Texas A&M PEER Program Receives $1.26 Million Grant To Support Rural STEM Education
Posted September 07, 2018
Dr. Larry Johnson, a
professor in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine &
Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Department of Veterinary Integrative
Biosciences (VIBS), has received a five-year, $1.26 million Science
Education Partnership Award (SEPA) grant from the National
Institutes of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the
National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in rural middle
The funds will enable the CVM’s Partnership for Environmental
Education and Rural Health (PEER) program to:
- Develop a student-centric app improving the accessibility of
PEER materials to rural educators;
- Revitalize the PEER program website to include compatibility
with the newly developed app, updated resources, and enhanced
- Provide teacher trainings focused on student-centered
instructional strategies and resources for teaching life science in
the motivating context of One Health, which involves the
integration of human, animal, and environmental health.
To achieve these aims, the PEER project team will partner with
the Center for Educational Technologies and Texas A&M
University Departments of Computer Engineering and Agricultural
Leadership, Education, and Communications to incorporate curricula
materials Johnson and the PEER scientists/educators have created
over the past 15 years.
“The partnerships formed with educators and their students here
and around the world through our PEER program to support STEM are
making lasting, positive impacts on our rural middle school
communities,” said Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King Dean of
Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. “We are proud of
this PEER team and the work they do; this NIGMS SEPA award will
allow this team to serve rural communities in an even more
The goal of the project is to further prepare middle school
teachers to teach STEM, increase the number of youth who have
interactive STEM experiences in school, and increase the number of
underrepresented minority students who are knowledgeable about STEM
and STEM careers.
This project will target underserved rural communities,
concentrating specifically on middle school students who are at a
critical period for developing academic competence and choosing a
“We generally target middle school students because students in
this age group tend to start middle school liking math and science,
but leave middle school with a less favorable impression of it,”
Johnson said. “We're trying to prevent this by applying science to
something they all like—animals.”
Rural schools often have large minority and educationally
underserved populations and are geographically isolated; therefore,
students there often have few opportunities to interact with
scientists and academic health professionals who might increase
their motivation to engage in STEM education and careers. Giving
students the opportunity to engage with these professionals offers
them the chance to establish mentorships or role models, which, in
turn, will allow them to envision themselves in a health or medical
career, according to Johnson.
As part of the project, the team will also host teacher
professional development workshops at the CVM, during which five
educators will travel to College Station to assist in developing
curricula that will meet state and national STEM education
standards and contain content engaging to students.
“They will help us create materials that match what teachers
need in their classrooms by bringing firsthand classroom experience
that guarantees resources created are effective and relevant,”
Johnson said. “Teachers won’t use our materials if they don’t
conform to state standards or can’t be realistically used in a
Those materials will cover seven different One Health topics,
which also will be translated into Spanish.
“We often create lessons about animals; kids love animals and so
it’s an easy transition from teaching them about the science in
their pets to the science in themselves,” Johnson said. “We
encourage children to learn through things that they like.”
Finally, during the third, fourth, and fifth years of the grant,
PEER will travel across the state to host middle school teacher
trainings instructing teachers on the use of not only the PEER app,
but also the student-centered instruction and curriculum that the
app and web-based resources make possible.
“We will help teachers implement the materials we’ve created
into their classrooms,” Johnson said.
Other Texas A&M faculty and staff assisting in the project
include Christine Budke, Maria Esteve-Gassent, Julie Harlin,
William R. Klemm, Noboru Matsuda (now at North Carolina State
University), Nicola Ritter, Duncan Walker, and Torri Whitaker.
The PEER program has been providing activities that encourage
interest in STEM education for more than 17 years. The popularity
of PEER-produced curricula has led to a mailing list that includes
35,000 teachers from across the United States and a YouTube channel
with viewers from around the world. PEER curricula receives 50,203
downloads yearly by 2,201 teachers, generating an impact of 199,609
students, 52 percent of which includes minority populations.
In addition to the new project, PEER will continue to have
veterinary student led outreach events and scientist-hosted
webcasts in support of the SEPA mission.
“Dr. Johnson and his team have had a huge impact, inspiring
children and teachers, not only in Texas but throughout the nation
with this program,” said Jane Welsh, VIBS interim department head
The SEPA program which supports pre-kindergarten to
12th grade STEM, informal science education, and science
center/museum projects, is located in the Division for Research
Capacity Building at NIGMS. The PEER-based project, Science
Promotion in Rural Middle Schools, received a prior (2007-2012)
SEPA award .
For more information on the PEER program, visit http://peer.tamu.edu. For more
information on the SEPA program, visit https://nihsepa.org.
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