Nicholasville resident to participate in National STEM Program

Published 3:45 pm Monday, June 12, 2023

Jenny McCall, a Nicholasville resident, has been selected to participate in the National STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Program.

The professional development program provides advanced STEM training and country-wide network building and was created in partnership between the National Stem Cell Foundation and the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Sciences at Western Kentucky University.

Through this program, the ten chosen teachers receive funding to create unique and sustainable lesson plans for their students with support from STEM academics.

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McCall started her role as a science teacher at Winburn Middle School in Lexington when her family moved to Jessamine County for her husband’s new job at Asbury Seminary. She just finished her third year at Winburn.

I feel I’m called to be in that community. I really enjoyed working there,” she said.

McCall said the main motivation for her to apply to be a national STEM scholar was to get the resources for her students to have a more meaningful science class.

“It’s a beautiful diverse school, but it is an under-resourced and underprivileged community,” McCall said.

Most middle schools in the Lexington area are still doing math and reading about science but don’t have the resources to do science laboratories. McCall wants to change that.

“I’m a firm believer that students will see themselves as scientists when you actually allow them to participate in the process of doing science,” McCall said. “My myopic view is that I want to help my students succeed. I want them to find careers that are meaningful for them but can also help them provide for their families and to overcome poverty, housing insecurity and food insecurity.”

Although providing opportunities for better futures for poor and otherwise disadvantaged students is a huge motivator for McCall and other teachers who participate in the program, leaders of the STEM Scholars program say it exists to get students excited about science again.

Dr. Paula Grisanti, CEO of the National Stem Cell Foundation said that there will be three million STEM workers short of what is needed in 2025.

“From her perspective, she’s saying it’s not just that we’re trying to help students find a better life, it’s also that as a nation, we really need to supply more workers to continue the research that’s needed,” McCall said.

Having just gotten back from the program meetup at Western Kentucky University a couple of weeks ago, McCall has created a lesson plan for her “Medical Detectives” class that can be used in the years to come.

McCall was originally going to use a project that she had already done with her students and revamp it from collaboration and professional advice at the STEM Scholar meetup.

However, after WKU biology professor Dr. Kerrie McDaniel worked with her, McCall realized that her project was “overcomplicated” for her students, and her lesson plan idea completely changed.

With the help of fellow scholars and leaders of the program, McCall was able to come up with a sustainable and affordable lesson plan for her students. The lesson plan is going to be connected to the U.S. Shigella outbreak of 2000.

“406 people in the United States got sick in 10 different states. It’s a bacteria that was causing people to get sick and quite interestingly, it’s not the bacteria itself that makes them sick. When the doctor prescribes antibiotics to kill the bacteria, the bacteria release a toxin when it dies and that is what makes people sick,” McCall said.

McCall said students will be able to hear from an epidemiologist thanks to a teacher she met through the STEM Scholar program.

Students will be reading different graphs and studies so that they understand the intricacies of the project before they begin completing lab work.

McCall said this will likely increase reading and math comprehension for students, too. She also wants to support her students’ creative spirits – the last project in the lesson plan will be a piece of artwork that the students will complete by using lab supplies to add the right amount of liquid to different wells on a canvas.

“Homer Hickam, who is a NASA science engineer said publicly that he would never have wanted to learn calculus if a middle school teacher had not first launched a rocket with him. So I feel like that’s my job as a middle school teacher,” McCall said.

All ten teachers in this program will be reunited in March 2024 at the National Science Teachers Association.

“It will be held in Denver and we’re gonna do a formal academic presentation with a poster explaining how the implementation of our project went and welcome science teachers from across the country and world to give us feedback or learn what we did,” McCall said. She’s taught for 15 years and has never been able to go, and she’s ecstatic that the National Stem Cell Foundation is paying for them to go. “It’s just amazing that they are willing to do that for us. I just feel like they’re really pushing us to be professional within our content area and I find that deeply, deeply inspiring.”

Of everything that’s in store for McCall this year, she’s most excited about bringing everything back to her students. She said she wants summer to be over already.

“I am so excited to bring it to Windburn. I love the Windburn community and I think the fact that I might be able to do this every single year. I don’t know if I’ve ever had that in my career like to bring an experiment of this magnitude to my students and the fact that every class from here on out is gonna get that experience is pretty amazing,” McCall said