By Frances Bradburn
Everyday Education 

Scientists And Teachers Make TIME Possible!


March 13, 2017

To say Dr. Kent Wilcox has "retired" hardly means he has left the classroom or laboratory. Wilcox and his colleagues are a regular presence on campus, offering TIME students a valuable sounding-board for ideas in their research several days a week. (Photos courtesy of Kevin Smith of Transylvania County Schools.)

Most of us in Transylvania County recognize Brevard High School's TIME program, a scientific research program that encourages 9-12th graders from the Transylvania County School System to invest one or more of their high school years exploring a scientific question or problem of their own choosing.

Some of us may know that many of these teens have won state and national science fairs, met Nobel Prize winners, presented their research to scientists at the scientists' national conference (AAAS), and even published original research in a juried, highly respected scientific journal.

But few of us are aware of the mentorship and support these young people are offered by their teachers and members of the Transylvania County and Western North Carolina community of active and retired scientists.

The program itself is the brainchild and unique partnership between high school science teacher Jennifer Williams and Mary Arnaudin 4-H Youth Development Agent with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service. Ten years ago they applied to the Burroughs Wellcome Fund for a grant to begin the TIME program.

Originally the plan was for TIME to be an after school program. It has evolved into both a one-week summer orientation and two for-credit high school courses.

The summer orientation introduces students to science in the real world. With Williams and Arnaudin as well as local scientists, students tour Transylvania County and surroundings to learn what science is being done in the area, work on their own open-ended inquiry and talk to several scientists about their work. This introduces them to the "messiness" of real world science. This reality - that the scientific process they've seen in their textbooks isn't linear or a one-time event; that scientists can't do a single literature review or experiment and be successful - is an important reality check. They will be doing real science, working with real scientists who have very high expectations of performance. This performance, however, is tempered with the realization that there are no easy answers; there will be many failures - re-directions if you will - with one question leading to another to another.

This inquiry science, this real science, is facilitated by a number of committed local scientists both active and retired. For instance, retired medical school virologist Dr. Kent Wilcox, retired CDC microbiologist Harriet Walls, and retired anatomy and cell pathology professor Dr. Kenneth Chepenik pool their experience and expertise with local pediatrician Dr. Ann Farash and Western Carolina University Environment and Health Science professor Dr. Brian Byrd and other volunteers to mentor these young scientists.

"It's an impressive level of volunteerism," said Farash.

A good example of this "impressive level of volunteerism" is Wilcox, who began working with the program at its beginning 10 years ago. As many as three days a week Wilcox can be seen in the classroom prodding students to question their own assumptions, asking them to formulate a hypothesis, helping them set up experiments, and asking them critical questions as they face the inevitable setbacks.

Since he has access to the NCSU library catalog, Wilcox can guide their search for papers that support their research. Because he has had experience publishing in juried publications, he was able to guide Abigail Williams and Carly Onnink, as well as Williams and Arnaudin, through the lengthy, detailed peer review process that resulted in the January 2017 publication in the Journal of Entomological Science of the young women's original research, "Electroantennogram Assays to Determine Megacopta cribraria Response to [E]-2-Hexenal."

High school students being recognized on an equal footing with research scientists and their graduate students is a major achievement. These young women and their classmates are doing real science. They are contributing to the world's scientific database of research by answering their own questions, not their advising professor's.

No one works alone. Students work in teams of two or three; Williams and Arnaudin search for grants and contact scientists to be mentors; Williams's team teaches with Laura Patch and Matthew Tuckey. Eight to 10 volunteer scientists vet student applications for the program; others critique student presentations before science fairs, and still others willingly answer e-mails or even phone calls from students as they work through their questions.

Even the grants seem to find themselves paired to get the most "bang for the buck." Recently a grant from Duke Energy was paired with one from the state of North Carolina to explore mosquitoes in Western North Carolina. These funds enabled eighth and ninth grade students to work with and even contribute to Dr. Byrd's mosquito research at WCU.

TIME is a unique yet expensive investment in our county's young people. The school system provides teachers, classroom space, and some of the program's lab equipment. But much of what makes the program function at a higher level than a regular science class is funded by grants and community donations.

Trips to regional, state and national science fairs and competitions; specialized equipment and processes like electrophoresis units and PCR testing, both used when working with DNA, RNA, and proteins; and the week-long summer orientation are all funded by grants and donations, with some as small as $15 and others as large as $2,000.

Williams, Arnaudin and even some of the volunteers are always looking for grants, a time-consuming, detailed process that takes place away from the classroom, office and family.

Yet everyone involved believes in the importance of this work. Graduates of the TIME program, are the recipients of high dollar college scholarships, recognitions by the scientific community and highly prized college lab assistant jobs that normally go to graduate students.

The school system has a reputation for fostering innovative instructional programs and producing high functioning critical thinkers regardless of whether these students go on to major in science in college. Volunteers gain intellectual stimulation, a great respect for teenagers and a sense of contributing to a program larger than themselves.

Transylvania County earns a reputation for having a high quality public school system, an impressive level of volunteerism and a place worthy of exploring for relocation whether in retirement or for work.

When scientists and university professors look to high school researchers to partner in their research, when other researchers read students' original research in a scientific journal, when students earn college scholarships, TIME has opened doors for all of us in Transylvania County. It is worthy of support with both our time and our money.

To donate to the TIME program, visit the website:

(Frances Bryant Bradburn is the 1:1 Teaching and Learning Consultant as part of a Golden LEAF Foundation grant to the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University.)

Cradle of Forestry educator Courtney Long works alongside TIME students Elise Poche and Fritz Ruppert collecting specimens during summer field orientation, preparing for a year of science inquiry, research, and presentation.


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