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Vol. LXV, No. 18
August 30, 2013

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Calling All Scientists for Education

Rob Thomas (l) engages students in a chemistry class at a local high school.
Rob Thomas (l) engages students in a chemistry class at a local high school.

Are you a scientist looking for a way to share your expertise with the local community—and to support science teachers? If so, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Senior Scientists and Engineers (SSE) invite you to join the AAAS/SSE STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Volunteer Program.

The program pairs experts in STEM fields (current employees and retirees) with kindergarten-through-grade-12 teachers who request their help. The dynamic teaming helps teachers enrich the curriculum. It also gives volunteers a way to connect with their peers outside the lab and learn about teaching science from education experts—all while engaging the next generation of scientists.

Volunteers don’t navigate the transition from bench to classroom on their own. They have a handbook that covers the essentials of working in schools and they get support and training from other volunteers who are already active in the program. In fact, the camaraderie among volunteers is one of the best perks of the job, according to current volunteer Gary Temple, a retired scientist and former NHGRI employee.

The program is so popular with teachers in the areas it currently serves—Montgomery, Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties and the District of Columbia—that AAAS can’t keep up with demand. “There is a persistent shortage of biomedical scientist volunteers,” says Rob Thomas, team leader of the Montgomery County program. Only 5 of the 30 SSE volunteers in the county are current or retired NIH employees. That’s a number Thomas would like to see increase.

Volunteers are encouraged to commit to working in the classroom from 1 to 4 hours per week, depending on their schedules, for an entire school year. Since volunteers become such an integral part of the classroom, “they are almost like a member of the faculty,” says Thomas.

They also discover unexpected benefits of participating in the program. For example, Temple says, “I was concerned that when I retired, I might lose touch with advances in biomedical science. I’ve discovered, in fact, that school volunteering stimulates me to keep up with an even broader spectrum of biomedical science topics. Plus, I’m challenged to find effective ways to communicate the essence and excitement of these advances to 6th- and 7th-grade students.”

Now is the perfect time to sign up, since the next orientation meeting is Monday, Sept. 9 in Chevy Chase. To volunteer, contact Thomas at For more information, visit

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