Winter 2012 Issue
Scientists in the trenches of their work know that doing inventive and worthwhile research taxes mind, body, and spirit. Supporting funds always seem to be scarce, false starts are distressingly common, pressure to publish can be unrelenting, experiments can resist sure replication, colleagues may be uncooperative, and flashes of understanding can be frustratingly elusive. Despite the frustrations, however, hard work and persistence, brilliant insight, and sometimes a bit of serendipitous luck can produce findings that literally change the world. But why is it so hard for government to produce related public policy, particularly when the findings of science have so much to offer? Why is debate over climate change, nuclear waste disposal, evolution, vaccination, embryonic stem cell research, and environmental strategies so durable? Why do governments have such difficulty deciding on public questions, especially when answers informed by science seem so obvious to so many? More
There are innumerable government-commissioned reports documenting the need for improved STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. These are exemplified by Rising above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future (2007)and the National Action Plan for Addressing the Critical Needs of the U.S. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education System (2007). In 2010 the National Science Board report Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators: Identifying and Developing Our Nation's Human Capital emphasized the urgency of the issue: "to ensure the long-term prosperity of our Nation, we must renew our collective commitment to excellence in education and the development of scientific talent." More
Bio-Math Mapping: Water Quality Analysis of Hudson River and Gowanus Canal: A SENCER-based Summer Project
The Summer 2010 Bio-Math Mapping project, based on SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities) ideals, provided nine undergraduate students from New York City College of Technology of the City University of New York with the opportunity to study and perform interdisciplinary research, combining mathematics with epidemiology, microbiology and environmental studies. It met the SENCER ideal to connect science and civic engagement by teaching through complex, contested current and unresolved public issues to basic science. More
This issue opens with Part 2 of a Teaching and Learningessay by Wm. David Burns, Executive Director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement at Harrisburg University, PA (Part 1 of this article was published in the Summer 2011 issue). Reflecting on his experiences as the longstanding Principal Investigator of SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities), David shares his insights about "lessons learned" from the first 10 years of the SENCER project.
A Point of Viewcontribution comes from Orianna Carter(Ohio University Southern), who discusses the opportunities and challenges of teaching science at a rural campus in Appalachia.
In the Research Article section, Janice Ballou(an independent consultant) presents extensive survey data about how faculty teaching and their perspectives on students have been affected by the participation in the SENCER project. Her analysis of these data shows a widespread impact of professional development activities such as the SENCER Summer Institute.
In the journal section on Science Education and Public Policy, Joseph Karlesky (Franklin & Marshall College) contributes a thought-provoking article on how the use of scientific evidence to make public policy decisions is influenced by contested political interests. He proposes that science education would benefit from being more cognizant of how scientific information can be promoted, manipulated, or rejected during the political process.
We are pleased to have a broad selection of Project Reports that span a range of topics, including mathematics, public health, water quality, environmental science, and traffic analysis. Michael Berger (Simmons College), Jack Duggan (Wentworth Institute of Technology) and Ellen E. Faszewski (Wheelock College) discuss a collaborative curriculum project called The Environmental Forum, which promotes, community-building, and service-learning throughout the Colleges of the Fenway, located outside of Boston. The "trans-disciplinary" challenge of traffic issues in Los Angeles is tackled by an appropriately interdisciplinary team. This project has been developed by a group of faculty from Woodbury University–Nageswar Rao Chekuri, Zelda Gilbert and Marty Tippens, who have partnered with Ken Johnson (City of Burbank) and Anil Kantak (Jet Propulsion Laboratory). Another example of interdisciplinary synergy is provided by Urmi Ghosh-Dastidar and Liana Tsenova, both from the New York City College of Technology, who describe a project called Bio-Math Mapping. This project introduced mathematics and computer science students to the techniques of water quality analysis and applied them to two New York City waterways. After collecting authentic scientific data, students applied their knowledge of statistics to determine the risk from disease-causing and drug-resistant bacteria.
Reem Jafaar (LaGuardia Community College) provides a mathematics teaching module based on the serious problem of student debt, which is now attracting widespread national attention. Kathleen FitzPatrick (Merrimack College) describes course that is organized around contemporary health issues (immunization, obesity, immunization, etc.) and links these themes to service-learning projects. SALG-based assessment data of student learning gains reveals that the course design promoted improved understanding of the interplay between science and civic issues, in addition to other documented gain. The final project report is a contribution from a faculty team at Indiana State University—Peter J. Rosene, M. Ross Alexander, and James H. Speer—who describe the implementation and assessment of the SENCER educational model within the introductory laboratory courses in the natural sciences. They evaluate how the change in educational approach affected student's perceptions of teaching effectiveness in comparison to a more traditional curriculum.
In conclusion, we wish to express our thanks to all the authors who have contributed to this issue of the journal.
