Partners in Education Outreach Program
Rice University-Texas Medical Center
Objective: To engage middle school students in science and to introduce
students to science careers
Participants: middle school students, teachers, Sigma Xi members
Description: The Rice University-Texas Medical Center chapter of Sigma Xi
established a relationship with Northbrook Middle School in Houston with the intention of
supporting science education at the school. Northbrook Middle School has a diverse
population with a high number of students receiving free or reduced lunch. It is a school
that also has a very strong commitment to the use of technology in learning and was
awarded National Exemplary Status in 1995. This combination of factors made the school a
strong candidate for a partnership with the Sigma Xi chapter. The nature of the
partnership is to have Sigma Xi volunteers either visit the school to offer lectures and
demonstrations or to have the lectures broadcast from the Texas Medical Center to the
school. The middle school and the Medical Center have the necessary equipment to allow
direct dialogue between presenters in distant laboratories and teachers and students in
special classrooms. This technology allows for the lectures/demonstrations to be
videotaped and shown to other schools.
Additional considerations: Scheduling the lectures has been a bit difficult given the busy
schedules of volunteers. The use of distance learning may ease the scheduling conflict. It
is also been important to remind volunteers that the audience for their
lecture/demonstration are middle school students that may have a limited understanding or
background in science. It is better to cover less material but to ensure that what is
covered is understood by the students. Concrete examples help students better understand
the concepts. It's best if the middle school science teacher can talk with the volunteer
ahead of time so that the topic of the lecture can fit into the teacher's lesson plan. If
necessary, the teacher can provide background material for the students before the
lecture/demonstration. Any visuals need to be adapted so that they broadcast well.
Cost implications and source of funds: The single largest expense is the technology to
transmit the lectures. Texas Medical Center and Northbrook Middle School already had the
technology in place for distance learning. It should also be noted that an educational
outreach program is not dependent on the existence of distance learning technology,
although scheduling issues may be more complex.
Time Commitment: This program has taken significant time to establish.
The chapter has a retired member that has spearheaded the program. The time commitment for
the volunteers giving lectures is much less: phone call with teacher, prep time for
Co-sponsors/Partners: Partners in Education, Time Warner Cable
Number of chapter members involved: One member to primarily coordinate the program and
members who give lectures.
Outreach/Publicity: Working through Partners in Education, the chapter
was able to contact the middle school to arrange the partnership. Any general publicity
for the partnership is handled through the district's Partners in Education office.
Sigma Xi membership implications: This program doesn't have a membership
recruitment aspect. However if the program is seen as a valuable service to the community,
current Sigma Xi members may continue to renew their membership in order to support the
Checklist for School Partnership
- Determine exactly what type of partnership the chapter is interested in having with
school, including the time and financial commitment.
- Contact school district offices. Often there is an office that handles volunteer or
- Outline with the school district the time and financial commitment to which the chapter
is willing to agree.
- Work with the district to identify a school or schools that need the type of partners
that the chapter has to offer.
- After determining what activities are appropriate for the partnership, identify
- Prepare the volunteers ahead of time for the type of activity to take place and the
level of understanding the students will process. Many chapter members have never worked
with K-12 age students so be sure they adjust their activities.
- Evaluate the specific activities and the overall program.
- If appropriate, send press releases about the partnership to local and campus
- Organizations such as Partners in Education (www.napehq.org) can help with school
Contact information: Eugene Brams, 713-462-8194