Helios Education Foundation has awarded a $750,000 grant to the University of Arizona's Jr. BIOTECH program, a project that connects middle school science teachers with the resources and training necessary to lead hands-on, inquiry-based science activities in the classroom.
Jr. BIOTECH is being introduced at middle schools in Tucson, Yuma and Flagstaff with the ultimate goal of offering the program statewide. The three-year pilot project, operated by the UA's BIO5 Institute, is an expansion of the highly successful BIOTECH program currently offered at Arizona high schools.
Research shows that engaging middle school students in science-related activities increases the likelihood of them pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math, known as the STEM fields.
"Creating opportunities for students to achieve postsecondary education success starts early and it's tied to supporting programs that help increase curriculum rigor and relevance in middle school classrooms," said Helios Education Foundation President and CEO Paul Luna. "Helios' $750,000 investment in Jr. BIOTECH will help teachers increase their skills and knowledge in the science, technology, engineering and math areas and in return, help motivate students to explore opportunities in those fields."
"American teenagers currently rank 25th in math and 21st in science relative to their international peers," said Dr. Fernando D. Martinez, director of the BIO5 Institute. "Jr. BIOTECH is an investment in building the highly skilled workforce Arizona needs to compete globally and to expand the state's biotech industry."
The Jr. BIOTECH project provides professional development workshops for teachers, classroom visits for modeling hands-on biotechnology activities and extensive materials support to help teachers conduct biotechnology experiments independently.
BIOTECH has trained hundreds of high school teachers and brought biotechnology experiences to tens of thousands of students in Arizona. Program evaluations indicate that the BIOTECH project improves teachers' and students' attitudes toward science and in-classroom support increases teacher retention in the program.
Helios Education Foundation is the largest nonprofit organization serving Arizona and Florida focused solely on education, and is dedicated to enriching the lives of individuals by creating opportunities for success in postsecondary education.
The BIO5 Institute was designed to capitalize on the UA's history of interdisciplinary collaborative research. This emphasis on collaboration is an integral part of BIO5's education outreach programs as well.
Collaborative partnerships with Jr. BIOTECH include Tucson Unified School District's Regional Science Center; Northern Arizona University's Center of Science Teaching and Learning; Arizona Science Teacher Advancement and Research Training (AZ-START); the Crane School District; and UA Cooperative Extension.
The grant proposal process was managed by the GIFT Center at the UA Foundation.
The UA Foundation is one of the largest foundations in Arizona, raising more than $100 million annually. Managing an asset base of nearly $500 million, the UA Foundation has helped generate more than $2 billion in private funding to support the UA.