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New Education grad, VISTA volunteer, pioneers STEM careers

Laurie Dutton has become a pioneer — just months after the Cassadaga resident earned her degree from Fredonia’s College of Education — by helping to introduce elementary school students to career opportunities in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines. She’s doing this as a volunteer with AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), through the New York Campus Compact, a hub for service-learning based at Cornell University.

Helping communities fight poverty through education, among other means, has been a focal point of the VISTA national service program which was originally conceived by President John F. Kennedy and is commemorating its 50th anniversary. The program’s current components include education (school readiness, K-12 success and post-secondary success), healthy futures (obesity and access to health care) and economic opportunity (financial literacy, housing and employment).

Ms. Dutton’s undertaking lies within education, but the 2014 Fredonia graduate is one of only three AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers working exclusively to advance STEM education in New York State.

“This is a brand new initiative,” says Fredonia’s Michael Jabot, a professor of Curriculum and Instruction within the College of Education and Dutton’s sponsor.

The wife of a dairy farmer and a former stay-at-home mom with four children between the ages of 7 and 16, Dutton was in her late 30s when she went back to school. She earned an associate’s degree in Adolescence Education from Jamestown Community College in 2011 before being awarded a bachelor’s in Childhood Inclusive Education, with a concentration in Biology, from Fredonia. With that background, Dr. Jabot says, Dutton was the ideal candidate for this new mission.

“Laurie is a perfect fit,” he attests, pointing to her elementary education training and strong background and interest in science. “She’s one of the best students I’ve ever had. She’s very responsible and will make a great all-around future teacher.”
Dutton is employing a “place-based” approach in her yearlong AmeriCorps VISTA assignment.

“We are bringing the community to student learning,” she explains. “When we are teaching about watersheds, we can map out where the students live and show them where their water goes. That’s why we feel this is going to be a success. We’re going to engage students by connecting their world with learning.”

She organized a Science Day in October at Point Gratiot Park for the entire student body of Dunkirk’s School 4. Students learned about the watershed, how the Great Lakes were formed and pollution issues. They rotated among seven learning activities using “Great Lakes in My World,” a highly praised educational kit that features a variety of indoor and outdoor activities for K-8 students.

“I had one teacher tell me that a couple of her students had never touched sand before, so to me, that was a success,” Dutton says.

Conducting outreach events in targeted communities is a key objective for Dutton. At Sinclairville’s recent Agricultural Days, hosted by the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service, she distributed literature that connects STEM careers to the local 4-H program. She also attends meetings of the Western New York STEM Hub and the Chautauqua County Education Coalition, which bring school administrators and industry leaders together to discuss work-place skills and concerns.

In December, Laurie Dutton, ’14, spoke to Sinclairville Elementary School
students about career opportunities in the STEM (Science Technology
Education and Mathematics) fields.

Dutton has also met with area teachers to discuss the four-unit, fourth grade science lesson plan that she and Dr. Jabot developed which draws communities into student learning through hands-on activities and inquiry-based learning. She introduced the curriculum at Sinclairville Elementary School in December.

Also on her agenda is collaborating with “Dream It Do It Western New York,” part of a national workforce development initiative to expand the pool of skilled workers in manufacturing.

She will utilize customer-satisfaction surveys, for both students and teachers, to assess the effectiveness of her programs and initiatives.

As a bonus, Dutton will spend two weeks in Belize during January working with Fredonia’s pre-service teacher candidates at a school that serves special education students.

Jabot, who collaborates with Dutton almost daily, envisions a greater use of AmeriCorps VISTA workers to promote STEM education and careers.

“There are so many opportunities in the STEM fields that I think it would be a missed opportunity not to introduce them earlier in the schools,” he said.

Joining the AmeriCorps VISTA program was an opportunity that Dutton, who hopes to eventually become a full-time teacher, couldn’t resist.

“I was given the opportunity to return to school later in life and, when I found out about this opportunity, I thought it was a great idea to give back to my community,” she explained. “Science and biology have always been near and dear to me.”

In December, Laurie Dutton, ’14, spoke to Sinclairville Elementary School students about career opportunities in the STEM (Science Technology Education and Mathematics) fields.

posted @ Thursday, January 22, 2015 12:22 PM by Pamala Colon

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