MRSEC initiatives that broaden participation in STEM

Research Experience for Teachers

Since 2010, the UW and University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez have collaborated to create a cross-cultural Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program with a diverse teacher cohort and dynamic professional development experience for middle and high school teachers at both institutions. During this paid professional development program, teachers get hands-on experience doing cutting-edge research and using the tools, language, and practices of science while designing learning activities for their classrooms. As fellows, teachers work under the direction of a principal investigator (PI) along with postdoctoral and graduate student mentors from the PI’s lab. Please see this page to learn more and apply, or see past RET projects here.

Free Science Activity Kits

Beginning in 2020, in response to the COVID pandemic, the Wisconsin MRSEC Education team began building free, take-home science kits for families. The kits include all materials needed for the activity as well as instructions in both Spanish and English. Kits are distributed through multiple venues and events and to a wide range of audiences. To date, we have distributed over 5,000 kits to community centers, libraries, shelters, rural communities, classrooms, food pantries and at several public outreach events.

St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry

In 2015, the Wisconsin MRSEC began regularly presenting outreach activities to K-12 students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds at the local St. Vincent de Paul food pantry. Through a collaborative effort with St. Vincent de Paul, MRSEC staff members lead outreach activities with children while their parents or guardians wait to receive service at the pantry. This program recently expanded to include other UW science outreach groups to expose underserved young people to a broad range of STEM topics. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced pantry staff to change their food distribution model, MRSEC members adapted to the new model by distributing free, at-home science activity kits to food pantry clients.

Research Experience for Undergraduates

The MRSEC runs a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program that gives undergraduate students an opportunity to participate in authentic research in MRSEC laboratories for 10 weeks during the summer. The program is run in collaboration with other summer research programs including the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) through the UW College of Engineering’s minority-serving program, Graduate Engineering Research Scholars (GERS) program and the REU in Nanotechnology program. Combining the programs gives the students additional professional development opportunities, a larger cohort of diverse peers, and exposure to a wider breadth of UW research. Historically, over 65% of participants have been underrepresented minority (URM) students and over 50% of the students have been female. Over 75% of students who participate in these programs have gone on to pursue graduate or professional degrees in science or engineering.

Creating Accessible Outreach Resources and Learning Spaces for Blind and Visually Impaired Learners

In a new partnership with the Wisconsin Council for the Blind and Visually Impaired (WICBVI), the MRSEC Education team is creating better accessibility to our outreach materials. Learning about the needs of the blind or visually impaired, we collaborate across the MRSEC with WICBVI to modify how we develop and present our programming. In addition, MRSEC research groups participate in learning sessions with audience experts from the organization to build more accessible and inclusive lab and learning spaces for those that are blind and visually impaired.

Partnerships with Minority-Serving Institutions

The Wisconsin MRSEC and the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez (UPRM) partner to positively impact the participation of Hispanic people in materials science and engineering at all levels of the pipeline, from K-12 through faculty. The partnership is grounded in research collaborations between faculty members at both universities, and includes several UPRM faculty members who have received PhDs in engineering at UW–Madison. Research and education focused interactions between UW and UPRM participants are supported through initiatives of the MRSEC. For example, UPRM students participate in the AMIC annual meeting, weekly research group discussions, monthly professional development seminars, and REU program.

  • Kristy Heine and her second-grade son Noah Heine (off from school recovering from a recent surgery) learn about liquid crystal technology from post-doctoral student Md Tahmidul Alam at a Materials Research Science and Engineering (MRSEC) table. Photo by: Jeff Miller

    MRSEC Participates in Wisconsin Science Festival

    Swarms of children from across Wisconsin buzzed from booth to booth at the Wisconsin Science Festival’s Hands-On Expo on Wednesday, Oct. 18.

  • 2023 BREW Kicks Off the New MRSEC

    The 2023 Breakthrough Research and Education Workshop (BREW) was held on Friday, September 29. The full-day event was well attended by 47 faculty, graduate students, postdocs, and staff. The workshop served as a kickoff for the new Wisconsin MRSEC, which just began operating under a new grant from the NSF on September 1.

  • UW will launch materials engineering research initiative with major NSF sponsorship

    The University of Wisconsin–Madison Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) has received $18 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for interdisciplinary exploration of fundamental questions in materials science.

  • (2022) Bringing Science Home with Free Activity Kits

    In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wisconsin MRSEC developed and disseminated inclusive science activity kits. The project started in partnership with a local food pantry as an effort to engage with economically disadvantaged members of the Madison community. Food pantry staff and clients provided crucial insight to make the kits accessible and inclusive, such as including all the necessary materials including common household items like tape and including instructions in Spanish and English.

  • (2022) A Teacher Inspired by Her MRSEC RET Program Experience Develops Her Own Research Experience

    Jamie Lauer, a Wisconsin (WI) high school teacher, participated in the MRSEC’s cross-cultural Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program in 2019 and 2021. The program is run in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (UPRM) to give teachers in WI and PR authentic research experiences in labs at UPRM and in MRSEC. During the 2019 RET capstone week, Jamie traveled to PR where she learned about the geography, culture and educational systems of the island. During the virtual 2021 program, Jamie learned about the native Taino people of PR.

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