Trace Jordan and Eliza Reilly
Co-editors in chief
Broadly educated and artistically accomplished, John was also a deep and creative thinker, a devoted and doggedly-patient collaborator, an efficient and effective manager and producer of results, and a cheerful "envisioner" and "revisioner" of images, graphics, and messages, of signs in general. He was, in the tradition of Roland Barthes, intellectually engaged, at the deepest level, with thinking about how meanings are made. It was, therefore, both a shock and a tragic loss when John died suddenly last September at age 49 of a brain aneurism. We mourn his death today and celebrate his life by calling attention to his great contributions to our work.
This Journal—and the National Center that sponsors it, as well as the SENCER program, which brings to life the ideals of the Center—benefitted from John's talents. He revised this website, chose the fonts, styles, and graphics, laid out the articles all while working, as so many designers have to do, with some "givens" that he might not have chosen himself had he been able to do the design from scratch. He did this with his customary effectiveness and good humor. That wry humor emerges in the little promotional piece he did for the Journal—check out the book titles.
His vision of our Center's SENCER work, as connected and overlapping waves of communication, you could say, is reflected in the "chop" or logo like design he chose for SENCER, when, working with his long-time collaborator and dear friend, Marcy Dubroff, SECEIJ's managing editor, he designed and developed the SENCER viewbook.
Our Center, this Journal and our projects have never been in a position—financially or morally—to spend much money on marketing. When given a choice on how to spend the grant or donor funds with which we have been entrusted, we have always opted for programs and service over promotion. This has the unfortunate effect of limiting our dissemination efforts and, in some ways, making our "stuff" (website, materials, etc) look a little dated. John helped us overcome these conditions.
Conscious of our frugality but convinced of the value of what we do, John shepherded us to develop more effective and attractive materials, ones that convey our values and our purposes. He helped us become better at what we thought we were doing—and better at what we really do—than we could have without him.
Francis Bacon wrote: "...I think a painter may make a better face than ever was; but he must do it by a kind of felicity (as a musician that maketh an excellent air in music), and not by rule." John possessed "a kind of felicity" and he helped us and many other clients "make a better face than ever was." We shall miss him and we extend our condolences to his family and friends who were fortunate to know him longer and better than we did.
—Wm. David Burns,November 2011
"But You Needed Me": Reflections on the Premises, Purposes, Lessons Learned, and Ethos of SENCER, Part 2
This paper is based on the opening plenary address at the 10th annual SENCER Summer Institute delivered by SENCER's co-founder, the paper's author. SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities), supported by the National Science Foundation, works to improve learning and strengthen civic engagement in undergraduate courses that teach through complex, capacious, unsolved civic issues to canonical knowledge and practice in Stem and other fields. Part one appeared in the last issue. More
To be an effective educator, one should embrace openness to learning. Thus, it is fortunate for me to teach in a discipline where I must constantly keep abreast of new knowledge and advances in technology. Outstanding teachers and mentors, who motivated me through their passion for the study of life, with its myriad levels, nurtured my own enthusiasm for biology: from the miniscule to the magnificent ecosystems. As an educator, my primary motivation is to evoke similar feelings in my students, science majors and non-majors alike, while caring for their intellectual and emotional growth. More
In 2003, with the help of the Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) dissemination project, faculty members from the Colleges of the Fenway (COF) consortium created a cornerstone course as part of a newly developed Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Science. Environmental Forum, created to provide a common identity for all environmental science students at the COF institutions, brings together students, faculty and practicing professionals to discuss current issues, career planning, and civic engagement as well as to participate in service learning activities throughout the COF and greater Boston communities. An initial assessment of student learning outcomes was previously reported (Faszewski and Duggan, 2007). More
Preparing Students for a Transdisciplinary Approach to Solving a Complex Problem: Traffic Issues in Los Angeles
In addition to preparing students in disciplinary areas, universities must train them to become independent thinkers and to be capable of taking part in complex and collective activities outside their disciplines. Furthermore, students should be trained to extract knowledge from scientific practices and procedures, and integrate that knowledge with their disciplinary-specific knowledge to solve real-world complex issues. The training should consist of important mental activities such as analyzing the data to understand inter- and intraconnections; abstracting methods and techniques through analysis and synthesis; mentally organizing such procedures and techniques; and applying those to solve complex environmental and community issues. More
In 2008, Merrimack College adopted a four credit per course curricular model. At this time, major curricula were completely redesigned. Our Department recognized that since many of our students intend to pursue careers in health care, knowledge of population medicine and health care system organization and function was critical. This content was not included in the major program previously. The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU, 2007) recommends that education in public health is essential for all undergraduates, in preparing an engaged citizenry for civic responsibility. Public health, a highly interdisciplinary and applied field, offered an opportunity to design an entirely new course using the NSF Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) principles of science education through engagement with complex, unresolved civic issues. More
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