Teacher Ann Jackson selected to support underrepresented students in STEM

Ann Jackson strives to support each of her students at Marshalltown’s Miller Middle School, so when she was encouraged to apply to the Society for Science Advocate Program, she jumped at the opportunity. Her enthusiasm paid off: she has been chosen as one of the 84 advocates to represent the program across the country.

The Advocate Program was started by the Society for Science in 2015. The Society, based out of Washington D.C., runs several different Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) research competitions throughout the year for both middle school and high school students, and according to Caitlin Sullivan, the Society’s outreach and equity programs director, they realized that the students entering the competitions were not necessarily reflective of the country’s population.

“We want to make sure that all students have the opportunity and the tools that they need in order to enter our competitions and get the benefits of them,” Sullivan said. “So we wanted to develop a program that would help to diversify the students who have access to these programs.”

It started as a simple stipend program. The Society provided teachers with $3,000 to support students who were underrepresented in STEM or came from low-income households so that those students could have access to different materials and resources. It quickly evolved from there.

“Very quickly, we realized that these teachers benefit most from talking to each other and having the opportunity to speak to someone who has done this before or someone who may be facing the same kinds of challenges they are in helping these students, and so, this has become a full year professional development program,” Sullivan said.

In addition to receiving the $3,000 stipend to support students, advocates now receive year-round support from Society staff and are paired with a lead advocate to help them navigate any challenges that arise.

Sullivan said the application process is very competitive, with only about one in five applicants being selected to be advocates, but Jackson, who lives in Garwin and serves on the GMG school board, stood out because she recognized that there was a need for support at Miller to get underrepresented students into STEM.

“I think one of the things that the selection committee loved about her application is that she saw the need for support at the middle school level. So she saw that in the district, they’re expanding support for high school students, and it sounds like they have started to see some progress in that area. And she also sees that there is support at the middle school level, but that the students that are underrepresented in STEM are hesitant to sign up for those opportunities,” Sullivan said. “She wanted to become an advocate so that she could find ways, learn ways, to really reach these students and make STEM studies more attractive to them or more interesting to them.”

Jackson, a Garwin resident who is an Extended Learning Program (XLP) teacher at Miller, is excited to both grow professionally and to help her students reach their fullest potential this school year.

“In the past, I’ve done different professional development work with National History Day, and when I found out I was selected for this, it was really good. I feel like it really helps me be a better teacher for my students as I gain different expertise in all the different areas in which they compete, so I was really excited about that,” Jackson said.

Earlier this summer, she had the opportunity to attend the Advocate Training Institute in Washington D.C. and to meet with other educators selected for the program. Jackson felt it was a valuable experience, and she is looking forward to the ongoing professional development throughout the year since she will be able to meet with her lead advocate once a month.

The stipend will also be helpful for Jackson and her class, and helping students with science fair projects will hopefully be easier with access to extra funding.

“The science fair, you never know quite what students are going to need till they have come up with their research question and come up with their research plan, so (the stipend) will provide a little flexibility to buy different supplies for students. And especially for students who might not have the resources at home, you know, their families might not have the resources to provide those supplies that they need, so I can use that money to help with that,” Jackson said.

In her application to the Advocate Program, Jackson had to present her goals for the school year if she was to become an advocate, and her primary focuses were to increase student participation and also to really show her students what scientific research looks like in other environments, primarily in businesses and organizations throughout the community as well as colleges and universities in the area.

“I’m really excited to take some field trips, hopefully to different businesses and to show my middle schoolers how science is in action in Marshalltown,” Jackson said.

Jackson also feels that the state science fair has been underrepresented by her students, and she would love to see more of her students consider it as an option. Jackson hopes with the extra resources available, more students will think about entering.

“A lot more students tend to gravitate towards National History Day, which is great, but I just want to make sure that students who might be more science minded see this as an opportunity as well,” Jackson said.

With professional development opportunities galore and the chance to positively impact students’ lives and encourage them to explore STEM options, Jackson is excited to take on the 2022-2023 school year.

“I feel like our science teachers do a tremendous job, and I think this is just going to kind of be like icing on the cake for my XLP kids to get to take their learning to the next level,” Jackson said.

To learn more about the Society for Science and their programs, visit https://www.societyforscience.org/