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Birmingham educator receives $5,000 stipend to support students in scientific research

Society for Science awarded Birmingham educator Elizabeth Bieri of Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School with a $5,000 stipend to help guide students in scientific research and competition.

Bieri was one of 66 educators selected as an Advocate from across the country; she will serve in the Advocate Program for the 2021-2022 school year. Advocates are from 31 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Fifty-eight Advocates will receive a $3,000 stipend while eight Lead Advocates will receive $5,000. Bieri is a Lead Advocate who will oversee a group of educators, helping to support and guide them through the program.

As an undergraduate at Wheaton College near Chicago, Bieri majored in anthropology with a pre-medicine focus. In school she became interested in social justice and science.

“Teaching to me is an act of justice because all students deserve the opportunity for an excellent education no matter their circumstance,” Bieri said. “Ultimately, I ditched the idea of going to med school and joined Teach for America to teach secondary science in Birmingham. I taught seventh grade for two years and I am now teaching high school chemistry.”

The Advocate Program strives to educate and inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and innovators through hands-on research and competition, and supports full representation of all identities in STEM fields. Advocates will break down barriers to competition participation by providing support for selecting competitions, gathering materials, meeting deadlines, preparing for competition and ensuring inclusivity.

“In the coming school year, students and teachers will have to remain flexible during a fluctuating public health emergency,” said Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of the Society for Science and publisher of Science News. “Through the Advocate Program, we hope students continue to participate in meaningful and transformative science research experiences. We hope this program continues to be a catalyst for underrepresented students to consider future STEM careers. The 66 Advocates are a truly amazing group of mentors for the next generation of scientists and engineers.”

Bieri stumbled upon the Society for Science in an email.

“I’m not even sure how I received that email but once I read more about it, I realized that I was aligned with what the Advocate Program was trying to achieve, and felt that it would be a great opportunity to get additional support for myself and my students,” she said.

The Advocate Program uses a tiered mentorship model, where educators are not only mentoring their students and raising future generations of scientists and engineers, but they are also mentoring, learning from and evolving supportive relationships with each another. Advocates will further develop their science research programs in another unusual year, connect with professionals in the science community and meet like-minded educators who value authentic student research and the educational opportunities that science competitions offer.

“One of the best things about the Society for Science is that they are such a pro-teacher organization,” Bieri said. “They are constantly looking for real ways to support teachers – in a way that isn’t overwhelming, but is really practical. I say this because they recognize the time and effort it takes to have a research program at your school that goes above and beyond your regular teacher contract. I take the $5,000 as a personal stipend to compensate for my own time working with students after hours. This also allows me to not feel bad about spending my own salary when I do buy students extra incentives like pizza parties, candy, prizes, etc.”

Throughout their one-year terms, Advocates will encourage at least three to five students — who identify as a race or ethnicity historically underrepresented in STEM — in science and engineering research and help them enter those projects into competitions.

“I try to spread the word about Society for Science to other teachers and education professionals that I know,” said Bieri. “They have tons of conferences and resources available that are some of the best professional development that I have experienced in my career thus far. I feel genuinely supported in a way that allows me to bring my best self for my students and provide them with opportunities to develop their scientific research skills, which is something that will benefit them in so many areas of life such as critical thinking, time management, literacy and college-readiness.”

To date, Advocates have supported more than 4,000 students during their participation in the program, of which, 3,076 students have successfully competed in at least one science research competition. During the 2020-2021 cycle, about 80 percent of student mentees participated in science competitions at the local and/or national level. Moreover, students of Advocates are responsible for over 5,000 unique competition entries, with many students entering more than one competition. Ninety percent of those students are from low-income households and 70 percent are of a race or ethnicity underrepresented in STEM.

Bieri is currently working on an M.S. in Science Education from Johns Hopkins. She lives in Birmingham.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)