Graduate Partners in Science Education is dedicated to fostering connections between the
graduate student scientific community at ASU and area students from underserved primary and
secondary education schools. The major goals of the program are as follows:
1. To increase retention of minority and academically “at risk” students in the public school
system through engagement of students in mentoring relationships.
2. To encourage minority participation in secondary and post-secondary science education
by promoting inquiry-based science in underserved schools.
3. To provide an opportunity for ASU graduate students to integrate their research and
expertise into community outreach.
4. To increase science proficiency within the community and to familiarize underserved
students with science-based educational opportunities offered by ASU.
GPSE is a project-based science mentoring outreach program developed by Jon Davis and
Nathan Morehouse, then-PhD candidates in the School of Life Sciences. GPSE was initiated to
provide an accessible opportunity for graduate students to become involved in community
outreach, while simultaneously addressing real needs in science departments at underserved
public schools in downtown Phoenix. Over the course of the 20 week program, graduate students
develop mentorship relationships with small groups of middle-school students through a series of
inquiry-based and/or student-devised science experiments. In the past, many of these projects
have explicitly focused on local flora and fauna. This year, we are working with two middle-
school classrooms at Phoenix Preparatory Academy, an inner-city school located in downtown
Phoenix. Students and graduate mentors utilize two main field sites for both mentor and student-
driven projects: the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Project in downtown Phoenix
(http://phoenix.gov/riosalado/) and the Phoenix Zoo (http://www.phoenixzoo.org). We have
developed close working relationships with personnel at both locations, allowing students to
incorporate the input of rangers, natural resource scientists, zookeepers, behavioral ecologists
and veterinarians in addition to the input of their mentors as they develop project ideas and
methods. In addition, field trips to locations such as Arizona State University’s Main Campus are
planned, exposing students to a variety of science careers and post-secondary educational
Over the course of a single year, GPSE involves the participation of 2 teachers, their classrooms
(approximately 50 students), and approximately 14 graduate students, including one graduate
student program coordinator. Involvement in GPSE is split into two components: an exploratory
phase during the fall semester and an intensive participatory phase during the spring semester.
During the fall, graduate mentors work loosely with two groups of 2-3 students each on a series
of three, multi-week experimental modules designed to be completed during normal school
hours. This portion of the program is intended to develop experimental skills, familiarity with the
scientific method, and some experience with graphing and analyzing data. All students in both
classrooms are expected to participate in the fall portion of the program.
The spring participatory phase, on the other hand, is limited to students who are willing to
commit to weekly after-school meetings, during which time they are expected to develop,
implement, write-up and present a scientific experiment of their own choosing. Last year, all
students in the fall phase chose to commit to the spring participatory phase. Graduate mentors are
highly encouraged, but not required, to participate in both semesters. It is our hope that graduate
mentors will choose to continue on during the spring semester, but we would also like to allow a
broader range of qualified graduate students to participate within their scheduling restrictions.
This past year, we had 2 graduate students who participated only in the fall, and 3 in the spring.
The program coordinator acts as a liaison between ASU, the graduate mentors, the partner
teachers and administrators at Phoenix Prep Academy, and partner personnel at the field sites.
He/she also runs a two day orientation beginning of the fall semester. In addition, the coordinator
is expected to maintain financial records, place orders through the business office, update
program materials as needed, and plan program events such as the final poster session and
awards banquet. These duties require a time commitment roughly equivalent to that of a regular
teaching assistantship (20+ hours/week).
- During late September, GPSE selects 8-12 mentors, based on the merit of their
applications, for participation in the program. We expect that a large proportion
of these mentors continue through the spring semester. However, in the case that
a graduate mentor chooses only to participate in the fall component, other
mentors are solicited to fill any open slots during the spring program.
- Graduate mentors commit approximately 60 hours of their time during the 20-
week project (October 7th, 2008 through April 7th, 2009). Mentors are scheduled
to work with students for one hour each Tuesday during the fall, and two and a
half hours each Tuesday during the spring.
- The program is hosted by Phoenix Preparatory Academy in central Phoenix, a
school chosen for its large minority and economically disadvantaged student
population, and its proximity to a number of new science-related educational
opportunities, including the new Bioscience High School.
- GPSE continues to work with school administrators and two science teachers at
Phoenix Prep to implement programmatic changes that reflect the needs of the
- Phoenix Prep Academy has been extremely accommodating, and continues to
promise full support of GPSE. This includes fully funding the cost of student
transportation during field trips, ameliorating expenses associated with
orientation and culmination activities, continuing education pay for partner
teachers, generous financial support for the program coordinator, and full access
to all school labs and media facilities.
