Tributes for David Ferguson

This section of the journal is a small but heartfelt collection of essays in honor of someone who gave a great deal of his time, thinking, and heart to our collective work in civically engaged science education. A key leader in SENCER from its beginnings in 2001, David Ferguson played an even more important role from 2015 until his death when, as Associate Provost and Chair of Technology and Society, he became the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement’s institutional sponsor at Stony Brook University.  As such, he was involved in all aspects of our work and was responsible for greatly expanding our programming into engineering and technology.  These tributes are from just a small sampling of the literally hundreds of colleagues who were profoundly impacted by Dave’s life and work, but they are exemplary of the high esteem and affection he inspired.

My own history with David Ferguson goes back to the late 90s.  At the time, I was the Executive Director of the American Conference of Academic Deans and accompanied my colleague David Burns, later the founder and PI of SENCER, on a visit to Stony Brook University. Dave was then the director of the newly formed Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching (CELT) and was already supporting problem-based and student-centered curricular programs that Science Education for New Civic Engagements would be advancing a few years later.  As a community of faculty practice, SENCER is grounded in the ideals of both democracy and science, and not in a particular method, pedagogical approach, or disciplinary canon.  It is those ideals, which Dave both espoused and lived, that bind our community and have held it together for over two decades.

Fidelity to those scientific and democratic ideals—of integrity, honesty, open-mindedness, and respect for evidence—underpinned Dave’s commitment both to SENCER and to his Stony Brook family.  Although Dave had garnered national recognition as a researcher, he chose to spend most of his career, and his considerable talent for attracting funding, on expanding access and diversity in STEM through countless initiatives and programs. Given his widely recognized success as an administrator, PI, and collaborator, it was obvious that Dave could have focused more on his own career advancement. But personal gain, recognition, or greater authority over others was never a motivator for Dave, and his unwavering loyalty and commitment to Stony Brook University, an institution and a community he loved unreservedly, was one of his most distinguishing characteristics.  For Dave, Stony Brook was his version of the “beloved community”—a term coined by the philosopher Josiah Royce and popularized by Dr. Martin Luther King—a community of common purpose, mutuality, and civility in the service of a better world.

In his autobiography, the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges asserted, “My father was very intelligent and, like all intelligent men, very kind.”  No one embodied that wise observation better than Dave.  Most of the essays here focus on that kindness, and the consideration and generosity that characterized all his relationships.  For me it was his intelligence—emotional, organizational, intellectual—that was the foundation of his kindness.  He was a mathematician by training, and his clear and logical approach to problems, projects, and organizational structures was evident, both in his extraordinary administrative accomplishments and in the respect he garnered from faculty and administrators from every division of his university.

That intelligence ensured that Dave’s kindness was inextricable from strong convictions and a clear moral compass, one that Did not turn a blind eye to self-serving, dishonest, and hypocritical individuals and actions.   In her essay, Lauren Donovan, who worked with Dave for many years, notes that she never heard him raise his voice.  Sadly, in some of our many conversations and planning sessions in what turned out to be the last years of his life, I DID hear Dave raise his voice, in both anger and genuine bewilderment at the callous, unilateral, and uncaring leadership that increasingly dominated both higher education and the country at large. But even Jesus himself felt anger, especially toward those who prized money and personal gain over faith and turned a temple into a marketplace.  In remembering Dave, I will try to emulate his kindness, patience, openness, and untiring commitment to science education that promoted social good, while also holding on to his acute ethical discernment, clear sense of mission, and even his righteous anger at injustice and hypocrisy that has no place in the educational enterprise. We owe him nothing less.

