert Castro, vice president for Academic Administration at The University of Texas Health Science Center (HSC) at Houston; Dr. David Hewett-Emmett, Human Genetics Center at UT's School of Public Health in the HSC; and Dr. Thomas Goka, assistant dean of the GSBS in Houston.

McBride said he hoped what teachers bring from the course to the classroom will have an effect on students' families as well.

"Hopefully, the teachers will bring what they learn to the classroom in a form accessible to students. Then the next step is for the students to take it home to their families," he said, noting that last year the course focused on topics related to diabetes and obesity, recognized problems for many South Texas residents, particularly Hispanics.

The course is funded by grants through The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, which supports teachers in a master's program in education with an emphasis on teaching math and science.

As one of the founders of the course, Reeve said it has been very successful.

"We have had more than 75 graduates in a course that had only 10 students in the first class. I particularly want to thank Dr. Castro, one of our speakers during this year's course, who provided funds for the initial class and has provided continued support since then," he said.

For more information on the course, contact McBride at 956/381-3409 or via e-mail at