Rural Education Center receives NSF grant focusing on drones and geoscience careers
Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021
MANHATTAN — The Rural Education Center in the Kansas State University College of Education has received a $340,000 National Science Foundation grant for using drones and other technology to encourage rural students' interest in geoscience degrees and careers.
"SOARING: Sharing Opportunities, Approaches, and Resources in New Geo-teaching" is a three-year grant that will provide training on the latest in geotechnology for teachers and students at middle schools and high schools in eight partner rural school districts. It will target geotechnology applications of airborne remote sensing in the areas of environmental and hazardous geology, water resources and geology mapping.
According to current data, Project SOARING will likely reach more than 4,400 middle and high school students in Kansas, including more than 1,900 female rural students, 2,200 Hispanic/Latino rural students and more than 200 students underrepresented in STEM fields. School districts involved are Ashland USD 220, Clay County USD 379, Dighton USD 482, Haviland USD 474, Lakin USD 215, Liberal USD 480, Skyline USD 438 and Twin Valley USD 240, all members of the Rural Education Center's newly established Rural Professional Development School network.
"Jobs in education and agriculture are two staples in rural communities and the possibilities are increasing because of this technology," said Debbie Mercer, dean of the K-State College of Education. "Project SOARING is the Rural Education Center's latest multidisciplinary initiative to help rural communities protect their greatest natural resource: their young."
Spencer Clark, associate professor of curriculum and instruction and Rural Education Center director, is the grant's principal investigator. Co-principal investigators are Lori Goodson, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction and Rural Education Center assistant director; Aida Farough, teaching assistant professor in the K-State geology department; and Shawn Keshmiri, professor in the aerospace engineering department at the University of Kansas and faculty/researcher with the KU Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets.
"Our Rural Education Center is always looking for ways to bring innovative career awareness and exploration to rural schools in Kansas," Clark said. "This is a very exciting project because not only does it involve teachers and students, it will also expose students to possible career opportunities they'd never considered."
Each year of the grant, nine teachers, accompanied by student apprentices from their schools, will participate in summer training on the KU campus and then teach middle schoolers on the K-State campus. A key element for Project SOARING is the Summer STEM Institute, a successful partnership between Manhattan-Ogden USD 383 and the K-State College of Education. Recently completing its 10th summer, the STEM institute serves around 325 students with a variety of STEM courses. The nine teachers selected for Project SOARING will also teach content at the institute.
Goodson said she is especially excited to see two of her main areas of interest — providing additional opportunities for rural teachers and students, as well as exposing more people to the Summer STEM Institute, which she has coordinated for the past seven years — converging for this project.
"The Summer STEM Institute is an incredible experience for middle schoolers, teachers, and our pre-service teachers who assist with the various classes," Goodson said. "Through Project SOARING, we can expand the institute's reach and impact by including rural students in this opportunity."