Emily Nelson, Office of Strategic Communication, 319-384-0077
UI student shares love of STEM through internship
UI student shares love of STEM through internship
UI student shares love of STEM through internship
One of Alexis Madsen’s favorite activities to do with K–12 students who participate in University of Iowa Health Care STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs is to have them close their eyes, hand them a smartphone, and ask what it is. Every student answers quickly. Next, she hands them a model of a human brain. The responses don’t come so quickly, but once they realize what they’re holding in their hands, the conversation gets lively.
Madsen says kids learn better—and have more fun—with hands-on activities. The UI student and Le Mars, Iowa, native puts this type of education into action as the STEM education student intern for UI Health Care.
“Traditionally, kids have been expected to listen to a lecture and take notes,” Madsen says. “But kids learn so much more when they’re able to touch, play, and discover for themselves what’s going on. They’re much smarter than we think they are. And if you give them the opportunity to play around with something, they’re far more motivated to learn.”
In recognition of her hard work and contributions, Madsen was named UI’s 2017–18 student employee of the year in the award’s administration support category. Each year, 7,000 students are employed through the UI’s student hourly and work-study employment programs. Madsen is being honored along with seven other student employees and seven student employee supervisors during the 2017–18 National Student Employment Week, April 9–13.
As part of the BA/MAT (4+1) Science Education program, Madsen is finishing her fourth of five years working toward a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry and Master of Arts in teaching. She’s finishing her second year of the internship, in which she plans and leads STEM education programs on campus and in the community, develops new K–12 curricula, updates current curricula, and assists with volunteer training and data collection.
Emily Strattan, STEM education specialist for UI Health Care, says Madsen has greatly improved the STEM programs, and participant feedback proves it.
“She has a lot of energy and excitement,” Strattan says. “She makes groups feel welcome and relates well to the students. They have a great time while they’re working with her. She’s also a go-getter and not afraid to take on a new challenge or something outside her comfort zone.”
Madsen says she came to the UI as a biochemistry major and planned to go to medical school. During a study session with classmates during her first year, she discovered she loved teaching.
“I’m passionate about science, but I’m more passionate about seeing how good it makes people feel when they learn,” Madsen says. “I love when people start to find that light and motivation within them. I want to influence kids to believe that they can be a doctor or nurse or whatever they want to be.”
Madsen says she was working in the College of Education when her supervisor suggested she apply for the internship with UI Health Care.
“I thought, ‘What better way to prepare me for the real world of teaching than getting to go out and see how kids learn and develop my own curriculums?’” Madsen says.
Strattan says Madsen has a fun and engaging style that encourages and challenges STEM program participants. Among the new curricula Madsen has helped develop is a session based on an exercise used by medical students. During the activity, the students work as a team to try to determine what is wrong with “a patient.” (They’re given written examples of the symptoms that an imaginary patient is suffering from.)
“It’s fun for them to go home and tell their parents that they diagnosed a patient,” Strattan says.
Madsen also helped develop an activity to help students understand body systems and how they work together to make the body function properly. Madsen’s activity was used during an outreach education program shared with more than 1,400 children and adults.
“The thing I like to bring to a curriculum is inquiry,” Madsen says. “When I lead a session, I don’t want to sit there and tell them all the answers. I like to ask them questions, and when they need help, I’ll add a little something but go straight back into inquiry: ‘Have you seen this before? What can you tell me about it?’ My experience has been that kids tend to have the answers, but you don’t know if you don’t give them the opportunity.
“I want to give them an amazing experience so that weeks and years later, they can remember what was going on and what the big idea was.”
Madsen credits much of her success to Strattan, whom she calls a role model.
“She’s been so helpful not only in making me a better teacher, but a better adult,” Madsen says. “Coming in to college, you don’t realize everything that goes into turning an idea into reality. Emily’s taught me a ton, from logistics to budgeting. And I’ll be able to apply those things to the classroom, especially if I work in an underserved area where resources may be scarce.”
Madsen will finish her master’s studies in fall 2018 and will student teach in spring 2019. She received a Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship, which requires her to teach two years in a high-needs school district after she graduates. She doesn’t yet know where her teaching will take her, but she’s open to just about anywhere in the world. Strattan says she has no doubt Madsen will make a difference wherever she goes.
“Being from a small town, she’s particularly able to connect with students from rural areas and show them they can do this too,” Strattan says. “They may not have considered a STEM field before, but she finds ways to inspire and motivate them to consider such options. Her success as a student at the University of Iowa makes her a great example to follow.”
Madsen urges UI student employees to work hard and get to know their supervisor. She says she wouldn’t have gotten the internship had her supervisor not known her strengths and suggested it to her. She also has one more piece of advice: Take initiative.
“I had a roommate who wanted a research position,” Madsen says. “She looked at what doctors at the hospital were working on and emailed one. The doctor was so impressed with her initiative that she offered her a volunteer position that turned into a job. Don’t be embarrassed about what you’re passionate about. The worst someone can say is no.”
Other student employee of the year winners include:
Ellen Carman, Recreational Services (Winner, Campus Services)
Ellen Carman has served in nearly every area of the UI’s Outdoor Recreation and Education program, from working as an instructor and coordinator for Wildlife Camps and working at the climbing wall and in the outdoor rental center to participating in the Leadership in the Outdoors class and caring for and handling birds of prey for the Iowa Raptor Project. Meredith Caskey, assistant director of UI Wildlife Camps, says Carman’s leadership and initiative were instrumental in reworking and implementing changes in the Kestrel Corps, a service and leadership program in which high school students assist Wildlife Camps staff with educational and recreational activities.
