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SHAPE MATTERS

Shaping Authentic Practices by Engaging in Modeling of A Topic with Teachers to Explore Research in Science (SHAPE MATTERS) is funded by the NIH Science Education Partnership Award. The program has three objectives.

  • Increase teachers’ knowledge of the scientific practices and approaches involved in molecular biology research
  • Co-create biomolecular science curriculum designed to engage middle and high school students in molecular modeling
  • Establish SMART teams in Pennsylvania for secondary students engage in authentic research projects in biology and chemistry and showcase their research findings at a symposium event.

Project Team


Kathleen Hill

Director Center for Science and the Schools, Associate Professor of Science Education

As the Director of the Center for Science and the Schools, Dr. Hill serves as the education lead on many technical grants across the STEM colleges at Penn State. In her role, she oversees the development, organization, management, and evaluation of education programs that serve to bridge cutting edge research to K-12 education. Her research focuses on three areas: a) designing professional development programs that engage teachers in the practices of scientists and engineers and promote effective strategies for engaging K-12 students in classroom research projects; b) examining teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge for supporting student-led research projects in the classroom; and c) building outreach programs that bridge the research of STEM faculty and graduate students with K-12 education. Prior to coming to Penn State, Kathy worked as an environmental scientist, science teacher, and Assistant Professor of Education at Bethany College in West Virginia.


Amber Cesare

STEM Education Outreach Specialist, Doctoral Student Curriculum and Instruction (Science Education)

Email: ams5306@psu.edu

Amber is a STEM Education Outreach Specialist at the Center for Science and the Schools, former high school biology teacher, and current doctoral student in Science Education at Penn State. In her current role at CSATS, she works with STEM research faculty to design and implement content-specific professional development for teachers that focuses on the practices of scientists and engineers at Penn State. As a doctoral student, her research focuses on a) the intersections of scientific modeling and computing in high school biology classrooms; and b) designing professional development programs that engage teachers in the practices of scientists and engineers. Before coming to Penn State, she taught Biology, Honors Biology, Physical Science, Anatomy and Physiology, and Marine Science for five years. While teaching, she also got involved in leading professional development for science teachers through collaborating with the Milwaukee School of Engineering Center for Biomolecular Modeling in her district and at local and national conferences.


Tiffany Lewis

STEM Education Outreach Specialist

Email: tzs80@psu.edu

Tiffany is a former high school science teacher at Middletown Area High School outside of Harrisburg, PA. In her seven years of teaching, she taught Earth Systems Science, Biology, Advanced Biology, AP Biology, and Forensics. She led building-level professional development sessions and presented at various educational conferences on incorporating research projects in the classroom. Tiffany’s main interest lies in introducing students to authentic science by helping teachers understand how to engage students in the practices of scientists and engineers. Her role at CSATS is to work with research faculty at Penn State to bring current research to the classroom by developing content-specific professional development for teachers. She also engages in building relationships with school districts in the greater Harrisburg area to better support science education.


Ira Ropson

Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the College of Medicine.

Dr. Ropson’s research has focused on the structure, folding, and function of proteins. He has examined the folding mechanism of ß-sheet proteins in the intracellular fatty acid binding protein family using kinetic studies of the fluorescence and circular dichroism spectra as the proteins move from the unfolded to the native state. These proteins have low levels of sequence homology, and there appears to be considerable differences in the path of folding for these sequences to the same final structure. Dr. Ropson has also worked on the effects of mutations on retroviral capsid assembly, and the adaptation of protein function to environmental stresses. He has been involved with teacher molecular structure and modeling to undergraduate, graduate, medical, and high school students.


Amie Boal

Associate Professor of Chemistry and of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State University Park.

Dr. Boal’s research focuses on understanding the structural differences between members of large metalloenzyme superfamilies that share common features buth promote different reactions or use distinct cofactors. Targets are unified in their ability to activity strong C-H, N-H, or O-H bonds. She characterizes stable reactant and product complexes with an increasing focus on development and implementation of crystallographic approaches to study metalloenzyme reaction intermediates.


Hemant Yennawar

Associate Research Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Director of X-Ray Crystallography Facility

Dr. Yennawar has collaborated with the research faculty from various departments at the Penn State University Park campus as well as Penn State’s sister campuses. Primarily, Dr. Yennawar has been involved in crystallization, single crystal X-ray data collection at home and synchrotron laboratories, determination and analyzing of three dimensional structures of molecules of interest using X-ray diffraction techniques (small and macromolecular). He has taught the Biomolecular Structure (BMMB 531) course for over a decade.


Neela Yennawar

Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Director of the X-Ray Crystallography and Automated Biological Calorimetry Facilities at the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

Dr. Yennawar’s research focuses on three key areas at the cusp of materials and life sciences: (1) Atomic resolution structure determination by X-ray crystallography and micro-electron diffraction on a transmission cryo-electron microsome; (2) Designing protein, peptide, and DNA crystals for enhanced nonlinear optical properties for devices; and (3) Biophysical characterization by circular dichroism and transmission electron microscopy of the interfaced formed between DNA and synthetic materials for next generation solar cells and biosensors. She has held frequent training sessions and workshops on all of the biophysical equipment in the lab.


Teacher Professional Development


Starting in 2021, the SHAPE MATTERS program will offer a 2-week professional development workshop for teachers during the summer. The professional development is geared towards secondary life science and chemistry teachers in Pennsylvania. During the professional development, teachers will collaborate with science education faculty from the Center for Science and the Schools and research scientists from the College of Medicine and the Eberly College of Science. To explore molecular stories related to human health, teachers will engage in research techniques such as crystallization, structure determination, and modeling using the molecular visualization software, Jmol. Teachers will work with the SHAPE MATTERS team to co-construct a molecular modeling research project for their classroom. The research project will support student participation in the SMART teams program.

Participant Benefits

  • Teachers will receive a $600 stipend for participating in the professional development.
  • Teachers will receive a $1,500 stipend for implementation of a molecular modeling research project in their classroom.
  • Teachers will receive over $2,000 of classroom equipment including lab and molecular modeling materials.
  • Teachers will be invited to bring their students to present their molecular modeling research at the SMART teams symposium.
  • Act 48 credit is available upon request.

Application Process

The application requires general contact information, direct supervisor information, an up-to-date resume, 4 short essay questions, 3 professional references, and a support letter from your immediate supervisor.