A self-described "lab rat," Gregory A. Jackson, 22, spent the summer tucked away inside his home away from home, the Valdosta State University Hugh C. Bailey Science Center. The senior chemistry major, a 2009 graduate of Newton High School, helped develop a collection of science experiments for an upcoming public school road show and also conducted research into the use of copper to treat tuberculosis and, possibly, cancer.
"I like being in the lab," he said. "I like to run different tests and enjoy the hands-on, science, research side of chemistry."
Jackson, son of Greg Jackson Sr. and Barbara Jackson of Covington, entered VSU as a freshman in August 2009. He knew he wanted to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry, and he was certain that he wanted to work in industry, in the area of research and development. He spent a couple of summers interning with FiberVisions Corporation, a North Georgia-based company known as a world leader in developing, manufacturing, and marketing polyolefin staple fibers for nonwoven applications.
Roughly three months ago, however, Dr. Thomas J. Manning, a professor in VSU’s Department of Chemistry, presented Jackson with an alternate career path — as a middle school or high school science teacher. He considered the proposal, and following a rigorous selection process, was accepted by the Valdosta Noyce Scholars Science Teacher Preparation and Retention project.
"It sounded good, and I had already thought about teaching later on, after working a few years in the industry field," Jackson said. "I figured I could just alter my timeline and teach for a little while, then work in industry, and possibly return to teaching."
"I’ve been going to school my whole life," he added. "I think it’ll be nice to be on the other side of the classroom, and I know I’ll enjoy having an impact on a child’s life. I have never forgotten some of my teachers and how they influenced my life. Also, I’m young, and I love chemistry. I really think the students will appreciate that."
Through a partnership with the Valdosta City School System and an award of nearly $1.2 million from the National Science Foundation, VSU expects to more than double the number of science teachers it graduates each year.
The first cohort of academically talented, financially needy astronomy, geosciences, biology, chemistry, and physics students was recruited for participation in the new Valdosta Noyce Scholars Science Teacher Preparation and Retention project before the end of the 2012-2013 academic year.
Many students applied.
Jackson was among the nine selected.
Through the Valdosta Noyce Scholars Science Teacher Preparation and Retention project, Jackson, as well as his fellow participants, will obtain a bachelor’s degree in a science major and teaching certification through a fifth-year post-baccalaureate program — all at VSU. He will participate in field experiences in schools within the Valdosta City School System and also have the opportunity to participate in summer internships. He will receive a scholarship of up to $12,000 per year to cover the cost of college attendance, including tuition, fees, books and supplies, housing, etc.
"Currently, in the state of Georgia, if a student wants to become a high school science teacher, they must complete their undergraduate degree and then enroll in further classes to acquire their education and pedagogy coursework," explained Dr. Brian L. Gerber, professor and acting dean of the James L. and Dorothy H. Dewar College of Education and Human Services. "This can create a financial burden for the student. This grant eliminates that worry as it pays for up to three years of tuition — their last two years to complete their undergraduate science degree and then their year of coursework in the [Dewar] College of Education [and Human Services] to obtain their education courses. Additionally, it pays them for summer work with scientists, six weeks for each of two summers at $450 per week. This is a very generous program that eliminates the financial burden that could have previously hindered a student from making the decision of becoming a science teacher."
Jackson spent this past summer working on a variety of projects, including a science road show of more than two dozen science experiments and controlling tuberculosis bacterium using a copper ion, with Manning. He also submitted a patent application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office and helped to put together about 30 hours of video demonstrations of experiments for freshmen chemistry students.
Jackson believes the hands-on experience he gained this summer will only make him a more effective teacher. He wants his future students to know that science can be a lot of fun, as well as exciting and interesting.
"The summer internships will allow the Noyce scholars the ability to gain deeper science knowledge and apply that knowledge to real-world experiences," Gerber said. "We have a great group of scientists here at VSU that are highly involved in cutting-edge research and applications of science. The Noyce scholars working with these experts will gain a tremendous amount of confidence in the science they know and the ability to apply that knowledge in different situations. This real-world experience will translate to better teaching in the classroom and higher levels of learning by their students."
A second cohort of science majors will be selected during the 2013-2014 academic year, said Gerber, who serves as principal investigator and project director along with Manning. Each of the project participants agree to teach in a high-need and economically disadvantaged high school or middle school a minimum of two years for every one year they benefit from project funds.
"This is a very exciting project, which we have every hope will produce highly qualified and exciting science teachers," Gerber said. "Our nation lags behind international peers in terms of science achievement. Through this grant, Valdosta State University has been recognized as a place where innovative science teacher preparation occurs through the engagement of faculty across campus and teachers within our local schools.’’
-- Jessica R. Pope is a communications specialists in the Communications Department at Valdosta State University.