“Her passion for the outdoors and enthusiasm for the experience of ‘getting her hands dirty’ are contagious to program participants, co-workers, and to the professional staff who supervise her,” says Dave Patton, assistant director of Outdoor Programs. “She motivates people, encourages them, and makes them feel confident while learning new skills outside of their comfort zones.” Carman is an Iowa City, Iowa, native.
Akshaya Warrier, Obstetrics and Gynecology (Winner, Health and Engineering)
Eric Devor, research assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, considers Akshaya Warrier the most important person in his laboratory. As a research assistant, Warrier is responsible for carrying out day-to-day operations in the lab, including participating in all lab activities, curating the Gynecologic Oncology Tissue Bank, and maintaining supplies. After teaching her every protocol, Devor says the senior—who is studying microbiology and human physiology and who moved between India and Bettendorf, Iowa, while growing up—is “now better than me at most of them. To say that I trust her implicitly is an understatement. I know that every experiment will be done correctly and in a timely manner.” Devor says the lab would not be as productive as it’s been without Warrier, and she is named as a co-author on six published papers and five that are still in the works due to her contributions.
Drew Ferderer, Recreational Services (Certificate of Distinction)
Drew Ferderer works every day to help educate, motivate, and inspire people to be their best selves—and he does it as one of only a handful of legally blind personal trainers in the world. “Drew uses his understanding of challenges and barriers to help prove that anything is possible for all those who come in contact with him,” says Angela Charsha-Harney, assistant director of fitness and wellness at Recreational Services. “Since becoming legally blind as an adult with a rare hereditary disease, instead of giving up on his dreams and pursuits, he has used his obstacles as motivation, for himself and others.” Ferderer excels at establishing trusting relationships with his clients, understanding their struggles, and working non-stop to outline ways to eliminate barriers to success and increase their confidence. As a fitness lead, he also continually challenges his team to exceed expectations and motivates them to make the greatest impact possible on others’ lives.
Brooklyn French, Housing and Dining (Certificate of Distinction)
The first year of any new facility can be bumpy, but Brooklyn French played a key role in Catlett Market Place’s initial success. The student manager of Catlett Market Place developed orientation materials and schedules and trained fellow student managers, establishing a strong system in the first year of operation. Darby Seymour, assistant manager of Catlett Market Place, praises French’s professionalism and communication skills, saying French recently created a daily communication log so that the student managers can stay on the same page as they work different schedules. French also is approachable and sensitive to students’ needs. “She is not one who will ask you to do anything she isn’t willing to get in the action and take care of herself,” Seymour says. “I have witnessed many of our students confide in her with something they may feel uncomfortable doing. She is able to identify when a student may need to move to a different area and is able to accommodate that individual’s needs.”
Megan Helms, Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences (Certificate of Distinction)
Arlene Drack, associate professor in ophthalmic genetics, says Megan Helms is in the top 0.1 percent of undergraduates with whom she has worked. The research assistant from Downs, Illinois, runs experiments on mouse models of human disease, analyzes data, computes statistics, and prepares and examines histologic sections. In fact, Helms is so trusted that she has supervised Drack’s lab during long stretches when the research assistant/lab manager has been away. “Megan is a leader in the lab, clearly knowledgeable and in control,” Drack says. “She is able to inspire those she is supervising to do their best work without getting angry or frustrated. Even the postdoc working on one of our projects looks to Megan for leadership.” By the end of this academic year, Helms will have been named as first author or co-author on three manuscripts. In addition, Helms, who also is an artist, made a stained-glass window incorporating the lab’s logo for the lab.
Paige Mitchell, Pentacrest Museums (Certificate of Distinction)
Being in charge of 20 children in fifth grade or below for three hours in a museum carries a level of unpredictability. But Paige Mitchell handles each issue that crops up calmly and adapts to find a solution. As Museum of Natural History education assistant, Mitchell plans and implements 16 Night at the Museum programs a year, supervising the children and the museum staff and volunteers who assist with the program. “Through the Night at the Museum program, Paige is able to foster a lifelong love of learning, of museums, and a relationship with the university,” says Julia DeSpain, public programming coordinator for UI Pentacrest Museums. “She is able to ignite a sense of discovery and exploration with each child through her history- and science-based lessons and programming.” Mitchell also is the lead docent for the UI Pentacrest Museums, managing the gift shops, leading museum tours, training new docent staff, and assisting museum staff with events and public programming.
Michael M. Phillips, Neurology (Certificate of Distinction)
In 2015, Harold Adams, professor of neurology, suffered a spinal cord injury that limited his arm and hand function. Thanks to the assistance of Michael M. Phillips, Adams has been able to continue his activities as a clerkship director in neurology, write academic papers, and prepare lectures. “If it were not for Michael, my productivity would be much less or I would need almost full-time support from professional staff,” Adams says. While Phillips’s assistant position is not one of traditional leadership, Adams says Phillips has taught him new strategies and computer programs that have resulted in improved lectures.
Supervisor of the Year 2017–18
Erik Isenhour, University Housing and Dining, Catlett Market Place
Certificate of Distinction
Kellie Bodeker, Radiation and Oncology
Kyle Davis, University Housing and Dining, Hillcrest Market Place
Kari Harland, Emergency Medicine
Philip Kaaret, Physics and Astronomy
Gregory Schmitt, Parking and Transportation
Mallory Valentine, Recreational Services