K–12 and Higher Education: Why Collaboration Is Vital

Presenters: Joseph Cocozza and Adah Leshem
This session focuses on the value of strong partnerships between K–12 and higher education, specifically in the STEM disciplines. The NSF-sponsored Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) are a group of interdisciplinary centers located at universities across the United States. They are required to implement effective partnerships with local school districts. Session leaders share results and outcomes of their ERC partnerships with local school districts and provide recommendations on how to create similar collaborations.

Joseph Cocozza, Co-Director of Education and Outreach Programs, Biomimetic MicroElectronic Systems, Engineering Research Center; Assistant Professor of Research, Ophthalmology, University of Southern California
Under the stewardship of Joseph Cocozza, the Biomimetic MicroElectronic Systems Engineering Research Center (BMES ERC) has established a comprehensive and innovative outreach initiative, designed to integrate science and engineering principles into the curriculum of elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as at the community college level. The Center has established long-term partnerships with a handful of schools in the greater Los Angeles area. It has tailored its outreach activities to the specific needs of educational stakeholders including students, teachers, and parents. Cocozza also established the Engineering for Health Academy (EHA), a partnership between the BMES ERC and a local high school. EHA is modeled as a small learning community. Students make a three-year commitment to the program transitioning through a series of four integrated core courses. Senior year, EHA students enroll in a Capstone Class, are matched with University of Southern California (USC) laboratories, and are mentored by graduate students. Another program developed by Cocozza is Science for Life (SFL). SFL was designed to increase science literacy of children by integrating science and engineering principles into the third, fourth, and fifth grades. SFL utilizes research conducted in BMES ERC laboratories as focal points, transforming the elementary classroom into a virtual scientific laboratory. The curricula build upon students’ prior knowledge and nascent curiosity; introduce novel information in an incremental fashion; involve students in the collection, recording, and analysis of data; and stress the scientific process over a “right or wrong” mindset. Prior to coming to USC, Cocozza was a high school science instructor, during which time he developed university partnerships that augmented science curricula. Cocozza received his PhD in Neuroscience from Purdue University.

Adah Leshem, Program Director, Pre-College Education, NSF Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals
The main objectives Adah Leshem focuses on are how to engage the community at large in engineering and science. This involves working closely with school districts in Iowa, providing science teachers with enriching professional development programs at Iowa State University, bringing opportunities to K–12 students that will help them become more interested in and connected to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, and finally, helping engineering and science graduate students become successful communicators of their research program. These objectives will hopefully support the growth of a more scientifically literate society that will support the development of new technologies to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Leshem received her BS in Environmental Science, her MPhil in Applied Biology, and her PhD in Environmental Physiology.