Christine Buckley Cultivates STEM Excitement

Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Christine Buckley with astronaut Bernard Harris

Mission accomplished: Rose-Hulman President Jim Conwell captured the moment when astronaut Bernard Harris, the first African-American to walk in space, posed with Dr. Christine Buckley during theExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp. Buckley organized the two-week camp, which taughtmiddle school students about science, math, and engineering.

Christine Buckley's passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education covers all ages.

The associate professor of biology, biomedical engineering, and mechanical engineering spent a portion of this summer as director of the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp at Rose-Hulman, helping 44 Indiana middle-school students explore their STEM interests. She also coordinated the training of Midwest high school science and technology teachers on ways to implement Project Lead the Way (PLTW) courses that introduce students to engineering design, computer science, and software engineering.

The middle-school students selected for the science camp were exposed to the National Academy of Engineering's Grand Challenges, and learned how scientists and engineers work together to provide clean water for the world's population, engineer better medicines, and secure cyberspace. They also rubbed shoulders with camp founder Bernard Harris, the first African-American astronaut to walk in space.

"The camp was one of the most rewarding things I have done at Rose-Hulman," says Buckley, a member of the institute's faculty for 21 years. "The students were so energetic. It was impossible not to get caught up in their enthusiasm."

The two-week camp enabled Buckley to work directly with youths who have demographic profiles underrepresented in STEM fields. She developed special activities and a fun-filled camp curriculum that encouraged the students' interests, and showed them that careers in STEM can be rewarding and a never-ending learning experience. Rose-Hulman was one of 20 U.S. colleges hosting the camp this summer, and the first in Indiana.

"I hope we were able to show the campers that if helping people interests you, science and engineering are among the best professions to choose," Buckley remarks.

Also on campus this summer, Buckley hosted 23 Midwest high-school science and technology teachers as part of Project Lead the Way. She directs Rose-Hulman's PLTW activities, which provide engineering, science, and computer science curricula for kindergarten through high school, with a strong emphasis on hands-on activities. PLTW is the nation's leading provider of STEM programs for elementary, middle, and high schools, and Rose-Hulman is an affiliate partner of the organization.

"I have become interested in working on the challenge of increasing the number and diversity of students in the engineering education pipeline," Buckley says. "Project Lead the Way is a great way for education to expose students to the possibilities of STEM careers."

Throughout each school year, Buckley provides multiple hands-on research opportunities for Rose-Hulman undergraduate and graduate students, who are able to work with orthopedic surgeons needing engineering solutions to their patient-care problems. This research takes place on campus in the Orthopedic Biomedical Engineering Laboratory, a collaboration between Rose-Hulman and the Joint Replacement Surgeons of Indiana Research Foundation based in Mooresville, Indiana. Students work closely with orthopedic surgeons on research projects that have the direct relevance to the current practice of total joint replacement.

"I feel a responsibility to do work that I think is important, and I can't think of anything more important than contributing to someone's education," she says.

As an engineer, Buckley specializes in biomaterials, orthopedic implants, and tissue engineering, and has conducted research involving micromotion in orthopedic implants and cellular response to biomaterial scaffolds. She spent a year away from the Rose-Hulman faculty as a project engineer with Lifecell Corporation, a manufacturer of biological tissue regeneration products. This experience brought valuable industry knowledge to her classroom teaching.