Research Experience for Teachers Site Program Facilitates STEM Professional Development


Over a six-week period during the summer of 2022, twelve high school teachers participated in a Research Experience for Teachers (RET) site program hosted by the College of Technology at the University of Houston. This year’s program was the second cohort of a three-year project sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) aimed at helping Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) teachers expand their knowledge about cutting-edge research in engineering design and manufacturing.

The RET site program was led by Dr. Weihang Zhu, professor of mechanical engineering technology (MET) and Dr. Augustina Reyes, professor emerita of education. The teachers attended weekly workshops, participated in research lab groups, and took field trips to local manufacturing companies. Members of the MET faculty led research lab group work and curriculum counseling.

At the conclusion of the 2022 RET site program, we had a chance to speak with Dr. Zhu to learn more about the program.

Q:  How did the RET site program in 2022 differ from the one held in 2021?

The biggest difference is that last year about 50% of the activities, such as research workshops and teacher meetings, were held online due to COVID protocols. This year, all the events were face-to-face…although sometimes for convenience, teachers met online to discuss their course module development. All the research activities were carried out in the lab. Compared to last year, the research mentors were able to define the research tasks more clearly for the high school teachers. With a more clearly defined route, teachers more actively participated in the research, not just as a watcher.

Q:  How were you able to bring real-world experiences to the teachers through this program?

We had the opportunity to visit different local companies in the field trips. This year, we visited Vallourec Alloy, Forged Components, Beckhoff Automation, and Element Materials Tech. These activities strengthened our relationship with local industries and exposed the teachers to real-world manufacturing and automation.

Q: What additional resources were involved in the professional development for the teachers?

In the course development counseling, we invited speakers from local ISDs and other entities to share information about their programs and their perspectives on the need for changes in fundamental engineering education. For example, on June 21, we invited Dr. Alma Allen, Texas state representative, and Dr. Patricia Allen, HISD board member. On June 28, we invited Dr. Michelle Wilson, professor and the director of teaching and learning initiatives at San Jacinto College. On July 5, we invited Dr. Sharon Green to talk about the UH College of Technology. On July 12, we invited Dr. Joe Coleman, principal of North Shore Senior High School in Galena Park ISD.

Q: What do you know and/or hope the STEM teachers take away from their experience with the RET site program?

I hope that the teachers take with them some knowledge to better develop advanced high school curriculum models and help bridge the gap between grade school and university engineering education. As a takeaway from the program, each participating teacher assembled one 3D printer and was able to take it back to their high school for educational purposes.

For additional details about the NSF RET project, visit https://uh.edu/technology/ret.

For more information about the Mechanical Engineering Technology program at the University of Houston, click here