Our Mission

STAR aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. STAR also supports the continued development of our Teacher-Researcher Fellows with ongoing professional development and networking opportunities.

STAR is a nine-week paid summer research experience program for aspiring K-12 STEM teachers. To be eligible applicants must be from any California State University (CSU) Campus or be a Noyce Scholar from any US university. Undergraduates on a teaching path, STEM undergraduates seriously considering a career in teaching, or credential candidates apply to work with cutting edge researchers.

Here's how it works! You spend nine summer weeks working full-time with a research team on cutting edge projects. You work hard, challenging yourself and learning new skills while advancing real science in a field that interests you. You meet fabulous people and immerse yourself in the culture of science. Each week you participate in an education workshop focused on transferring your lab or field experience to the classroom. Finally, you share your knowledge at two conferences. Our funding partners pay you a weekly stipend for your work, the labs get you to help answer pressing questions, and -most importantly- your students get a teacher that knows how science works in the real world. Everybody wins!

Research Experience

Our research mentors are Principal Investigators (PIs) running various research programs at partner lab facilities. Fellows conduct their own cutting edge research project designed to address a question the research group is facing under the guidance of these world-class mentors, postdocs, and lab staff. Because of the pace of modern research it is rarely possible to know what project Fellows may work on in advance. STAR Fellows have to be excited about research in general, open to new experiences, eager to gain new skills, and able to overcome challenges working independently and with teams. Visit our Lab Site Partner page to learn more about our labs. Fellows work 35 hours on their projects and 4-5 hours in education workshops every week so they also receive a $500 stipend weekly. Projects span a huge range of disciplines. Potential applicants should review projects done by other STAR Fellows at the Cal Poly Digital Commons.

Program Goals

  1.  Attract undergraduate science, mathematics, engineering, and liberal studies majors to STEM teaching careers by providing them with professional identities as  researchers as well as educators
  2.  Allow future STEM teachers to gain first-hand experience within applied research settings
  3.  Cultivate increased interest and prestige in the teaching profession to address the severe shortage of STEM teachers
  4.  Anchor pre-service teachers in a community of scientific practice so that they better understand what it means to be a scientist and a STEM teacher
  5.  Foster inquiry-based teaching and learning strategies
  6.  Increase interest and learning in STEM fields among K-12 students
  7.  Reduce STEM teacher attrition
  8.  Expand outreach opportunities between research facilities and K-12 schools which may include experiments, field trips, and guest scientist visits

During the STAR experience, Fellows attend 6 half-day workshops facilitated by veteran teachers and education specialists with extensive classroom experience. These workshops have three major objectives:

  1.  Help develop a deep understanding of the nature of research, its practices, and culture;
  2.  Help develop inquiry-based teaching strategies that align well with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS);
  3.  Workshops culminate in Fellows creating a lesson plan for an inquiry-based learning activity inspired by their specific research project.

Financial Support

Each STAR Fellow receives a stipend paid in regular intervals. Available funding and the costs of living differ in each area so the amount of stipend above the base ($500/wk) differs. You can determine your stipend using the table below. Fellows staying in a family home or not relocating will receive an additional $500 to offset housing costs. If you must relocate more than 50 miles to participate in the Program you will receive additional support depending upon estimates of housing costs. These amounts vary from year to year as funding and actual housing costs vary.

Fellow Placement Total 2017 Stipend
No relocation necessary $5,000
Relocating to Biosphere 2, RTC, SLAC, LLNL, SNL, or SFSU $6,550
Relocating to any other STAR Partner Laboratory $6,350


Research Conference

The STAR Research Conference is a research showcase and networking opportunity where STAR Fellows present their research to one another and the broader STEM education community through poster sessions and oral presentations. More details can be found in the 2016 Research Conference Program, and the Research Conference webpage.






Alumni Perspectives

What does STAR do for your students and for your teaching career? Listen to just some of the experiences of STAR Alumni who are now STEM teachers. This video was taken at the STAR Closing Conference at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, August 2014.


2019 Program Dates:

  • June 10th - August 9th, 2019 (9 weeks)
  • Some lab sites have the ability to shift dates by one to two weeks to accommodate teaching schedules.
  • A shortened program may also be available for candidates who are returning to their classrooms in early August. 

