Cooper Sheldon: Helping Teachers Get the Expertise they Need

With an interest in archaeology, Cooper Sheldon is not the first person who comes to mind when you think of promoting STEM education. However, his experience exemplifies how the advances made in scientific research can lead to practical improvements outside of the laboratory setting. From an early age and experience in the Boy Scouts, Cooper was fascinated by science and this manifested itself in an interest the field of archaeology. A recent graduated from the State University of New York at Potsdam with a BA in Anthropology, Cooper is currently working with the Academy remotely from Syracuse, New York as a member of AmeriCorps VISTA program. He is administering the Scientist in Residence program (SiR), which matches scientists with teachers in K-12 public school classrooms and helps them teach their students the basics of long-term scientific investigation.

What is your relationship to science?

If you read my relationship with science as if it was a relationship status on Facebook, it would say “it’s complicated”. Do not get me wrong, science is an important and interesting topic in my life, but I do not always come to par with neurology, biology, and many other scientific subjects. Archaeology is the most I will ever be involved with science, but within that subject comes a plethora of experiences and tools that link me to the wider scientific community. For example, I use a geographic information system (GIS) to do landscape analysis, and I use environmental science to argue for the preservation of wetlands and historical sites. My point in giving these examples is that science is not necessarily done exclusively by people with PhDs and white lab coats. Most scientists wake up in the morning to don khakis and t-shirts and do their jobs in artifact repositories, excavation units, and computer labs across the world.

Tell us a bit about your experience with AmeriCorps VISTA program and the Academy.

I am involved remotely with the Academy, as I am situated in upstate New York and work out of Syracuse, New York. I was brought on in September 2016 with a background in archaeology and anthropology. As an AmeriCorps VISTA member working with the Academy I have been involved with developing the SiR program in Syracuse with my co-volunteer Erin Barta. In addition to the SiR program, I am also involved in writing STEM lesson/activity plans for the SiR mentors to use in the classroom. Since the Academy lacks archaeology and GIS STEM activity/lesson plans I was tasked with developing, writing, and testing these plans out in local community venues. As I continue to work with the Academy, I hope to help create a stable foundation in Syracuse for future AmeriCorps VISTA opportunities.

How did mentors and people around you shape your interest in science?

First of all, I have been tagged as a scientist since 2007 when people began associating me with Sheldon Cooper of the Big Bang Theory. However, this association was late in the science game, because I was already interested in science through Boy Scouts, school, and my love of archaeology. I had early influences, such as my father, who works with chemicals and the environment, and my mother, a middle school teacher. Boy Scouts introduced me to various scientific opportunities and gave me a hands on pre-education in oceanography, geology, archaeology, and other subjects. In school math and chemistry were always hard for me, but once I started working with archaeology and the environmental sciences, I went head-over-heels for the stuff. This interest shaped my pursuance of an education in archaeology, anthropology, and GIS. So looking back, I guess my upbringing and education mingled, ever so slightly to make me who I am, and who I hope to be.

What’s next for you?

Well, within the next few months, I will be working closely with other AmeriCorps members in Syracuse and NYC to accomplish my AmeriCorps assignment. Beyond that, in August 2017 I plan on going to graduate school at Michigan Technological University to major in their Master’s program in Industrial Archaeology. Of course plans do not always come to fruition, but this timeline is pretty concrete and I will be there for about two to three years. Right now, I will continue to work my hardest to create lesson plans, write grants, and support the SiR program in Syracuse and upstate New York.