Profile: Benjamin A. Elam
A double major in secondary education and biological sciences, Benjamin A. Elam says his dual focus on preparing for a career in teaching and pursuing the science he is passionate about sharing with students will aid his future as a high school educator.
The Madison native started as an MSU student in 2008, but he wasn't sure which career path was right for him. He took several semesters off and instead traveled and worked near the west coast. His employment involved growing food, and he had the opportunity to take part in gardening workshops for kids. He realized he enjoyed working with youth, and he also enjoyed the biology of plants and relating different concepts to young people.
These days he participates in a community garden. "Kids from the neighborhood enjoy slipping in to taste the snap peas, ask questions, learn about plant families, and spread mulch. They're excited about what goes in there so those of us who rent the plots from Parks and Recreation try to encourage their interest as much as we can," Elam said.
"I think biology is a good means of teaching critical thinking skills," he noted.
Elam returned to MSU earlier this year after his experiences led him to consider a career as a science teacher. Under leadership by David Chevalier, assistant professor of biological sciences, Elam is part of a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to improve education of future science high school teachers who may work in high need areas.
As part of the Creative Research-Based Science Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow grant, Elam conducted research during the spring semester on DNA repair mechanisms by studying the induction of the gene At3G02400 by Mitomycin C, a genotoxin in the plant species Arabidopsis thaliana, a member of the plant family that includes cauliflower and canola.
One goal of the grant is for participants to conduct research that will facilitate an improved scientific ability and better understanding of scientific concepts. Elam presented his research during the fifth annual College of Education's faculty and student research forum this spring. Martha Kanter, under secretary for the U.S. Department of Education delivered the keynote address and also stopped to discuss Elam's research poster with him during the forum.
"She seemed pretty happy and impressed during the event. She expressed a lot of interest in continued funding for undergraduate research and said it was good to see STEM subjects represented," Elam said.
He added that he also had the chance to talk with Kanter about the use of plants in the classroom as a teaching tool.
"Exposure to science is crucially important in the curriculum of our schools because all of our youth need to learn to be as discerning as possible regardless of their future occupations. The ability to reason well should be emphasized to encourage them to be more mindful consumers, informed voters, and capable individuals," Elam said.
Next week … Byron Williams !