HISD Partners With Rice Professor

February 25, 2009

Daniel Cohan, an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice University, has won a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, and he’s sharing the benefits with Houston Independent School District 5th graders. 


The five-year NSF grant will provide about $497,000 for Cohan along with undergraduate and graduate students to investigate how the atmosphere responds to changes in pollutant emissions. The grant also will allow HISD 5th-graders to explore meteorology and air pollution in their own communities. Students will conduct hands-on measurement experiments to investigate how weather and pollutant conditions vary on their school campuses.


Cohan will collaborate with HISD curriculum specialists to implement lesson plans at four pilot schools in the Westbury feeder pattern – Elrod, Anderson, Tinsley, and Parker elementary schools, starting in fall 2009.   He will then train about 80 teachers from across the district through the ConocoPhillips Rice Elementary Model Science Lab to better direct science lessons and carry out experiments with their own students based on the curriculum and lesson plans developed for Elrod, Anderson, Tinsley, and Parker. 


Cohan’s research at Rice will develop new methods to quantify long-term emissions trends and evaluate how ozone and particulate matter respond to those trends. With tens of billions of dollars spent each year controlling these pollutants, the research will seek to address critical gaps in understanding how the atmosphere responds to control measures. Recipients of the grant are science and engineering faculty members who show exceptional potential for leadership early in their academic careers.


Lauren Topek, science coach to the Westbury feeder schools, and Markeshia Ellis, science coach for Elrod Elementary, will be working with Cohan this summer to develop the curriculum and lesson plans.  Eventually the team hopes to create a Web site on which schools would post their measurement results to compare air quality conditions throughout the Houston region.  They also plan to share the curriculum and lesson plans through the Rice Connexions project to make them available to teachers throughout the country. 


Ellis said, “We are extremely excited and honored to have this opportunity and partnership with Rice University.  Since Texas is a leader in the energy industry, it is important that we give our students the opportunity to consider studying fields related to energy and alternative uses.  This study and partnership with Rice will provide our students with that foundation by monitoring air quality levels and our uses of natural resources, and taking it to the next step.”


“Fifth grade is a critical time to spark students’ passion for science,” said Cohan. “This initiative will tap into children’s natural curiosity about the weather and the environment.  By involving students in hands-on measurements of air pollution and meteorology, we will show that science is not merely an abstract concept but something that directly impacts their own communities.  This partnership between Rice University and HISD will provide a model for bringing inquiry-based exploration of the environment into elementary classrooms. I appreciate the tremendous support that HISD has provided to make this innovative project possible.”


Before joining the Rice faculty in the George R. Brown School of Engineering, Cohan worked as an air quality expert for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and was a Fulbright Scholar in Australia. He earned a doctorate in atmospheric sciences from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2004 and received a bachelor of arts in applied mathematics from Harvard University in 1998.


“Our Westbury schools are extremely proud of this new partnership with Dr. Cohan and Rice University,” said Topek. “We know that the program will strengthen our resolve to encourage and promote a truly college-bound culture. We look forward to enriching our science program and increasing our science capacity in the Westbury feeder. We are extremely excited to begin planning for the fall.”






InstantNewsWestu Staff

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