July 21, 2007

Student teaches biofuel professionals

It must be wonderful to be a teacher - because you learn so much from your students.

Science teacher Dana Franklin professed as much as she introduced her 7th grade student, biofuels prodigy Erin McCaskey, at last week's Farm to Fuel Summit in St. Petersburg hosted by the Florida Department of Agriculture. Dana teaches at Merritt Island's Thomas Jefferson Middle School (on the "Space Coast" of Florida):

I am very proud to be a teacher and I love my job very much. I have to say, I have 100% job satisfaction... At the beginning of last school year I made the suggestion of alternative fuels as a science fair topic for my research students. Erin McCaskey, a seventh grader at the time, decided to take on the challenge of exploring biodiesel and ethanol. And I had no idea how much I was about to learn from the experience.

"Which alternative fuel produces the most energy?" was her science fair question. After extensive research, advice from local experts, support from the community, hours in the lab, moldification of the first batch, problems with titration and dissolving containers, Erin made five types of biodiesel and obtained B20 and E85. To complete her project she determined the energy content of each using a calorimeter.

Erin was awarded for her accomplishments by placing first at the state science fair and four other competitions. She was also recognized by NASA, the Society of Women Engineers, the Navy, and the Florida Engineering Foundation.

My accomplishments were sharing the knowledge I gained with my students and co-workers and for citing the importance of alternate fuels to our country and guiding Erin that she made a difference in our state and country's future fuels.

Here are some words from 12-year-old Erin herself, demonstrating her professional attitude and demeanor:
I learned so much during the time that I have decided to move my project forward. I still need advice, guidance, resources, and access to equipment to be able to complete my project. I attended this conference to learn about industry developments but also to meet experts in the field. Thank you for taking the time to listen to me about a subject you already know so much about.

Gilbert Bowen of Bowen Family Farms was so moved by the story that his daughter announced that they would award Erin a four year scholarship to any college of her choice when she is ready to matriculate. Erin blushed with excitement while both her mother and her teacher got teary eyed. It was an outstanding and well-deserved gesture by a family that has always been a supporter of alternative fuels and believes it is the future for Florida.

As Tom Doerr, Undersecretary of Rural Development of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, summed up the connection between students, education, and the impact of renewable energy on rural America at the conclusion of his lunchtime speech:
We are witnessing the most significant wealth creation opportunities for rural America in my time and, I would submit, even my father's time.

Bottomline it is nothing more complex than this. It's all about your kids. What we really want as parents and grandparents is - once our kids get educated, once they have had the chance to travel the world, once they have had the chance to do whatever they want to do - IF they decide they want to return to rural America, they must have access to a high quality job to raise their families in the kind of environment and values that they want. You, as parents and grandparents, can watch those kids grow up.

If you persist and your leaders persist in what you are doing, we have the opportunity to bring those kids back to rural America.

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J.J. Swan said...

As a middle school science teacher, I relate to Dana Franklin's experience in learning from her students! We did a project on biofuels last year called "Fuel Frenzy", which I adopted from an associate in graduate school. The students learned a bit about several biofuels and then selected one to research. They made posters and presented to their class. I discovered many new things about biofuels from their presentations. I especially loved seeing the students' excitement about the possibilities of sustainable energy use and the opportunities for becoming more active citizens. It is truly a joy to be in the classroom with students so filled with hope and care for our world.

C. Scott Miller said...

There has been an unfortunate divergence between urban and rural employment opportunities developing over the past century that has resulted in a severe migration of population from rural areas to the city.

The renewable energy paradigm shift could significantly change that trend. Farms, ranches, and forests are now engaged in wind, solar, and biomass energy projects that, when commercialized, will bring cutting edge and high paying jobs to rural America.

Colleges are retrenching their bio departments and ag schools are investing in new research programs funded, in large measure, by an infusion of cash and resources from the U.S. government, petroleum companies, farm conglomerates, and power companies.

Teachers like J.J. and Dana Franklin are priming this pump by creating new curricula that engage their students. These courses are vital to advancing the public perception of the benefits of renewable energy technologies - to reduce carbon emissions, create new energy infrastructure, while cleaning up the environment.

A grateful nation applauds your dedication.