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Betsy Parkinson honored with Christian J. Foster Award


Betsy Parkinson, Assistant Professor of Organic Chemistry in the College of Science sits in her lab holding a sample from one of the Lab-in-a-Box kits.

Betsy Parkinson, Assistant Professor of Organic Chemistry in the College of Science has been recognized as the 2023 recipient of the Christian J. Foster Award for her work serving K-12 students through hands-on STEM learning experiences. The award is given to a faculty member who has contributed to K-12 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in Indiana.

A passionate educator, Parkinson had always wanted to encourage girls and rural students to take an interest in STEM. To that end, she needed to make her work more accessible to younger audiences, so she and her students began developing a lab for high school age learners. And “Lab-in-a-Box” was born.

She says creating these labs benefits her students as much as the high schoolers, explaining “it’s one thing for them to understand the material, it’s another to be able to simplify it and explain it to someone else.”

While thinking through the needs of the necessary tools to complete the labs, Parkinson’s team realized that there were some items that most high school labs don’t have. So the Lab-in-a-Box includes items like petri dishes that have ready to use samples for the students. They also created video instructions for how to complete the experiments.

Parkinson has also arranged for high school classes within driving distance to come to Purdue in-person to take part in the lab. Heather Jackson, a teacher at Danville Community High School brought her class and had this to say about the experience:

“Professor Parkinson was absolutely amazing with my students! She was incredibly engaging and invested in the lab that they were doing.”  Jackson added, “Her personal interactions with each student were the highlight of the lab. She even encouraged my students to reach out to her if they chose to attend Purdue University so she could connect with them as college students.”

In an effort to reach even younger children with these learning opportunities, Parkinson created a program that was safe for elementary age children and has presented it at the Imagination Station in Lafayette, Terre Haute Children’s Museum and the Boys and Girls Club in Indianapolis.

“Receiving this award is such an honor, just to know that we’re making a difference. But I couldn't have done it alone,” says Parkinson. “My students do a huge amount of work for the program and my grad students volunteer for it. Even the undergrad student chapter of the American Chemical Society (ACS) is getting involved to help.”

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