Leah Cook

Home state: Minnesota
Organization or Facility: North Central University
Grade(s): K-12 Informal & College Level
Describe your current role as an informal educator. How does your role support the mission of the organization?

Not only do I have a passion to teach biology at the college level and to pre-service teachers, I love engaging with area teachers and their students. Building these relationships gives me the opportunity to serve my own community while sharing my love of science by showing the teachers new and creative ways to teach their students fun things about science. Having the opportunity to serve in my community is an honor.

While I continue to build relationships in the community, I am developing and implementing new Bachelor of Science Biology degree program curriculum at North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In my dual role as an administrator and educator in a downtown college campus, I seek to bridge the community and the science content to students who seek to make a different in the city they reside.

How did you get to where you are? Describe the career path that lead to your current position.

My love for science began as a passion in high school when my science teacher offered me and my peers many opportunities to research at the Central Michigan Biological Station on Beaver Island in Michigan. As a high school student, I was able to experience field work and the whole research design process with our projects. This experience led me to study Biology and Chemistry for an undergraduate degree at Central Michigan University. As an undergraduate freshman, I was selected to work on a research project. It was through this mentorship from my research advisor who continued to encourage and push me to continue my education in my master’s degree program at Eastern Michigan University. While a graduate student, I completed aquatic ecology research reviewing the ecological impact of road salt on streams. During my research experience, I was also given the opportunity to teach and this was when I fell in love with teaching at the college level.

I began to pursue additional teaching opportunities because I loved working college students. When I learned I had a love for learning and passion to teach college students and pre-service teachers how to teach science, I decided to go back to school and get my doctoral degree in Science Education. Using my education and my relationships with the schools I continued to teach at, I continued my career in science teaching while being an administrator. In this hybrid role, I had the pleasure of teaching students, pre-service teachers and worked closely with adjunct instructors, and wrote and implemented college level science curriculum.

Part of my testimony is sharing how I continued to work towards my academic and professional goals while overcoming health challenges, expanding my family, and completing field and classroom research. Each of these opportunities took hard work and open and honest communication that helped grow relationships and mentorships that I appreciate to this day.

Describe a favorite Great Lakes activity or event that you do or facilitate.

My favorite Great Lakes activity I use with my students is classifying aquatic organisms to better understand what pollution factors exist in that particular system. I enjoy teaching my students the techniques of completing water chemistry and the importance of knowing and doing the chemical tests in the field can help paint a more complete picture of the environment. I show students how to collect, identify, and study aquatic plants, zooplankton, periphyton while using a variety of tools and resources.

As part of our experience, we use map reading skills. My students enjoy learning how scientist use maps in the field. Map reading is a skill that many of my students heartily agree that they wish they had but with the advancement of technology has not be needed unless technology does not work.

If relevant, how does your work complement what K-12 science educators are doing in the classroom?

I love to adapt my field and lab experiences into research projects and in-class experiences for my students. I have both in-seat and virtual students, so it is important that all my students are actively engaged in learning more about their own environment while applying what they know.

Additionally, I love working with local teachers in modifying their current curriculum to provide updated and relevant content that is NGSS aligned for them to implement with limited monies. Using feedback from the teacher, I help them by creating a unit that I will implement for them in their classroom to observe. I provide the teacher all the materials that they can easily adapt and use in the future. I work with the teacher to provide background content so they will feel more comfortable with the content while highlighting common misconceptions. These opportunities align with my current work experience of curriculum development, assessment alignment, and updating content to correlate with the newer NGSS standards.

What is the most important message about the Great Lakes you share with visitors, students, citizens, etc.?

Distance from a body of water doesn’t mean you don’t impact that body of water.

Contact Leah Cook: [email protected]