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Chemistry graduate Tara Boorman Broczkowski ’87 credits a Lafayette professor for helping to put her on the career path to what she does today.

“Dr. Clay Ketcham of the education department taught me that science is something that children do, not something that children know,” she says. “One time she observed me at a pre-service teaching lesson. I put a penny in nitric acid to satisfy the students’ curiosity about what would happen and I had to rush the smoking, steaming container onto the roof. I was so embarrassed by my inability to predict the outcome. But Clay felt differently. She was delighted by the spontaneity – as the students were — and encouraged me to continue nurturing student excitement in learning science.”

This is exactly what Broczkowski does as manager of the Da Vinci Institute.

“I help teachers nurture the innate curiosity of children and provide experiences for them to develop into authentic scientists,” she explains.

The Da Vinci Institute is part of the Da Vinci Discovery Center of Science and Technology in Allentown, Pa. The institute offers a three-year program that helps elementary teachers learn how to give inquiry-based instruction in science. The center itself provides experiences creating curiosity about science and technology for 40,000 students and their families each year.

“The best part of this job is seeing dramatic change in the quality of science education at our partner schools,” Broczkowski says. “When I visit classrooms, I see students engaged in science activities that nurture curiosity, creativity, and sound conceptual understandings. The enthusiasm is contagious!”

Broczkowski was drawn to the job after teaching chemistry for 15 years. Through that experience she feels particularly suited for her role at The Da Vinci Institute because she understands the challenges of teaching.

“For many reasons very few elementary teachers have been encouraged to develop best practices for the teaching of science,” she says. “This position gives me the opportunity to facilitate training, mentor teachers, and provide free or low-cost resources.”

Her education at Lafayette prepared Broczkowski for the position in some key ways.

“Having a degree from Lafayette opened doors for me in graduate school and in key leadership roles within the organizations in which I have worked,” she says. “Because of Lafayette’s liberal arts approach to education, I have a degree in a scientific field and I can excel in diverse areas such as language arts, history, and the arts. This diversity serves me well in my work with the Da Vinci Discovery Center, which encourages a Leonardo-inspired appreciation for the synergy of all things around us.”

The Da Vinci Institute is in the second year of a three-year, grant-funded program that impacts nearly 250 teachers and 5,000 students annually. Broczkowski hopes to continue some form of the institute beyond the third year. She also plans to earn a doctorate in education with an emphasis on science education in urban settings. Both goals derive from her belief that there is power in partnerships when it comes to education and that such partnerships are vital for building community.

“Education is an essential component of a thriving, successful community,” she says. “The responsibility for inspiring youth belongs to a wide range of organizations and individuals working together.”

Categorized in: Alumni Profiles