Campus News Georgia Impact

Project FOCUS helps foster love of science in elementary students

Many of the students now studying math, science and technology at UGA fell in love with science when they were young.

For the past decade, more than 1,000 of these STEM-focused students have worked to foster a similar love of science in today’s elementary school students.

“I was one of those kids who asks a million questions-‘Why? Why? Why?’-so I wanted to be able to go out and answer those questions (for kids today),” said Paula Valetta Bugg, a biological sciences major from Decatur. “One of them could help find the cure for something that I might have when I get older or something that people have now. It’s really about encouraging them to see science in a positive light.”

Bugg found a way to keep younger students curious and asking questions through Project Fostering Our Community’s Understanding of Science, a service-learning course offered through the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Through the program, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last fall, students have helped thousands of Clarke County students and gone on to continue working in their communities after graduation.

A recent study showed that Project FOCUS students, like Bugg, are significantly more likely to take on leadership and service roles in their communities after graduation.

David Knauft, a professor of horticulture, launched the class in 2002 with 10 agricultural science students. It since has morphed into a program that provides relied-on support for teachers in Clarke County elementary and middle schools and involves science and technology students from all parts of the university.

“When we first started the program, I certainly never expected we would have so much support from the Clarke County School District, from UGA students, from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and from the Office of STEM Education on campus,” Knauft said. “But it has been such a positive experience for UGA students, for teachers and the children in their classrooms that we’re still going strong. In fact, this spring, we have more UGA students enrolled in the course than ever before.”

Project FOCUS pairs science-minded undergraduates with teachers to offer students hands-on science enrichment activities that support the Georgia Performance Standards.

Project FOCUS students do more than offer “gee whiz” demonstrations; they are responsible for helping their students master the scientific concepts that students will be tested on in the spring.