To be eligible for the STAR Program, you must be:

  • at least 18 years old by the start of the program;
  • will have completed at least your junior undergraduate year by the start of the program;
  • a student or alumnus of any California State University campus OR a current/former member of the NSF Robert Noyce Scholarship Program;
  • a US Citizen, Permanent Resident Alien, or DACA grant holder and,
  • a pre-service aspiring STEM teacher, teacher intern, or a STAR alumnus with two or fewer years of participation in STAR and two or fewer years of teaching experience. To clarify, first time participants must be pre-service teachers, (i.e., future teachers who have not yet worked as a paid, full-time teacher). STAR Alumni are encouraged to participate in up to three STAR experiences, provided they have not been teaching for more than two years. If you have already been employed as a teacher and can't apply for STAR, make sure you check out research opportunities offered by Ignited Education and other Research Experience for Teacher (RET) programs.

Successful applicants will have:

  • a demonstrated interest in K-12 STEM teaching;
  • a strong record of undergraduate coursework in one or more STEM fields;
  • a minimum GPA of 2.7 (3.0 or higher preferred);
  • a willingness to challenge themselves and the ability to work independently on complex tasks under the guidance of a mentor;
  • will apply to the program as early as possible to allow lab sites to continually review your application as new projects become available.

The STAR Program office and Lab Sites work together closely to match applicant skills and interests with the wide variety of projects available. Labs move at the speed of research and it is usually not possible to list all of the projects available in advance. Lab Site Coordinators or Research Mentors may contact you directly to discuss particular projects.

STAR Mini Video 3 - Paid to Learn from STAR Program on Vimeo.

Program Expectations and Requirements

STAR is a competitive program and there is a high level of responsibility that goes along with being a STAR Fellow. Our lab sites will expect you to work diligently under a mentor and often tackle complex problem-solving tasks while communicating effectively with the rest of your team. If you are offered a placement at one of our lab sites, you will enter into a contract with the STAR Program as well as the lab site which may have additional requirements to those listed below:

  1. Participate in the entire 9-week summer research fellowship (Fellows are expected to work 40-hours per week during this period. Please check the Program Page to be certain that you can participate for the entire period. Your actual on-site arrival and departure dates must be discussed between you and your lab before you accept a placement);
  2. Make arrangements and pay for your own housing. Wherever possible, STAR and Lab Staff will advise you of affordable options utilized in previous summers;
  3. Prepare and present a research product (a poster for first-time Fellows) at the lab site and at the STAR Closing Conference (January 2019) and submit an electronic copy of their research to Cal Poly Digital Commons for public display; 
  4. Develop and submit a K12 Lesson Plan connected to their research;
  5. Participate in weekly workshops focused on STEM teaching as part of your 40-hour per week commitment;
  6. Participate in STAR events including a webinar and/or half-day regional seminar providing an orientation to STAR and discussion of the teacher-researcher identity, and the Closing Conference involving research presentations, professional development opportunities, and social events;
  7. Participate in teacher-researcher community building and cohort activities (in person and online);
  8. Participate in STAR Program evaluation activities, before, during, and after the program;
  9. Must carry health insurance coverage during the entire Fellowship period.

Research Lab Sites

STAR applicants are asked to indicate their top lab preferences and are also asked to indicate which sites they would NOT like to be considered. STAR aims to match your experience and interests with an appropriate project, but you may wish to exclude one or more sites because of its location, research areas, or other logistical considerations. Please take the time to learn about the kinds of research opportunities that have been available at each site. It will certainly help if you are invited to a phone interview. Many sites work on a wide variety of projects. For example, NASA Ames Research Center does fundamental biological, chemical, geological, mathematical, aeronautical, psychological, and physics projects even if they all ultimately relate to air and space science.

Applicant preferences guide the selection process, but they do not guarantee placement at any particular site. STAR Fellows participate in cutting-edge projects which address active research questions at each site. Because research moves at such a fast pace, it is usually not possible to know what those projects are in advance. You must be open to research opportunities in broad fields related to each facilities' work and be willing to gain new skills as you pursue projects guided by research mentors, postdocs, and lab staff. It's guaranteed to be a challenge.


