Educating the Future … One Young Mind at a Time

By Lindsay Davis, Gamma Mu (West Virginia University Institute of Technology)

Rebecca Schnekser, Zeta Tau

Rebecca Schnekser, Zeta Tau, is building the world of the future one student at a time. She is a Lower School Science Specialist at the Cape Henry Collegiate School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. There, Rebecca helps her students gain a better understanding of classroom science by incorporating authentic field science, along with a dose of inspiration for them to make a difference in the world.

Rebecca earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Longwood University, where she also became a Sister of the Zeta Tau Chapter. As a dedicated educator, she aspires to eventually become a school administrator or curriculum specialist who assists other teachers.

Recently, her work and her professional development plans earned her a special award given to particularly exemplary science teachers – the Donna Sterling Exemplary Science Teaching Award from the Virginia Association of Science Teachers. This honor awarded annually to an exemplary elementary or middle/secondary school science teacher who plans to improve science teaching through continuous professional development. As an awardee, Rebecca will receive $4,000 to help achieve her goal of improving science teaching through her own professional growth and development.

Second-graders at Cape Henry Collegiate dig at their assigned sites to track biodiversity of plants and insects.

As part of the award, Rebecca will travel to the Amazon rainforest in July 2018 with National Geographic Explorers to complete geothermal, geochemical, biodiversity, and studies on illegal logging. During this adventure, Rebecca will study the boiling-hot Shanay-timpishka River, unusual due to its 435-mile distance from any geothermal centers. “Our field study includes collecting data from the river, studying the ecosystem around and in the water,” Rebecca says. “One question we hope to answer concerns what organisms live in boiling water.”

As part of another study, Rebecca will track illegal logging activity through the use of an audio device made from recycled cell phones. “The audio devices can detect illegal logging sounds far better and farther than human ears can,” she explains. “When these devices detect the sounds of logging, using GPS, the exact location of the logging activity is triangulated and sent to authorities for intervention.”

The audio devices will also assist in tracking the various species of animals in the rainforest, leading to information on their activities, movement patterns, and population densities.

The information learned on this trip will be of immediate use for Rebecca and her students back home in Virginia Beach. She plans to use what she learns to integrate STEM into classroom projects and educate students on biomes, ecosystems, the carbon cycle, critical thinking, and environmental protection.

“The heart of my teaching philosophy is empowering students to make a positive difference in the world,” says Rebecca. “I believe educators are meant to inform and empower students. After all, they are our future!”