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Frazier Named Teacher of the Year for Outreach Efforts

by Alicia P. Gregory

"Nothing melts your heart more than driving up to a school you've never been to before in your life, and stuck in the big chain-link fence are Styrofoam cups that spell out 'Welcome Dr. Frazier.'" From elementary students to national organizations, Don Frazier has received many kinds of recognition for his educational outreach efforts. In April, the American Physiological Society named him the Arthur C. Guyton Teacher of the Year for 1997.

The Teacher of the Year award, which is sponsored by the W.B. Saunders Company and includes a cash award of $1,000, is given for documented excellence in teaching both in and out of the classroom, and for a demonstrated commitment to physiology education.

"This award recognizes the work of a lot of dedicated people -- staff, volunteers, and students -- who have supported this program," says Frazier, professor of physiology at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and director of the UK Medical Center's Outreach Center for Science and Health Career Opportunities.

"I think the award was a consequence of the impact the Outreach Center has had not only in Kentucky, but nationally. When people see that you're reaching 10,000 to 20,000 kids annually, they also see that you have the opportunity to make a very positive impact on the future of science education," Frazier says.

The Outreach Center, which opened in 1993, coordinates educational programs designed to stimulate interest in the sciences and encourage pre-college and undergraduate students to pursue science and health-related careers. The bottom-line goal of the outreach center is linking those "doing science" in the UK Medical Center with students and teachers throughout the state and beyond.

The Outreach Center's Science Hotline, which began at UK in 1991, was the first program of its kind in the nation to connect Kentucky teachers, parents and students with UK professors and researchers. "Some days we get no calls, other days we get four or five; but in the spring around science-fair time the phone really starts ringing," Frazier says. "Imagine you're a classroom teacher trying to help 30 or 40 kids come up with ideas for science projects. You're going to yell 'Help!'" Students around the state call the hotline (1-800-955-9500) with science questions on topics ranging from physics and astronomy to agriculture.

"The hotline knows no boundaries," Frazier says. "We take their name, phone number and question and I'll take that information all over campus until I find someone who can help. We don't do homework for them, but we are here to offer guidance and refer kids to resources in their area to help them find answers to their questions." Teachers also use the hotline to schedule visits to the Outreach Center or line up scientists to visit their schools.

Through these center visits, where students can be hooked up to a polygraph machine, and mobile classroom visits around the state where Frazier unpacks his collection of human organs for students to hold, science becomes tangible.

"Our primary message is one of scientific literacy," Frazier says. "I'm absolutely amazed when I ask a young person where a hairdryer or a vacuum cleaner or a carburetor comes from and they think that's not science. They perceive a scientist as some weird person with a crazy hairdo and thick glasses in a research laboratory. We show them that's really not what science is. When they start to realize science is important in all of our growth and development economically, science becomes a subject for everybody."