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South Georgia Scientists, Teachers Connect in GIFT
Akins and Browning teach science in Berrien County. But during July, they're seeing science in action on the Tifton campus of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Akins, Browning and 10 other science teachers from Irwin, Tift, Turner and Worth counties are participating in the Georgia Industrial Fellowship for Teachers program.

GIFT allows teachers to tag along with real scientists and mathematicians and see firsthand some practical applications of the very things they teach in their classrooms.

"It's a win situation for both groups," said Susan Reinhardt, a UGA education program specialist. "Scientists become aware of the needs and expectations of teachers. And teachers understand the importance of producing more students interested in science."

Teachers in the program are charged with taking this experience back to their students and showing them that science is more than just lectures and textbooks.

The program was developed by Georgia Tech in 1991. Since then, more than 80 organizations and universities have provided this opportunity to 750 teachers in 44 Georgia school systems.

GIFT, for the most part, has been offered to teachers in and around metro Atlanta, Savannah and Augusta, Reinhardt said.

"I've seen this program work for many years," she said.

This is the first time, however, it has been offered to teachers south of Macon. The teachers will spend time with UGA scientists from animal and dairy sciences, entomology, horticulture and plant pathology, along with researchers from the National Environmentally Sound Production Agriculture Laboratory and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It's a paid experience for the teachers, Reinhardt said. A grant provided the funding, along with money from the participating school systems.

Both Browning and Akins said the sciences often don't get the funding or attention they deserve. And getting students interested in science can be difficult to say the least.

Armed with a bag full of new ideas, though, they believe they can change this and spark the interest of their science students this fall.

"We want to turn the students on to science," said Akins, a sixth-grade teacher for 12 years.

"This has given us the avenue to ideas we can utilize in the classroom," said Browning, a 10th-grade teacher for 22 years. "We want to interest the kids in science so that they might want to pursue a career in science."

They hope to dispel the stereotypical "Hollywood-image" of the scientist, Browning said.

"It was a real eye-opener, for instance, to see so many females are involved with the actual field research," Akins said. "Science is not just a male-oriented program anymore."

Akins said many people in south Georgia don't realize the value of the research conducted by scientists like the ones on the UGA Tifton campus.

"We are very fortunate to have this resource here in Tifton," she said. "I'd love to come back every year to see what trends are currently in science."

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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