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Program Leaders & Personnel

Symbi Staff Members


Adah Leshem,
Program Director

ISU Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) & Department of Ecology, Evolution, & Organismal Biology

Read Adah's Bio »

Basil Nikolau

Basil J. Nikolau,
Principal Investigator

Iowa State University Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics, & Molecular Biology

Read Basil's Bio »

Raj Raman

D. Raj Raman,
PhD, PE, Associate Professor

Department of Agriculture & Biosystems Engineering

Read Raj's Bio »

Denise Crawford,
Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching

Department of Curriculum and Instruction

Read Denise's Bio »

Drena Dobbs

Drena Dobbs,

Department of Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology

Read Drena's Bio »

Elgin Johnston

Elgin Johnston,
Professor of Mathematics & Director of the Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Mathematics Education

Department of Mathematics

Read Elgin's Bio »

Jay Staker

Jay Staker,
Associate Director of Education, Iowa Space Grant Consortium

ISU Extension, 4-H Youth

Read Jay's Bio »

Kim O'Donnell

Kim O'Donnell,
Science Curriculum Coordinator

Des Moines Public School District

Read Kim's Bio »

Elgin Johnston

Larry Genalo,
Professor & Associate Chair of Material Science & Engineering Department

Department of Materials Science & Engineering

Read Larry's Bio »

Mari Kemis

Mari Kemis,
Evaluation and Assessment Coordinator

Research Institute for Studies in Education (RISE)

Read Mari's Bio »

Mike Zeller

Mike Zeller,
Biotechnology Outreach Education Coordinator

Office of Biology

Read Mike's Bio »

Staff Profiles

Adah Leshem

Position: Program Director

Institution: Iowa State University

Department: Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) and Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology

Email: adah@iastate.edu

Website: Dr. Adah Leshem

The main objectives Adah focuses on are how to engage the community at large in science and engineering. This involves working closely with school districts in Iowa, providing science teachers with enriching professional development programs at Iowa State University; bringing opportunities to K-12 students that will help them become more interested in and connected to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields; and finally helping science and engineering graduate students become successful communicators of their research program. These objectives will hopefully support the growth of a more scientifically literate society that will support the development of new technologies to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

“Symbi, Iowa’s first GK-12 program, is a wonderful vehicle to achieve these objectives.”

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Basil NikolauBasil J. Nikolau

Position: Principal Investigator

Institution: Iowa State University

Department: Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology

email: dimmas@iastate.edu

Website:  Dr. Basil J. Nikolau

Research in the Nikolau Group is focused on the comprehensive understanding of metabolism. The lab is particularly focused on the discovery and characterization of novel metabolic processes, and the associated biocatalysts.  The group uses expanding genomics resources as the starting point for these endeavors, and couples genetics, biochemistry and metabolomics to provide functional information about the properties of the isolated biocatalysts and their physiological context.

“The past decade has seen an explosion of genomics datasets, which have revolutionized the way biological systems are defined. Yet the majority of the gene sequences that are deposited at databases are ambiguously annotated relative to biochemical functionality. These gaps in knowledge therefore offer opportunities for novel discoveries that can be used to generate innovative basic knowledge of biological processes and metabolic solutions to societal defined issues.”

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Raman RajD. Raj Raman

Position: PhD, PE, Associate Professor

Institution: Iowa State University

Department: Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Email: rajraman@iastate.edu

Website: Dr. D Raj Raman

Dr. Raj Raman is Associate Professor of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University, where he is also University Education Program Director for the NSF Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals, Director of Graduate Education for the Biorenewable Resources & Technology Interdepartmental Graduate Program, and Associate Director of Educational Programs for the Bioeconomy Institute. His research focuses on instrumentation and modeling of biological systems, and on waste treatment and biomass to energy systems. He is currently exploring the relationship between fundamental rate constants in biological systems and the overall process economics and life-cycle impacts of those systems.

“Symbi, Iowa’s GK-12 Program affords a unique opportunity to improve pre-college STEM education while simultaneously helping future faculty members (the GK12 Fellows) broaden the impact of their research. I have helped develop modules for the fellows, play an advisory and ad-hoc leadership position in the project, and present guest lectures during the summer program.

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Denise Crawford

Position: Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching

Institution: Iowa State University

Department: School of Education

Email: dschmidt@iastate.edu

Website: Dr. Denise Crawford

Denise’s research focuses on critically examining TPACK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge) in the contexts of both teacher education and K-12 schools. This research uniquely contributes to the field's understanding of teachers' development and application of TPACK. Denise directs a number of grants that link K-12 schools and the ISU teacher education program in collaborative efforts that support the innovative use of technology in K-12 and university classrooms. Denise’s responsibilities for the GK-12 project include designing professional development opportunities specifically for the graduate fellows that enhance their knowledge of classroom pedagogical approaches.

“A project such as this holds great promise for impacting classroom practice and student learning. I am pleased to take part in this program and very interested in following how the graduate fellows and classroom teachers collaborate in classrooms while teaching science content.”