- Two teachers, Tyler Vargas and Wyeth Pabst, have volunteered to partner with
GPSE. They teach 7th grade and 8th grade science, respectively, at Phoenix Prep.
Their last science classes of the day are devoted to exploring science through
inquiry-based methods. These classrooms are partnered with graduate mentors
every Tuesday to pursue individual student projects.
- Each teacher receives continuing education credit and pay for participation in the
- Students interested in participating in the program are selected by our partner
teachers. For each fall module, students are loosely paired with graduate student
mentors in groups of 5 to 6, with these pairings changing between modules so
that students can be introduced to more mentors and mentoring styles. Final
mentor-student pairings are selected for the spring portion of the program based
on student and mentor input and remain constant for the remainder of the
- The demographic composition of our student mentees from our first two years of
service have reflected that of the school at large, with half of our participants
being female and ~93% ethnic minorities.
- Modules are worked on during class hours so all students in these classrooms
will be required to participate during the fall. However, participation in the
spring project-based commitments is on a voluntary basis, and requires written
agreement from the student to attend after school meetings every Tuesday during
the spring. Participation in either component requires a commitment of support
from the parent(s) of each student participant.
Personnel at field locations
- We actively seek out strong working relationships with personnel at our selected
field sites. This year, we have been able to work closely with zookeepers,
behavioral ecologists, veterinarians, and zoo personnel at the Phoenix Zoo both
during our fall module and on student project ideas and project execution during
our spring program. At the Rio Salado Project, students and mentors work with
rangers, natural resource scientists and naturalists as they develop their projects.
We already have strong commitment from all parties for next year’s program.
- At both locations, we seek to incorporate the needs and interests of the field
locations themselves in to student-driven projects. For example, many student
projects at the Phoenix Zoo represent additions to the ongoing behavioral
enrichment program at the Zoo. At Rio Salado, a number of the student projects
are likely to produce information that the park will use in educational materials
or as part of a park “knowledge base”.
Abbreviated Timeline for 2007-2008
Mentor applications collected and reviewed.
Pre-program surveys filled out by teachers and students.
Selected graduate mentors notified, mentor training/orientation.
First visit to classroom, tentative mentor/student pairings.
Begin first experimental module.
November – December, 2007
Complete all three experimental modules.
Solicit applications from students for participatory phase.
January – February, 2008
Project development and data collection.
Data analysis and discussion, poster production, and AzSEF.
Commencement poster session and post-program evaluation.
Annual Budget (2008-2009)
Research scholarship fund for mentors $50,000
Funded through an anonymous donor
Stipend for program coordinator (including ERE, tuition remission,
and health coverage) $36,400
Phoenix Preparatory Academy $20,000
School of Life Sciences $8,200
Graduate College $8,200
Research project related supplies and expenses $150 X 10 grads $1,500
School of Life Sciences $1,000
Graduate College $500
Buses for student transportation to field sites $200 x 12 trips $2,400
Phoenix Preparatory Academy $2,400
Continuing education pay for partner teachers $2,000 x 2 teachers $4,000
Phoenix Preparatory Academy $4,000
Tri-fold poster board for student presentations $15 X 20 projects $300
Graduate College $300
Refreshments for orientation and student poster reception $850
Phoenix Preparatory Academy $850
Mileage cost for transporting mentors $280
Graduate College $280
DPS clearance card costs $62 X 10 grads $620
Graduate College $620
Total Annual Budget $96,350
The success of the GPSE’s mentoring program is currently being (and will continue to be)
assessed in four ways:
1. Use of surveys that evaluate the participating students’ pre- and post-program
attitudes towards science and math.
2. Monitoring changes in the academic performance and school attendance of
3. Interviews and a pre- and post-surveys evaluating the experience of graduate
mentors in the program.
4. Interviews and focus sessions with partner teachers.
A number of results highlight the strong impact that the GPSE program has on all program
participants. The students mentored in the program communicate the positive influence of GPSE
in a number of ways. 84% of our students feel that they understand science better as a direct
result of participating in our program. 83% of students who participated in the program agreed or
strongly agreed that they like science, compared to only 43% of students who did not participate
in the program. 90% of our students feel that they are learning more about science than their
friends in other classes. The interest in science generated by this program is also reflected in the
strong re-enrollment rate for students who started as 7th graders during the 2005-2006 academic
year and choose to return to participate for a second year as 8th graders. This year, 14 out of 25 of
last year’s 7th graders came back for a second year in the program. Student mentees also
communicate these sentiments in more open-ended questions on surveys, such as the following
“My favorite part was when we tested our hypotheses.”
