Jefferson Award: Michelle Harris - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Jefferson Award: Michelle Harris


MADISON (WKOW)-- A recent study shows United States students rank 17th in science in the world. A UW-Madison instructor wants to move us up the chart.  And she's doing it through her students.  It makes Michelle Harris February's Jefferson Award recipient.

Michelle Harris teaches an honors-track science program called Biocore at UW-Madison.

"In Biocore, the emphasis is on helping students to think and act like scientists," said Michelle Harris.

But their work goes beyond just this classroom.

"The students are inspiring," said Michelle. "They are so highly motivated and energetic, very curious and they are really great people."

Today, it's the students turn to teach.

"It's really gratifying," said Michelle. "It's wonderful to see them interact with the kids."

In 2004, Michelle and two students started an Outreach program where UW students, or ambassadors, visit classrooms and volunteer to teach inquiry-based science. Every other Friday afternoon you can find ambassadors at the MOO, the Mazomanie Outreach Post.

Today's lesson: the kids designed a boat from a few simple materials and predict how many pennies their boat would hold before springing a leak.

"It's so nice to come in and see kids enjoying science," said Lucy Smigiel.

Lucy Smigiel is a senior at UW-Madison. There about 40 student ambassadors just like her volunteering their time.

"We're obviously really passionate about science," said Lucy. "It's something we're dedicated to so I think we like spreading that to younger kids and get them more involved in a subject that is often over looked."

"They are natural scientists," said Michelle. "They are bursting with ideas. They have the ability to observe things that we don't see anymore."

The Biocore Outreach Program could be in jeopardy if they can't find funding to pay for things like travel and supplies.

"That's one of my biggest challenges is finding consistent funding for what we do," said Michelle. "It keeps me up some nights."

Michelle says it really only takes about $5,000 a year to keep it going. And, then of course there are those wants that would be an added bonus.

"It would be great if we had a $1,000 to buy an amazing set of classroom microscopes with screens the kids could easily see," said Michelle.

Michelle's students say it's their teacher who keeps the program going.

"She's a really great leader," said Lucy.

"Whenever we try to thank her and say this is all because of you she goes no it's you guys, you are the ones that do it," said Lucy. "But really she leads by such a good example."

"These kids have been in class all week," said Michelle. "They started final exams today and they're coming out on a Friday afternoon to do this. I am just amazed by it. It humbles me. I work with really talented people and I learn from my students all the time."

Click here to learn more about the Biocore Ambassador program.

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