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Drena DobbsDrena Dobbs

Position: Professor

Institution: Iowa State University

Department: Department of Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology

email: ddobbs@iastate.edu

Website: Dr. Drena Dobbs

Long-term research goals of the Dobbs group are to understand how proteins and nucleic acids achieve their functional three-dimensional structures and to elucidate mechanisms that determine recognition and regulate interactions among proteins, nucleic acids, and other molecules in cells. We use both computational and wet-lab experimental approaches to explore the structure and function of important macromolecular complexes, in close collaboration with several groups at Iowa State University, University of Minnesota, and Harvard University.

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Elgin JohnstonElgin Johnston

Position: Professor of Mathematics & Director of the Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Mathematics Education

Institution: Iowa State University

Department: Department of Mathematics

Email: ehjohnst@iastate.edu

Website: Dr. Elgin Johnston

Dr. Elgin Johnston brings mathematics and problem solving components to provide experience in these areas for both the Symbi Fellows and Teachers. He also serves as a support/resource for classroom activities involving mathematics and problem solving. Mathematics and science have always gone hand in hand, and that statement is more true than ever in our modern, interdisciplinary world. It is important that students in science understand the role of mathematics in working towards and communicating methods and conclusions. One goal is to have teams of science and mathematics teachers working with students on projects that span both areas.

“I have a particular interest in problem solving activities at the middle and high school level, and is a strong proponent of college/university partnerships with area schools to develop such activities. Symbi, Iowa’s GK-12 Program addresses these interests and shows our future faculty (i.e. the graduate students) how fruitful and important these kinds of partnerships can be.”

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Jay StakerJay Staker

Position: Associate Director of Education, Iowa Space Grant Consortium

Institution: Iowa State University

Department: ISU Extension, 4-H Youth

Email: jstaker@iastate.edu

Website: Jay Staker

Jay Staker focuses on “teaching in the service of learning”, should be emphasizing learning science based on student’s prior knowledge. The Science Writing Heuristic Approach (SWH) is the context that Staker structures science learning on with the Fellows and their classroom teaching partners. The Approach focuses on learning science in an argumentation-rich environment that centers on learners using claims and evidence as a platform for engagement around the concepts that are being addressed in the lessons. The Approach engages learners in science argumentation which is a natural learning tool that aids learners in testing their conceptual understanding about the science concepts in a science community experience right in the classroom.

“I work with teachers to develop learning experiences that target student learning of core science concepts and is grounded in science argumentation. Symbi Fellows take their STEM research and science process skills to middle school classrooms to encourage students to engage in the science argumentation process to learn science.”

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Kim O'DonnellKim O'Donnell

Position: Science Curriculum Coordinator

Institution: Des Moines Public School District

Email: kimberly.odonnell@dmschools.org

Kim is the current K-12 Science Curriculum Coordinator for Des Moines Public Schools. She oversees curriculum, instruction, and assessment in all science disciplines, and creates professional development opportunities for teachers.

“Symbi provides our teachers and students with authentic research experiences that they otherwise would not be able to access and engages our students in meaningful and rigorous scientific learning. The GK-12 program has changed how our students view science and scientists in a very positive way.”

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Larry GenaloLarry Genalo

Position: University Professor and Associate Chair of Material Science and Engineering Department

Institution: Iowa State University

Department: Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Email: genalo@iastate.edu

Website: Dr. Larry Genalo

Lawrence J. Genalo is an award-winning teacher who obtained his Ph.D. degree from Iowa State University in 1977 in applied mathematics with an emphasis in systems engineering. In 1996 Dr. Genalo began an “engineering literacy” program, called Toying With Technology SM, aimed at current and future K-12 teachers and their students. It includes undergraduate and graduate level courses as well as numerous outreach workshops. His current interests include bringing engineering education to K-12 students, teachers, and their classrooms; technological literacy for current and future K-12 teachers; and computations in materials.

“My interest in the GK-12 program is to help graduate students interface with K-12 teachers to provide engineering-based content that meets curriculum standards in the K-12 classrooms. Our Toying With Technology Program can provide a test bed for such lessons.”

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Mari KemisMari Kemis

Position: Evaluation and Assessment Coordinator

Institution: Iowa State University

Department: Research Institute for Studies in Education (RISE)

Email: mrkemis@iastate.edu

Website: Mari Kemis

Mari Kemis serves as the project’s evaluator. Her goal is to see whether Iowa’s GK12 program as a whole or any set of particular activities serves the intended purpose. Collecting data from all participants in the project provides key information about the structure and process and effectiveness of the program. She is looking to understand the process, outcomes, and impact and to provide data to assist program staff in making smart and data-based decisions that contribute to program success.

“I am interested in what motivates students to seek education and eventually careers in science. Symbi is a unique opportunity for students in middle school science classes to work closely with scientists, directly see science as real world experience, and spark student interest in science."

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Mike ZellerMike Zeller

Position: Biotechnology Outreach Education Coordinator

Institution: Iowa State University

Department: Office of Biotechnology

Email: mzeller@iastate.edu

Website: Mike Zeller

Mike develops biorenewable curriculum resources for K-12 educators including lab activities, test items, content and educational standards. Mike leads the summer educator workshops that introduces new curriculum modules and uses establish modules to train educators and graduate students about chemical and molecular techniques and principles associated with the growing field of bionerewables.

“My particular interest is in the teaching the life science content and principles linked to biorenewables and its impact on Iowa.”

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