By Deb Everts
Cathleen Woods, a resident of Springville, was recently nominated as a state finalist for the prestigious 2019 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).
Woods is a science teacher at the Ellicottville Career and Technical Education (CTE) Center. Through her instruction, students at the CTE center have the privilege of receiving hands-on experience and learning to operate the JEOL6010LA Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM).
The students have a “leg up” on most peers their age because they are learning nanotechnology. Through the use of an SEM, they are imaging, analyzing and manipulating materials at the nanoscale. They are being trained in material analysis and reporting methods, and work with biologics, electronics and mechanical nano-materials.
As a state finalist in science, Woods’ application will be reviewed by a national selection committee in Washington, D.C. that determines the Presidential Awardee in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and/or computer science teachers.
They come from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Department of Defense Education Activity schools, or the U.S. territories as a group.
Each Presidential Awardee receives a certificate signed by the President of the United States and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation on behalf of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Awardees are honored at an award ceremony that takes place in Washington, D.C.
Woods is third in all of New York state, so she has a one-in-three chance of winning. She said when the application goes to Washington, they will pick two teachers from every state to be up for this award.
“It’s the highest honor presented by our country specifically for K-12 science, technology, engineering, mathematics and/or computer science teaching,” she said.
WOODS INTEGRATES nanotechnology into every class at the center and looks at the science behind each CTE program. She works as a support instructor with the other teachers and develops lessons that enhance what is already being learned. She said it’s called “cooperative teaching” and they work together as a team.
Under her direction, students have opportunities for both in-class instruction and hands-on experimental challenges to prepare them for college and careers in science, technology and engineering. To give all the students exposure to the microscope, Woods does a class demo to show the kids the basics and introduce them to the field of nanotechnology.
Projects are optional, but students who are interested can come to the classroom at a scheduled time to work on their projects. At the end of the year, she prints off certificates for their portfolios indicating that they have earned a certain number of hours using the microscope.
One of the Natural Resources students wanted to know why the Honey Locust trees out in front of the building were dying, so he did a project on his own where he took an SEM image of a leaf from the tree and analyzed it.
“He discovered elements in the leaf that are commonly found toxic diesel fuel exhaust,” she said. “The buses park out there on a daily basis.”
An Animal Science student who found some unknown hair at a ransacked campsite did an analysis and found it was raccoon fur. Woods said the student looked at the hair to compare the chemical aspects and the diameter to identify it as raccoon fur.
Science and SEM have also been integrated into the welding program. Woods said students did an SEM analysis of welding materials identifying elements in their work. She said they were interested in how the chemical composition of a flux coating on an electrode affects the welding process, as well as the quality.
According to Woods, the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center sent them a sample of wolf fur to identify the properties three years ago. She said they wanted to know why the fur is the way it is, from an evolutionary standpoint, to help with the wolf’s survival. Her students ended up being featured in the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center’s newsletter.
“After graduation, the students may not walk into a job that has an SEM, but the fact that they have been exposed to it and have used it as a technical skill is something that even a Regents-bound student probably would not have,” she said.
Nano is the big thing in her class right now, but Woods is currently working on a “brain computer interface technology” that is still in its developmental stages.
WOODS FOUND out about the award last December when Jim Schifley, assistant superintendent for Career and Technical Education Programs, nominated her. According to Woods, the nanotechnology program is also a vision of Principal Noel Sheehy. She said the initiative is a group effort of many people at the BOCES career and technical education centers.
“There are schools in California that teach nanotechnology, but the CTE Center in Ellicottville is currently the only school in Western New York that offers instruction in nanotechnology,” she said. “To my knowledge, a career and technical education instructor has never won this award.”
If she wins the $10,000, Woods has already promised it to the Ellicottville CTE Center. She would like to have it go toward the science curriculum.
“I want to help students. I thought about scholarships, but I don’t want this award to go to just one student. I want this money to benefit many students,” she said. “I want to put BOCES on the map and I want the country to know that CTE is strong and we hold our kids to high expectations.”
Woods has been on staff at Ellicottville’s CTE Center since 2002. The Ellicottville center is one of three CTE centers under the Cattaraugus-Allegany Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Two other centers are located in Olean and Belmont.