“My favorite part…was doing science projects because they’re real fun and you learn about
all the different kinds of stuff that is on earth.”
- Anonymous student responses to final survey
Program impact is not limited to just the students mentored in the program. Graduate mentors
also report strong positive experiences in the GPSE program, as represented by the following
quotes taken from interviews with graduate mentors:
“GPSE is exactly the kind of program that I would have wanted in my middle school.”
- Jake Brashears, 1st year doctoral student
“I tell my students that part of being in a lab is helping each other and working together. You
rarely have scientists who are on their own – they need teams, they need support, they need
collaboration – and that’s what the students learn to give each other.”
- Lisa Lopez, 2nd year doctoral student
“The GPSE program does not only encourage middle schoolers to start having a scientific
reasoning, but is also the opportunity for us to tell them the steps-to-follow when pursuing a
scientific career. This is the great chance they have to get involved in a project that might
pull out what is going to be their real vocation.”
- Hugo Beraldi-Campesi, 3rd year doctoral student
“One of the biggest things we talk about is how to construct a question and then create an
experiment that will answer your question. I also try to get students to take a lot of notes so
they learn to translate what they’re seeing into notation form.”
- Hoski Schaafsma, 4th year doctoral student
Teachers and administrators at our partner school, Phoenix Preparatory Academy, are similarly
enthusiastic about the influence of the program on their students and the curricula in their
“For students to get out of the school and do real science out in the community has been a
wonderful opportunity. As far as we know, we are the only school in the Valley that has a
program like this. And doing these experiments has helped students get better at math, at
graphing, at writing – it really helps them all the way around.”
- Karen Griff, Partner Teacher, 7th Grade
“GPSE provided my students with an inside view of how field studies are conducted. It was
like having a lab without walls.”
- Keith Brazier, Partner Teacher, 8th Grade
“Our kids don’t get exposed to much science before coming here. Having this direction is the
chance of a lifetime. They don’t realize it now, but someday they will know.”
- John Ewing, Principal, Phoenix Prep Academy
Strong working relationships with partners at the Rio Salado Project and the Phoenix Zoo also
resulted in positive experiences for personnel at these locations, including zookeepers, natural
resource managers and park rangers. The following quotes reflect some of these sentiments, and
also the understanding that these partner locations also benefit from this interaction:
“The ASU graduate mentors program [GPSE] is such a positive and truly meaningful
experience for both the Phoenix Prep students and the graduate students.”
- Danielle Taddy, Rio Salado Habitat Supervisor, City of
Phoenix Parks and Recreation
“Any time we find something that excites the animals, gets them active, or promotes their
natural behavior, we’ll continue to use that as enrichment for them. So if the students’
experiments reveal animals respond well to certain colors or sounds, their habitats may be
- Gabby Hebert, Manager of Guest Experiences, Phoenix
In sum, we feel strongly that GPSE has a demonstrated positive impact on all partners involved,
including graduate mentors, middle-school student mentees, partner teachers and school
administrators, and community partners involved in enriching the student’s experiences.
If GPSE’s efforts continue to be met with success, the program could be expanded upward
and/or outward in the Phoenix metro school system. GPSE is particularly interested in following
cohorts of students through middle school and on into high school. Additionally, GPSE may
consider including additional host schools from the Phoenix metro area. Future expansion could
also occur in ASU’s involvement in GPSE, via the inclusion of other academic departments
(astronomy, chemistry, engineering, geology, physics, biotechnology). Expansions such as those
described above would be approached cautiously, however, because we believe that a sustainable
high quality program that reaches fewer students is more valuable than a poor quality program
reaching many students.
Graduate Partners in Science Education Jon Davis
School of Life Sciences Program Consultant, Co-Founder
Arizona State University NSF Pre-Doctoral Fellow
Tempe, AZ 85287-4601 School of Life Sciences
http://lifesciences.asu.edu/gpse/ Arizona State University
email@example.com Tempe, AZ 85287-4601
School of Life Sciences
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ 85287-4601
Director Emeritus, Co-Founder
School of Life Sciences
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ 85287-4601