Junior Courtney Graf just turned a class project into a prestigious presenting opportunity at a national conference. On April 2, she will present “Makerspace: Engaging K-12 Learners and Growing A Society of Critical Thinkers and Innovators,” at the National Science Teaching Association National Conference (NSTA) in Houston, Texas.

In the spring of 2021, Dr. Andrea Malmont, associate professor of Teacher Education, Dr. Alison Mellott, assistant professor of Teacher Education, Dr. Gwendolyn Brown-Jackson, associate professor of Teacher Education, and Holly Garner, Grace B Luhrs Elementray School principal, collaborated to create an assignment that spanned several courses. As a part of thatassignment, Graf was tasked with producing a makerspace take-home activity for students in the Grace B. Luhrs University Elementary School that aligned Next Generation Science Standards with Common Core Universal Math Standards.

Graf, a dual early childhood education (preK-4) and special education major, describes makerspace as an emerging classroom pedagogy that exposes students to an array of academic and life skills such as problem solving, analytical thinking, collaboration, creativity, innovation and more. The project sparked her interest in the concept and she decided to explore it beyond the classroom.

“I talked to Dr. Malmont about how I wanted to explore makerspace in more depth, and she provided me with all of the resources that I needed to begin an undergraduate research project,” said Graff.

With her research underway, Graf continued to challenge herself, and find new ways to propel her project forward. With Malmont’s guidance, she drafted a proposal for the NSTA conference and a Shippensburg University Undergraduate Research (SURE) Grant.

“I was awarded the Anita E. (May) Weiss Joint Undergraduate Student Faculty Research Endowment which has aided in funding books and supplies for my research as well as fund my travel expenses to Houston” she explained.

On January 16, 2022 she received official word that her proposal for the NSTA conference was accepted and she’ll present along side veteran teachers and administrators from across the country. To prepare for the big day, she is hosting a send-off session in March. This will allow her to practice, but also share her hard work with friends, family, faculty and classmates. She is hopeful the session will inspire her peers to engage in undergraduate research.

She’s been hard at work for months on this project, but said her entire Ship experience prepared her for this moment. From the Human Communications Studies course she took her first year, to the mentorship of faculty in Teacher Education, she said she is thankful she was “pushed out of my comfort zone to reach and achieve moments like this.”