Walt receives grant to work with local public school chemistry classes
Published: Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 09:03
Local socio−economically disadvantaged public high schools will soon have greater access to chemistry research equipment thanks to Professor of Chemistry David Walt and the team behind his Tufts Chemistry Organized Outreach Program (CO−OP) project.
Walt was recently awarded $50,000 from the Special Grant Program in the Chemical Sciences from the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc. Walt's CO−OP project was one of 13 proposals to receive the grant.
CO−OP will begin working this May with local high school teachers in Somerville, Malden, Chinatown and Medford. The program's focus is to supply equipment for high schools to use in chemistry experiments.
"We're planning to provide local schools — primarily high schools and middle schools — with the equipment to conduct experiments that would normally be prohibited for them to conduct," Walt said. "The intention is to provide them with experiments and to create what we call a ‘lending library' where we have certain pieces of equipment that high schools and libraries can borrow to conduct those experiments."
The Dreyfus Foundation is a small organization that seeks to fund proposals from people and institutions with a strong will to advance the chemical sciences. This includes projects to increase public awareness, understanding and appreciation of the chemical sciences and new ways to approach chemistry at all education levels.
"The Special Grant Program is basically an open solicitation for proposals to advance the chemical sciences," Dreyfus Foundation Operations Manager Adam Lore said. "We often receive educational initiatives at the college level as well as K−12."
The program organizers chose the three locations the project focuses on because they are Tufts' host communities.
"Tufts has a particular interest in Medford, Somerville and Chinatown because we have schools there," CO−OP Program Coordinator Meredith Knight said. "We want to develop traditional relationships with these towns."
Walt became aware of local high schools' needs after working for a few years with Malden High School chemistry teacher Diane Perito.
"We've realized that high schools don't have access to some of the simple pieces of equipment that we take for granted in a college settings, so we started loaning them pieces of equipment for a period of a week or two at a time," Walt said.
According to Walt, setting up a library of equipment for loans would be much more efficient than for high schools to buy the equipment themselves.
Tufts students will also be involved in CO−OP by helping to develop the project and attending high school experiments.
"Part of what [Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service] really likes about this grant is not only are we working in poorer communities, but [that] there is plenty of student involvement," Knight said.
Finding good ways to provide local communities with resources, helping teachers and professors learn, and giving Tufts students a positive experience is a real challenge, according to Knight.
One of the Dreyfus Foundation's criteria for the award is project sustainability. "The Foundation strives to identify projects that might have a life beyond the funds that we give," Lore said.
In line with this, Knight noted that although the grant lasts for a period of 12 months, she hopes the project will continue to grow in the coming years.
The overall goal of CO−OP is to generate excitement and interest for the sciences, according to Walt.
"We're just trying to create a more enriching experience in science classes in the high schools, so that students are less afraid and more interested in it as they go through life," Walt said.
Walt in 2006 received a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Professor's Award of $1 million that supports initiatives providing opportunities for young scientists to engage in practical research. This new Dreyfus grant is a continuation of Walt's efforts to share chemistry with students of all ages.
"We had no idea of the resource limitations; that's really what drove this," Walt said. "This is a new project for me. Some of the experiments that we developed under the HHMI funding are actually now going to be implemented through this award."