The Power of Role Models

It has been a busy 2014-2015 academic year for our teachers and graduate students. We had a year packed with outreach and education activities, conferences, new technology initiatives and the design of a role model visits program. According to Kekelis, “role models can play a critical role in helping inspire students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), expanding their options for the future, and providing guidance on how to successfully prepare for a professional career.” With this idea in mind, we organized the visits of several graduate students majoring in geology, biology and environmental sciences to multiple classrooms in CA and FL.

Through out the year, over 2000 elementary, middle and high school students had the opportunity to have a role models or guest speaker in their classroom. This activity introduced them to ideas about STEM careers and scientific concepts relating to each of the speakers’ expertise. The table below shows a detail of each of the visits, dates, and amount of students per visit.


In a survey conducted at one of the high schools, students indicated that the most effective teaching methods they were exposed to were, hands on activities with a 70.5%, small group work 70.5%, class discussions 64.7% and guest speakers 52.9% listed as the fourth most effective teaching method. This numbers, in addition to some reflections by students, are encouraging to us, and proof that students can better relate to speakers closer to their age group.

In a period where outreach and education components are required in most grant proposals, scientists have expressed interest in learning about K-12 education. The scientists we have invited to classrooms have expressed interest in collaborating with science teachers and to have classroom experience. They have reflected on their experience and all have found extremely useful at a professional level and incredibly rewarding, personally. “Students who held reservations about pursuing a career in science said they were inspired nonetheless, learning that one could take their interests and turn them into their studies (and even a career!) was novel and exciting. As the visits progressed and the trip continued, I saw that my talks could result in changing perspectives not only regarding science as a field of study, but learning itself. With each class I met, with each student whose interest was piqued, science came a step closer to being unearthed.” – Michelle Barboza

For the academic 2015-2016 year, we have several classroom visits in mind. We are confident that these visits will benefit K-12 students, increase our scientists’ knowledge in K-12 education and will help us refine our program to better serve both.


Kekelis, L., & Wei, J. (2010). Role models matter: Promoting career exploration in after-school programs: Or, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

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