GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Eight Florida high school science teachers representing seven counties will spend five days this summer at the University of Florida’s main campus in Gainesville learning more about current research to improve disease resistance in crops. The professional development workshop will be the first in a series of four hosted by the University of Florida Thompson Earth Systems Institute’s Scientist in Every Florida School Program and the department of plant pathology at UF, with funding from the National Science Foundation.

From July 25-29 participating teachers, who teach primarily at schools that receive Title I funds, will run active experiments relating to improving the rice immune system in the Song Lab at UF. Throughout the week, the teachers will work with scientists to develop lesson plans that help students better understand issues surrounding agriculture and food security. Selected teachers will receive a stipend for their participation.

As climate change brings warmer temperatures, scientists say we can expect an increase in the intensity of diseases facing crops. And, with an ever-growing and hungry population, our crops will need to rise to this challenge. As scientists find ways to grow more resilient crops, their findings also lead to drug development for humans as well.

Wen-Yuan Song, an assistant professor in the department of plant pathology at UF and the project’s principal investigator, says he hopes that exposing the next generation of scientists to his research will show them that it has real-world benefits.

“I’m excited to show our educators that the information gained from this research may contribute to both crop improvement and rational drug design for human diseases,” Song said. “My hope is the teachers bring this information back to their classrooms and inspire students to consider careers in plant pathology.”

During the workshop, teachers will work with scientists to develop practical and relatable lesson plans that fit into their curriculum and meet state learning standards.

“All the while, the teachers and scientists are building lasting relationships,” said Stephanie Killingsworth, K-12 education and outreach coordinator with SEFS. “Additionally, scientists build their K-12 teaching skillset, which can help them better communicate with the general public.”

Once the workshop is complete, teachers will be expected to deliver one of the lesson plans and coordinate a scientist visit to their classroom in the upcoming school year.

Sources: Brian Abramowitz,, 516-225-9390
Stephanie Killingsworth,, 561-644-2397
Media contact: Rebecca Burton,, 850-316-1555 

EDITORS: Participating teachers are from Alachua, Broward, Collier, Marion, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and St. Johns counties. Names and schools of selected teachers from each county are available upon request. Photos and videos of this year’s program will be made available shortly after it concludes.