How the Amgen Foundation Seeks Cure for Science Education Woes

The foundation for Jody Hartigan’s career as a science teacher at St. Patrick Catholic School in Louisville, Kentucky, was laid at an early age. She fell in love with the profession as a kindergartner, and today she has earned a reputation as a passionate educator who loves watching kids mature in the classroom.

"I watch them morph from students who would prefer information to be handed to them into curious scientists who pose incredible questions and search for answers," Hartigan says of her vocation. "Whether they are extracting DNA form peas, writing raps to illustrate Newton's Laws, or building Rube Goldberg-inspired contraptions, my students approach scientific investigation with excitement and vigor."

Hartigan's passion caught the attention of the Amgen Foundation, which recently honored her with the Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence. The award is aimed at promoting quality science education in both private and public schools in the United States and Canada. "(See Amgen Foundation: Grants for Science Education).

Recipients are given $5,000 to use as they see fit, plus another $5,000 to help their school expand science programs and resources or train science teachers. Hartigan was among nine educators chosen for the 2012 award.

To be considered, teachers must submit an application explaining their background, their teaching philosophy, and their plan to use the award money. Amgen is interested in teachers who use creative methods to break through to students who might not otherwise develop an interest in science. For example, another winner, Diane Henault of Stony Lane Elementary School in Rhode Island, uses hands-on experiences to connect lessons to everyday life.

"When we make applesauce, we learn about conservation of matter by weighing an apple before and after it is cut," Henault says. "When making ice cream, we learn about freezing and melting points. The skills my students learn in science — compare and contrast, figure out cause and effect and draw conclusions — are the same skills they'll use in their everyday lives."

The Award for Science Teaching Excellence is just one of several science education programs available at Amgen Foundation. After all, a stronger science workforce benefits the company as well as the country. So the foundation also participates in programs that help science teachers gain National Board Certification and provide research experience to college students.

One limitation of Amgen's programs is that it likes to focus on communities where the company operates. So to qualify, you'll probably have to live and teach in one of six U.S. states, Puerto Rico, or Canada. But for those who do, the foundation provides a number of opportunities for new resources and a little resume boost.