Source: UT Research Foundation | March 25, 2019

“The measure of tech transfer should be lives impacted.”

That principle, says UTRF Vice President Maha Krishnamurthy, is nowhere more clear than in UTRF’s work licensing original curricula for K-12 students.

Curricula developed at the University of Tennessee is now being taught in 4-H programs across the country, thanks to UTRF’s partnership with Tennessee’s 4-H program, which operates as a branch of UT Extension, the educational outreach unit of UT’s Institute of Agriculture. UT Extension brings the expertise and research capabilities of the state’s flagship university directly to local communities. It provides educational programming to county residents on a wide universe of topics, including agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, community development, and 4-H youth development.

Curriculum development is a world of endless options, with one common goal: direct impact on the lives of students. UTRF works to multiply that direct impact to students around the country by assisting with the licensing of innovations coming from UT Extension. In coordination with Assistant Professor of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications Jennifer Richards, who holds a split appointment as the curriculum specialist for Tennessee’s 4-H program, UTRF has licensed four original curricula and counting.

The first Extension license grew out of a USDA grant awarded to UT’s Food Science Department to develop an educational program incorporating food safety concepts into standard middle school and Common Core curricula like science, math, and social studies. UT developed a program of highly effective research-based lesson plans, student labs, and hands-on activities specifically tailored to middle school classrooms. Seeing the opportunity to replicate this success, Jennifer revamped the classroom materials for 4-H use, and the national 4-H Council vetted and peer reviewed the new curriculum. UTRF has licensed the curriculum, now available at a national level to middle school students across the country. Started in 2006, it’s now served more than 75,000 students in 30 states.

With such a positive reception of UT’s Extension curricula, Jennifer developed a new program for hands-on STEM labs focused on engineering. Inspired by a previous lesson plan Jennifer developed with a graduate student, the curriculum includes an activity that teaches students about the engineering design process and basic mechanics behind building bridges. UTRF has licensed this new curriculum for a manual on engineering.

Curriculum licenses extend beyond STEM and Common Core standards: UTRF’s licenses also influence students with a green thumb, bringing agriculture curriculum developed at UT to students nationwide. After realizing a lack in existing resources to aid high school agriculture teachers in greenhouse best practices and hydroponics (the soilless growing of plants), Jennifer partnered with UT Residential and Consumer Extension Specialist Natalie Bumgarner and team to address the problem. The team reworked the program for high school students to move away from the classroom setting.

“UTRF provided an avenue for us to share the agricultural programming that’s changing students’ lives here in Tennessee with agriculture students across the country,” said Natalie.

From middle school food safety and STEM education, to the greenhouse and the engineering lab, UTRF is proud to partner with and support innovators who work to improve the education and future of students around the country, demonstrating that innovation can truly come from anywhere.