What Science Ambassadors Teach Students And Teachers

Derek Reese with ExxonMobil volunteers as a science ambassador once a month at Stephens Elementary in Katy.
In schools and the workforce, there are more calls to improve education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. These fields are collectively known as "STEM." At an elementary school in Katy, one science professional is working with teachers and students to improve STEM education there.

Here’s a question for you: What happens when you put dry ice in a bowl of water?

Fourth graders at Stephens Elementary in Katy find out firsthand.

“Whoa, cool! I should do that for Halloween!”

“What’s happening? What’s happening? It’s turning into a vapor right? It’s turning into a gas.”

That’s Derek Reese leading the experiment in this science lab.

“It’s melting!”

“Well, it’s not melting, look at it, it’s really turning into a vapor, see the bubbles.”

“Cool look at the bubbles!”

“You’re right, so the foam in your Coke, you’re talking about the bubbles in your Coke, it’s carbon dioxide as well.”

Derek Reese

Today Reese is teaching students about the states of matter.

But he’s technically not a teacher. His day job is working as an environmental advisor for ExxonMobil. He’s been with the oil company for 22 years.

Once a month he comes to here Stephens Elementary as a science ambassador.

“My wife is a high school math teacher so I’ve always been engaged in education and doing this kind of work. So this is kind of a second love right just to come out and teach science.”

To teach science, some experts say students learn better when they do hands-on projects.

Reese does some of that here at the science lab.

He passes around a balloon filled with pieces of dry ice.

(Of course that’s just the nickname. It’s really solid carbon dioxide and it’s about 100 degrees below zero.)

Students shake the balloon and see what happens.

The balloon expands.

“It’s not magic ... it’s science!”

About 500 science ambassadors with ExxonMobil leave their office and visit schools in the Greater Houston area.

Reese says they try to help schools with any gaps they face to provide a quality STEM education.

“You go to certain schools, they don’t have the same amount of funding, they don’t have enough technical expertise. The teachers, they’re trying to teach a lot of things, they’re doing a lot of stuff — I mean, they’re teaching their class, they’re going outside to do carpool, they’re doing the lunch room, they have a lot of stuff they’re doing.”

In elementary school, teachers can face a particular challenge when it comes to science.

Sayda Chapa is the science coordinator at Stephens Elementary.

Sayda Chapa stands against the classroom chalkboard
Sayda Chapa is the instructional coach for science and math at Stephens Elementary in Katy.

“We teach all subjects and sometimes our level or expertise in science is not there. So I think it’s crucial for us to have someone with his level of expertise.”

Chapa says Reese works not only with students to get them excited but also with teachers to help them brush up their own science knowledge.

“Excellent work my young scientists! Quickly let’s review. What are the three states of matter?”

“Solid, liquid, gas!”

His visits here also mean extra money for the school — as much as $2,000-3,000 a year from ExxonMobil.

Chapa says that way the school can buy its own equipment for these experiments.

Bio photo of Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for KUHF, including K-12 and higher education.

Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and regularly contributed to WLRN, the local NPR affiliate and Miami Herald news partner...