Teen Connection

Teacher Connection


National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences


NIH's Science Education Partnership Awards (SEPA) program, supported by the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives in the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health, is designed to improve life science literacy throughout the nation through innovative educational programs. 


SEPA-supported projects create partnerships among biomedical and clinical researchers and K-12 teachers and schools, museums and science centers, media experts, and other educational organizations. Link to the national website here.




Sequence of Events and Timeline

  • Summer — Teachers new to the SEPA program attend a 4.5 day hands-on summer workshop to learn about two modules, Zebrafish Development and Earthworm Development. Sessions on environmental health concepts, using technology, and helping students to write and review scientific papers are included. The Friday session includes a tour of The WATER Institute and a look at some of the Institute's research in progress. Returning SEPA teachers attend the workshop for 4 days, are introduced to the Fathead Minnow module, and extend concepts covered during the first year.

  • Academic Year — Teachers incorporate a module(s) into their instruction. The project PI's, scientists, and other support staff are on-hand, ready to supply materials, answer questions, and provide all the support necessary to create a positive learning experience.

  • Spring — Scientific Conference. This conference is held at UW-Milwaukee to highlight student research. Teachers have the option of bringing their entire class, or a subset of students to the conference. The top paper and poster presentations will be awarded honors. Part of the conference day may include mini-presentations by UW-Milwaukee and The WATER Institute environmental health scientists on their cutting-edge research, as well as information booths from various organizations.


WInSTEP / SEPA Program

Known as the WI Inquiry-based Scientist-Teacher Education Partnership (WInSTEP) Program, formally the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) Program, the focus of this effort is to help high school science teachers get more students involved in doing classroom-based research with an environmental health focus. Using inquiry-based modules developed by Dr. Petering and his team, teachers and students study the effects of various environmental agents on the development and behavior of organisms such as fathead minnows, zebrafish and earthworms - and then communicate their research via the scientific process of writing papers and creating scientific posters. The yearly activity culminates in a spring research conference.   

2013 Teacher WorkshopAt the conclusion of the week-long WInSTEP/SEPA Professional Development Workshop, participating high school science teachers and workshop leaders posed for a photo outside Lapham Hall on the University of WI-Milwaukee campus.

High School Science Teachers Needed for 2014-2015 WInSTEP/SEPA Program

Are you interested in enriching your curriculum with inquiry-based, hands-on research modules that link biological concepts with environmental health issues developed by experts in the field? The WInSTEP/SEPA program at UW-Milwaukee is looking for life science, biology, chemistry, and environmental science teachers to participate in this unique program. Teachers attend a 1-week summer professional development workshop (August 18-22) focusing on environmental health science topics, and incorporate select modules into their curriculum during the 2014-2015 school year. Teachers will be provided with financial support and all the necessary materials, including equipment, background information, hands-on training, and complete standards-based modules. Teachers will also have the opportunity to work with scientists from the UWM Great Lakes WATER Institute.


Click below for more information about the WInSTEP/SEPA program, and to access the brochure and application form:

Science Modules

Environmental health science is a critical part of our daily lives and affects everyone in many ways. The goal of the UWM WInSTEP/SEPA program is to provide high school science students with multiple, integrated opportunities to conduct inquiry-based experiments that link biological concepts with environmental health issues. Specifically, students study the effects of various environmental agents on zebrafish embryo development, earthworm behavior, and fathead minnow reproductive behavior, which serve as models for human health effects.

The Nerve and Muscular Basis of Earthworm Movements: Effects of Physical and Chemical Environmental Agents

This module provides students with the opportunity to study controlled neuromuscular activity in the earthworm, and then to make comparisons with worms exposed to various environmental agents.  Through the study of simple reflexes in earthworms and the impact environmental agents have on these behaviors, students will learn about concepts pertaining to living organisms including structure, function, regulation, behavior, science and technology. They will use skills in scientific processes and reasoning as they generate and clarify questions, conduct investigations, analyze data, and make critical connections between evidence and explanation. They will articulate their own questions about animal behaviors, and their susceptibility to environmental agents. Students will interpret data to draw conclusions and generate explanations and propose hypotheses that link their personal health to environmental agents.

Zebrafish as Models: Studying the Effects of Environmental Agents on Human Health

Using zebrafish embryos exposed to various environmental toxicants such as ethanol, nicotine, and caffeine, students will examine the general development of zebrafish embryos and malformations that occur. By applying the results of the zebrafish embryo experiments to human embryo development, students will draw conclusions regarding personal health, environmental hazards, and the risks and benefits of personal and social decisions in relation to these hazards. They will use skills in scientific processes and reasoning as they refine questions, conduct investigations, analyze data, and make critical connections between evidence and explanation. They will also gain insight into science as a human endeavor, one that serves to characterize the impact of human action on environments and the impact of the environment on human health.

Integrating Physiology and Behavior: Using Fathead Minnows to Model the Effects of Environmental Agents

This module is a hands-on investigation of the effect of lead on fathead minnow reproductive behaviors. Students observe normal and abnormal breeding behaviors of both male and female fathead minnows, a fish native to Wisconsin and often used for environmental toxicity tests. Using a video-format experiment, students compare the effects of lead to mercury. In addition, students learn how changes in these behaviors are related to changes in fish physiology due to exposure to lead. Importantly, students also learn the efficacy of different methods of reducing lead exposure. Lastly, students see the effects of embryonic exposure to lead on embryo growth and larval behavior. All this is then compared to what happens to humans exposed to lead or mercury, i.e., how are fish models of human environmental health.

Leadership and Roles


David Petering, PhD
Dr. Petering is the Co-Principal Investigator for this grant and overseer of the project.

Email: petering@uwm.edu; Phone: (414) 229-5853.

Craig Berg, PhD
Dr. Berg is the Co-Principal Investigator on the SEPA grant.

Email: caberg@uwm.edu; Phone: (414) 229-4047.

Renee Hesselbach, MS
Ms. Hesselbach is the program's Outreach Specialist and serves as a liaison to the teachers and coordinates the events of the SEPA program.

Email: hesselba@uwm.edu; Phone: (414) 229-4092.


Michael Carvan, PhD

Email: carvanmj@uwm.edu; Phone: (414) 382-1706.

Henry Tomasiewicz, PhD

Email: henryt@uwm.edu; Phone: (414) 382-1746.

Daniel Weber, PhD

Email: dweber@uwm.edu; Phone: (414) 382-1726.