Indiana State University Newsroom

Vigo teachers become students in Sycamore labs

August 13, 2014

When Sarah Ford was a student at West Vigo High School, she “lived for” the rare occasions when she and her classmates performed a science experiment.

“It’s one thing to read it, but when you’re actually seeing the results — especially with many of the colorful tests — you can say quantifiably, this is what I’m doing, this is what this means and this is how I can apply it to my everyday life,” said Ford, now a senior biology/pre-medicine major at Indiana State.

Teens who share Ford’s enthusiasm for hands-on learning could have more lab time in their near future. A team of Indiana State professors and students participating in the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience or ISUcceed Program spent part of the summer training area high school educators in new lab techniques and technology.

The classes are funded by a three-year grant that will help teachers get graduate-level hours toward dual-credit accreditation to teach advanced placement classes, said John Newport, curriculum coordinator at Vigo County School Corporation. Twenty teachers participated in this first year, taking biology, math and physics courses at Indiana State, Newport said.

Cherish Easton, who was Ford’s high school biology teacher, was among educators in the program.

“It was certainly cool to walk in the classroom and have her yell my name,” Ford said. “It’s exciting to learn what she’s doing with her students now that she’s taken over the AP program at my high school. Just talking to her about her curriculum and how she’s smoothed out the bumps since her first year teaching, which is when she had me, it sounds like she’s come a long way and that’s just really exciting.”

Easton relished the opportunity to get her hands dirty in a biology lab taught by Indiana State professors Rusty Gonser and Catherine Steding.

“There’s so much out there that I don’t know and that I haven’t been exposed to,” Easton said. “This stuff is new, and when I went to school, they had some of the tests, but the tests are so different with the computers running everything now. It’s just neat to see the evolution of that. And as teachers in the classroom, if we’re going to continue to prepare our kids for the next level, we have to constantly keep ourselves up-to-date with that as well.”

The most immediate benefits from the Indiana State-Vigo County Schools collaboration will be seen by Vigo teens, as their teachers adapt the summer’s lessons for high school labs. 

“Even if we don’t have all of the equipment with us, there still a chance for us to adapt the same types of things, just using different types of stuff that we have already in the classroom,” said Adam Zwerner, a biology and zoology teacher at Terre Haute South.

For example, Zwerner learned during the classes at Indiana State about online resources he could tap for his classroom. He envisions tasking students with research on a genetic sequences website. 

“And so we could talk about the relationships between two species by identifying specific genes that might be different among multiple species, like a wolf and a dog, for instance,” Zwerner said. “A few differences (in the DNA sequence) would allow them to see that, yes, they’re very closely related, but there are some very key similarities — or some key differences there too.”

Brady Scott, who teaches anatomy, physiology and freshman biology at Terre Haute North High, said his students appreciate his being able to speak from personal experience.

“Anytime you can go back and say, ‘This is what I’ve done and this is what happened’ — be it a success or failure for students — it allows them to kind of relate to it a little bit more,” Scott said. “In the long run, it will help them be more successful in their lab approaches, knowing that you’ve done this or you have a certain level of knowledge that you can relate to them.”

Offering these classes in the summer allows teachers — many of whom are also busy moms and dads — some much-needed flexibility, Newport said.

“I wouldn’t be able to come in here and do this on my own. Just from a financial standpoint, there’s just absolutely no way,” Scott said. “Any educator would tell you, ‘You have to make time if you want to get better.’ It doesn’t matter what profession it is, if you want to improve, you have to provide the time on your own to do that. This (class) is an opportunity to do that.”

Vigo County School Corporation’s partnership with Indiana State was a natural choice, Newport said, as the university already offers graduate classes. Indiana State’s Unbounded Possibilities, the Center for Genomic Advocacy and the Lily Endowment provided funding for the classroom resources.

“The instructors have been great. They’re extremely knowledgeable, and they’re very easy to work with,” Scott said. “They try to relate to you on a one-to-one level. Nobody’s trying to show how smart they are or anything like that — they’re very approachable and always very helpful with questions.”

And who knows — perhaps these added hands-on learning experiences could whet the appetite of future scientists and medical professionals. 

“I graduated from a class of nearly 200,” Ford said. “We had a couple of people go into math and engineering, but out of all of those 200, I was the only person who wanted to do anything with science. I really think it’s great that we can make this more accessible to everyone.”


Photos: -- Cherish Easton, left, a science teacher at West Vigo High, works with Indiana State students during a summer class for high school educators. -- Brady Scott, who teaches anatomy, physiology and freshman biology at Terre Haute North High conducts an experiment during a summer class for high school educators at Indiana State. -- Adam Zwerner, a biology and zoology teacher at Terre Haute South, conducts an experiment during a summer class for high school educators at Indiana State. -- Lab equipment is seen at the Indiana State Science Building.

Contact: Rusty Gonser, associate professor of biology and director of the Center for Genomic Advocacy at Indiana State University, 812-237-2395 or

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or