Emmert’s Kenan Fellowship pays dividends

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Nicole Emmert’s summer was anything but quiet.

The Oak Lane Elementary media coordinator spent time in Chapel Hill, the North Carolina mountains and in Massachusetts as part of the Kenan Fellows program.

Emmert said the experience was something of a role reversal.

“As a teacher, our role is to facilitate for others to learn. We want to be the masters of what we teach,” Emmert said.

But that wasn’t the case when Emmert teamed up with Dr. Amy Maddox, a researcher and biologist on the faculty at the University of North Carolina, who specializes in studying changes to cell shapes.

As an elementary media coordinator, Emmert knew she was diving in to foreign territory when she earned her partnership with Maddox.

She spent time on campus over the summer with Maddox and her team of researchers and she traveled to the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching in Cullowhee for more training. Then came the most fun part of the trip – to Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts where Maddox maintains a laboratory.

Emmert admits she was out of her element, hanging around PhD’s and post doctoral research assistants, but she says Maddox’ entire team was open to her questions.

“I asked a lot of questions. They would realize I was really learning and they took the time to explain to me what they were doing and why,” Emmert said. “It took me a while to get used to the idea that were using $2 million microscopes.”

It helped that Emmert was not the only Kenan Fellow on the trip to Woods Hole. Maddox’s husband, Paul, is also a researcher at UNC and he was paired with another Kenan Fellow.

Emmert said the learning experience was a good one for her, but she says the goal of taking part in the Kenan Fellowship extended beyond expanding her own horizon.

“It was great for me to grow, but the ultimate goal is to bring it back to our students,” Emmert said.

She thinks she can make that work too.

On Oct. Emmert is hosting a professional development workshop for teachers from around Person County to help them learn to build their own microscopes. Those devices won’t be of the $2 million variety, but they will give teachers another tool to help them in their classrooms. The workshop will be led by Dr. Bob Goldstein, another UNC professor Emmert met during her fellowship. “He’s donating all the materials, so we’ll be able to do this at no cost for the teachers,” Emmert said.

In addition to the professional development Emmert is able to offer her fellow teachers, she says the fellowship gave her an idea of what it is like for students who fall behind in classes.

“I went in there not knowing anything about what we were doing. The people in the program were really warm and welcoming and that put me at ease even though I was out of my element,” Emmert said. “I think that’s something we can do as teachers to help our students who sometimes feel like I did in that setting.”

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