May 24, 2022

Sarah Cooper is not your typical high school chemistry teacher. A former microbiology researcher who worked with the military as a civilian scientist, Sarah has spent her teaching career crafting exciting and innovative ways to engage her students.She introduces them to the world of STEM through hands-on learning and research experiences to spark their interest.

For the past two years, Sarah has participated in AEOP’s Research Experience for STEM Educators and Teachers (RESET) program. RESET is specifically designed to support classroom teachers by providing research experience in participating U.S. Army Laboratories under the guidance of a mentor. Teachers in RESET reinforce their content knowledge through the support of Department of Defense scientists and engineers, online and on-site, which results in enhanced classroom teaching. 

This experience gave Sarah the opportunity  to dive deeper into her passion for research and hone her research skills while also bringing those skills to the classroom. Here’s what she had to say about her RESET experience and why she would recommend it to any STEM teacher. 

Why did you choose RESET? 

I’m a chemistry teacher and a microbiology major; science and research have always been a part of my life. During the summer, I am a scientist, working alongside top-tier scientists and researchers on real research projects. During the school year, I am a teacher, and a scientist, bringing to life student’s ideas and research projects. 

I was interested in a program that would allow me to combine my two passions, teaching and research, and offer me the tools to incorporate research into my lesson planning. The best way to learn is through hands-on research. RESET was the obvious choice. 

How did you use your research from RESET to engage your students?

I was working on a project that involved fire and how different chemical concentrations affect how the flame burns. I chose this project because I’m a chemistry teacher, but also because this project allows me to set things on fire, in a safe way, and effectively engage my students in chemistry. I was able to bring part of my research into the classroom and show students the work I did, explain the research processes, and, most importantly, demonstrate that science is not perfect. Science consists of trial and error. 

What’s one of your favorite RESET experiences? 

In addition to the great research projects I participated in, I was fortunate to work with talented scientists and researchers who became my mentors. They supported me throughout my time in the program and offered their time, knowledge, and expertise when needed. However, the researchers I worked with not only helped me, but also offered their expertise to my students.  

Dr. Erin Gawron-Hyla, a former educator and current scientist, was one of my supervisors. After working together last summer, she offered to mentor one of my high school students. Their joint research project on biodiesel won an award! 

How has RESET helped you both professionally and personally? 

RESET is a chance to instruct kids differently; it has helped me make science more approachable for my students, regardless of their STEM background. Because of RESET, I am able to better understand what we should be teaching our students and how we can teach them to think critically. People say kids are disinterested, but that isn’t true. As teachers, we simply need to find ways to engage them.

After my experience in RESET, I was able to design and implement a research elective class at my school. My students spend a year developing an independent research project they later submit to at least one conference or competition. They can focus on whatever STEM topic they want; my goal is for them to become independent, critical thinkers capable of solving the world’s problems. 

Professionally, I have continued to pursue my passion for research with the help of great mentors and sharpen my research skills while working on projects that I’m excited about. It’s opened doors and encouraged me to do things that I might not have done otherwise.

What is the best advice you could give to another teacher interested in applying to RESET? 

Simple: do it. Take the opportunity to chase down what interests you; this program is worth it. 

Interested in RESET? Learn more and apply here. Applications are now open for the 2022-2023 cohort and are due on August 8, 2022


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