Program provides K-12 STEM teachers with paid summer internships
Feb 6, 2018 | Atlanta, GA
Since 1991, the Georgia Intern Fellowships for Teachers (GIFT) program has provided K-12 science, mathematics, and technology teachers with paid summer internships in university research laboratories and STEM industry workplaces. Founded as part of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC), the GIFT internship program has placed teachers in more than 2000 positions across the state of Georgia with the goal to provide educators with real-world applications of the subjects they teach.
Through GIFT internships, teachers spend 4-7 weeks during the summer experiencing firsthand how researchers and industrial scientists approach problems, design experiments, interpret data, communicate findings, and implement workplace solutions. GIFT interns develop and expand their own subject knowledge while also gaining practical examples of STEM applications that serve to enrich classroom instruction. Bonnie Harris, Program Director of GIFT, explained why the program is so valuable for educators: “One of the most obvious benefits of participating in the GIFT program is that it allows a teacher an opportunity to get a hands-on experience themselves as to how, for example, math is used in high-level research, or how math is used in workplaces to solve problems.” She continued, “It puts teachers in a position to be more informative when kids ask that age-old question: ‘Why should I learn this?’ ”
GIFT fosters teaching methods based on inquiry, problem solving, and real-world relevance. With the guidance of GIFT alumni, fellows use their summer experiences to create lesson plans conveying what they learned to their students; these plans are set in state and national standards and the program is approved by the Georgia Department of Education for Professional Learning Units (PLUs). Mr. Casey Bethel of New Manchester High School in Douglas County, who was named the 2017 Teacher of the Year in the state of Georgia, designed some of his lesson plans based on his experience as a GIFT intern in Dr. Raquel Lieberman’s biochemistry lab at Georgia Tech; his teaching lessons have since been published in The Journal of Chemical Education. He and Dr. Lieberman are also published in Nature magazine.
Even after an internship is completed, GIFT helps provide teachers with the tools they need to generate interest and excitement about STEM topics among students. “The program gives teachers a network that they otherwise oftentimes would not have,” explained Harris. This network creates new opportunities for students, because sponsors may visit classrooms as guest speakers or may loan GIFT teachers’ schools equipment that is not ordinarily accessible to students. GIFT also benefits students through the Research, Experiment, Analyze, Learn (R.E.A.L.) program, which matches approximately 35-40 students from underrepresented populations in STEM education with GIFT teachers from their schools each summer, introducing them to professional STEM environments such as Georgia Tech research labs or Georgia businesses and institutions like the Candler Field Museum in Pike County.
The GIFT program continues to expand its reach beyond the Metro Atlanta area by partnering with local communities, businesses, and universities to create internship opportunities throughout the state of Georgia. Mr. Joseph “Cody” Moncrief from Valdosta Middle School, who was named the 2017 runner-up for Georgia Teacher of the Year, is a GIFT fellow who participated in an internship at Valdosta State University; the University of Georgia also offers GIFT placements in Athens, Tifton, and Griffin.
The GIFT program also benefits sponsors and mentors, who directly interview and hire interns after being sent qualified applications based on the internship descriptions they provide. “The benefit for sponsors is having a great worker who can complete a backburner task that should make things more efficient, without having to hire a consultant; so, the sponsor is getting a task accomplished that is going to make things better in the long run, and the teacher is getting hands-on experience,” said Harris. In the past, GIFT interns have developed training manuals for businesses and have examined efficiency measures to save companies money.
Recalling the 25th Anniversary of the GIFT Program, Amy Hutchins, Education and Training Manager at Georgia Power Company – which has partnered with GIFT since the program’s inception – shared why GIFT interns are so valuable to industries: “Every year, Georgia Power Company has had GIFT intern teachers in our company, and every year those teachers have brought with them their knowledge, their insights, their creativity, and a fresh perspective to key initiatives here at Georgia Power Company. That has resulted in better outcomes on behalf of our company and our customers.” GIFT sponsors also have the opportunity to share with educators the skills that industries will need in the future, allowing teachers to introduce the knowledge they gained to the hundreds of students they impact each year, and to encourage young students to consider pursuing careers in STEM fields.
The application process for the GIFT program is open now and closes at the end of April. For more information about the GIFT program, visit ceismc.gatech.edu/gift.
By Rosemary Pitrone