Prior to Submitting Your Application

We recommend that you visit each lab site’s brief description on this site and continue your research at the web pages of those sites that interest you. Pay particular attention to any special challenges (e.g. housing, transportation, etc.) each lab site may present. Review last year's STAR Fellow research posters at your top sites on the Cal Poly Digital Commons.

Our partner lab sites change regularly. While many research mentors host STAR Fellows every year, we cannot guarantee their involvement in advance. We may even add new sites after the applications open as projects become available. Keep an eye on this website before the application deadline closes and contact us if your preferences change. Because STAR matches your interests with available projects it is in your best interests to apply early to remain in the applicant pool the longest. You may be contacted for an interview or offer from any lab site that you did not exclude.

Application Process

The online application will take approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour to complete, and includes a few short essay response fields. We recommend carefully examining the PDF version of the application to help you prepare all of the required documentation prior to beginning the online application. Only online submissions will be accepted.

Essay Questions: The application requires you to complete four 250-word essays on each of the following topics: (1) Teaching, (2) Research, (3) 21st Century Skills, and (4) Challenges / Barriers you've faced.

Resumes and Transcripts: To complete the online application, please be prepared to upload the following documents:

  1. Transcripts – copies of your transcripts (unofficial are fine, just be sure they are legible) from any college or university in which you have enrolled in courses. You can upload up to three files (undergraduate, graduate, and credential transcripts) with a maximum size of 10 MB each in .pdf, .jpg, or .png format. It is your responsibility to make sure that the files are legible.
  2. Resume – If you do not have a resume, you can use the sample resume template (Word) to create one. If you already have a resume, be sure it addresses each of the items from the sample resume template. You can upload your resume in .pdf, .txt, or .doc format (1 MB maximum size).

Professional Reference: You will be asked to provide an email address for a professional referee who can speak to your interests in teaching and research. To help you select an appropriate referee, you can preview the online Referee Form as a PDF (2017 link not yet active). Do NOT email this PDF to your referee; we will send them an email asking them to submit their recommendation using our online form. We would like to receive their recommendation prior to the application deadline, so please be sure to get your referee's permission to use them as a reference well in advance. It is common courtesy to provide a minimum of two weeks notice to your referee and it can be helpful to them if you provide some information about the program you are applying for. It is not appropriate to have family members, close personal friends, or significant others provide your recommendation. Some lab site partners require additional references (indicated in the application) to be sent in separately.


Fellows spend nine weeks working full time with a research team on cutting-edge projects.
You’ll Work Hard
You’ll Challenge Yourself
You’ll Learn Skills In a Field That Interests You

Matching and Selection Process

Following the application deadline, all STAR applications will be reviewed by a panel of readers. Once an applicant has met the minimum program qualifications, STAR will match your skills, experience, interests, and preferences with the requirements of our lab sites. STAR will then coordinate communications between you and lab sites interested in working with you. The placement process is very selective with respect to the available opportunities. Many well-qualified applicants will not be offered a placement simply because an appropriate project or funding is not available. You may be invited to one or more phone interviews or engage in email conversations with a lab site coordinator or researcher, but placement is not guaranteed until a formal offer has been made by the STAR Program Office and you accept it. You will normally have two weeks to consider the offer. Some lab sites may further require you to apply via their own particular application procedure to meet federal requirements.

Once your placement has been confirmed, you will receive two congratulatory emails, one from the STAR Program and a second from your lab site. The STAR email will contain information about program expectations, housing needs, stipend payment schedules, and your project description. The lab site email will provide details about your points of contact at the lab site, key dates, and procedures.

Final Notes

After you have completed the first section of the application you can save your progress on the application at any point, logout, and return later by using the 'Save and continue later' link at the top of the page. We recommend bookmarking this page so you can click the link to the login page to continue your application. You can also review all parts of the application before submitting. Once you submit a recommender's email, that person will receive an automated invitation to provide a recommendation. After you have completed all steps of the application, you must click the "final submit" button and you will receive an email confirmation that we have received your completed application. If you do not receive this email within 24 hours, please return to your online application and ensure that you have completed all required fields and pressed the submit button. Please contact star@calpoly.edu in the unlikely event that you have further submission difficulties.


Mini Video 2 - Get Some Professional Experience from Zach Green Films on Vimeo.


STAR Mini Video 13 - First Research Experience is Publishable from STAR Program on Vimeo.