Student superheroes spread science
Published: Thursday, January 26, 2012
Updated: Thursday, January 26, 2012 03:01
While some grant money is used to buy tools for experiments or plane tickets for travel, three engineering students used part of their grant to buy fabric for multicolored capes, tights and other superhero garb.
Chemical engineering doctoral students Audrey Buttice and Samuel DuPont and environmental engineering
doctoral student Robert Bair are National Science Foundation GK-12 Students, Teachers and Resources in the Sciences (STARS) fellows. And since summer 2011, they have also been superheros.
The trio created both capes and a curriculum to make fifth graders excited about the world of science. In previous years, DuPont said STARS fellows used the grant, which was established through USF in 2002, to visit and teach science to fourth and fifth grade students in eight Hillsborough County elementary schools every week.
But with grant money running out at the end of this year, he said the three remaining recipients wanted to do something different.
So Buttice, DuPont and Bair spent last summer making costumes and new identities for themselves — Sublimation, Megabyte and Super Conductor, respectively — to form the Superheroes Training Network (STN).
The three don the costumes and create biweekly, 30-minute videos to educate students from Robles Elementary, Tampa Palms Elementary, Maniscalco Elementary and Chiles Elementary.
"I would say we're good scientists and we really love science as an art and as a technical field," DuPont said.
"But there's not that much room for true creativity, like painting and drawing (in science), and this is a really good outlet for that because we can be scientists and artists, which is, in my mind, one of the best combinations."
The videos feature characters like "Dr. Entropy," the recurring villain who wreaks scientific havoc in nearly every episode, only to be foiled by the superheroes.
The three visit the schools that use their videos once a semester, creating legions of younger superheroes.
But being a superhero takes commitment, Buttice said.
Every student must sign a Scientific League of Superheroes (SLOSH) Code of Ethics and STN Trainee Confidentiality Agreement which binds them, as a superhero, to "protect the environment around them to the best of their abilities," and warns them to keep their identities secret for the protection of the people around them.
When the three arrived at Maniscalco Elementary's Science Night last week to perform three lessons related to water treatment, the fifth graders had all memorized the STN theme song.
To the children, the three are always superheroes — even when out of costume.
"We were at Publix a couple weeks back and we were getting some food to cook and this little girl with her mother, and she must have been from Tampa Palms — I recognized her face — was pointing over at us and pulling on her mom's shirt," Dupont said. "We were seeing if she would come up to us because we didn't want to intrude. They do recognize us (from the videos), and that's the point."
This semester, the visits will help prepare students for their FCAT standardized tests.
Buttice said the experience made her appreciate the world of teaching, and she is now considering K-12 education as a career path.
"Going to the schools has really altered mine and (DuPont)'s mentalities of how the teaching world works," she said. "Going and doing this in the realm of K-12 education would be a lot more rewarding than going and getting a job in engineering, because I do feel passionate about that."
DuPont said they are also working with USF's Division of Patents and Licensing to create a small business and
copyright the STN. Their aim is to create a complete STN curriculum for Hillsborough and other counties.
"We're hoping we'll be able to take something that the University has been allowing us to grow and turn it into something bigger and maybe grow it nationally," he said.