University of Missouri - Columbia.
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Posted 11.21.05

MU Researcher Receives 'Presidential Award for Excellence' from NSF

Award Honors Contributions to Science Education and Mentorship

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Studies by the National Science Foundation show that Americans strongly support science and technology but are not well-informed about developments in these areas. Sheryl Tucker, a chemistry professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, hopes to change that by educating youth and mentoring minorities in science fields, and now her efforts have the President's attention.

Tucker is a recipient of a 2005 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). The PAESMEM program, which was implemented in 1996, has recognized 97 individual leaders and 68 institutions since its inception. These leaders work in science, technology, mathematics and engineering disciplines and mentor groups and individuals underrepresented in these fields. Tucker was among 10 individuals and one institution to be awarded a $10,000 PAESMEM grant at a White House ceremony last Wednesday.

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Seven years ago, with funding from the Dreyfus Foundation, Tucker launched a two-year pilot program in partnership with the Girl Scouts-Heart of Missouri Council to provide young girls an opportunity to perform simple chemistry experiments in an all-girl venue. Since its inception, the Magic of Chemistry program has evolved from a lab with 35 participants to a bi-annual, nationally recognized chemistry program that has served 1,900 girl scouts from across the state of Missouri. There are three programs that rotate annually: Case of the Unsigned Letter, Fun with Polymers and the Chemistry of Color. Each has a fictitious scenario that is completed by the more than 850 volunteers who have worked in the program. Tucker says the purpose of the program is to ignite and maintain girls' interest in chemistry by having girls perform hands-on chemistry experiments with common, everyday materials and by exposing them to female role models.

"The concept of the 'leaky pipeline' receives a lot of attention, as it should," Tucker said. This phrase refers to women and underrepresented groups who, despite the odds, maintain their interest in physical science beyond high school. Around the fourth through sixth grades, national studies show that girls lose interest in experimental science. Tucker tries to prevent the pipeline from leaking by mentoring underrepresented groups in research, but she also says it doesn't matter if something leaks if there is nothing in it to start.

Tucker hopes to nationalize the program and plans to use $5,000 of her PAESMEM grant to send Magic of Chemistry start-up kits to chemistry faculty members at other institutions who are collaborating with local Girl Scout councils. The other half of her award will be used to continue her mentorship to undergraduate and graduate student researchers from groups underrepresented in science fields.

Tucker's work in science education also received state recognition. In October, she was presented a 2005 Science Teachers of Missouri Distinguished Service Award at their annual concurrent conference.



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