Eliza Reilly
Executive Editor


Candice Foley  •  Deb Dwyer  •  Janelle Bradshaw de Hernandez   • Nina Maung-Gaona  •  Lauren Donovan  •  Patricia Aceves  •  Paul Siegel
Memorial Tribute for Dr. David Ferguson

Dr. Candice J. Foley

Professor Emeritus of Chemistry,
SUNY Suffolk

I’m grateful to be able to share fond memories of my friend, mentor, and colleague Dr. David Ferguson to celebrate his life and career.  Dave was the ultimate “connector” of people and projects dedicated to equity and inclusion at all levels in STEM.  He accomplished this with his characteristic gentleness, warmth, humility, and humor, but his resolve to achieve his goals was a true force to be reckoned with!  No one could say, “No” to Dave.  Early on Dave recognized the crucial importance of creating bridges and pathways for our talented STEM students at Suffolk County Community College (SCCC), to empower and inspire underrepresented STEM scholars to attain their educational goals.  As a result of Dave’s championing of many inter-institutional collaborations for more than two decades, we at SCCC have a robust model for serving underrepresented minority students (URMs) at all levels in STEM.  Taken together, these programs provide entry points and mentoring opportunities at all junctures of a student’s journey in STEM, from secondary school through community college, transfer to a four-year college, and on to pre-doctoral and post-doctoral training.   Dave was influential in so many important international, national, and statewide SUNY arenas. He encouraged and provided mentorship and entrée to innumerable faculty members, helping them to catalyze their initiatives and careers, and he was always generous with his time. When we asked him frequently to be our keynote speaker at our annual STEM recognition ceremony, he also never said, “No.”  He always inspired our students to believe in themselves, and one of my fondest memories of his pearls of wisdom was his invoking of Christopher Robin’s words to Winnie the Pooh,    

“Promise me you’ll always remember:

You’re braver than you believe,

And stronger than you seem,

And smarter than you think.”

Of all of Dave’s many gifts and talents, his strongest legacy is his enduring faith in us all to continue the journey that was his life’s work.  


He Left Us a Rainbow: Tribute to Dave Ferguson

Deb Dwyer

Economist, Colleague, Friend

I don’t even know where to begin.  I first learned of Dave Ferguson when I was a junior faculty member at Stony Brook University in the Department of Economics.  I taught the teaching practicum to our Ph.D. candidates with the aim of producing effective teachers of economics—this was back in the late 1990s. I wanted to do it right, and so I took advantage of the resources the university had to offer.  I was pointed to the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) directed by Dave Ferguson.  From the beginning, in my mind his name was synonymous with leader, mentor, teacher. Dave’s name continued to come up as a prominent academic leader, promoted to the provostial level at the university.

Years later, when I found myself in a position where I could no longer work with the dean of my college due to misaligned priorities, I was directed to Dave Ferguson by a friend, the dean of the graduate school.  I was told that Dave, chair of the Department of Technology and Society, could use my experience and skills to build up his PhD program in Technology, Policy, and Innovation.  As an economist who has successfully designed graduate programs, I would not only fit in substantively as a faculty member but would be an asset in the administration of the program. Dave agreed to meet with me because he recognized the value of an economist in a policy program.  

I had heard a lot about him before we met—specifically that he was kind and extremely dedicated to prioritizing and maximizing the production of knowledge in higher education. We hit it off immediately over our shared values, mutual understanding of the mission of academia, and more specifically, a common vision for a successful PhD program. We wanted to produce students who would have real impact, and we wanted to be creative and inclusive.  Citing my reputation as “dangerously smart,” he ended the conversation as follows: “You are convicted.  I like that.  I like that a lot.  I am convicted too.  What I ask of you is to respect the fact that I am the chair of this department.  My door is always open, and I welcome your input, and even your criticism.  I will process it.  But ultimately, I am the chair.  And I get to decide.”  He had no idea how much those words meant to be.  I finally found a leader who “got it.”  A leader who was confident enough to take criticism and to be kind, and even grateful for it.  A leader who sought out folks who might have expertise that went beyond his own if it improved the probability of success.   A leader who took a chance on me, despite advice from his peers who criticized me.  

Many mistook Dave’s gentle manner and kindness as weakness.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  It was a sign of strength and security that he did not need to exert power and control. When he presented me to the then dean of engineering, Yacov Shamash, he was taking a risk.  And Yacov, being a truly strong leader as well, ended the conversation with “Treat her well.”  I am still honored to be friends with Yacov and so blessed to have been brought into their world.  

Dave knew I left my previous college and dean precisely because I acknowledged that he was in charge, and he got to set the priorities. My options were to run my department aligned with those priorities or to leave. My leaving was a signal to Dave that I did understand governance and what I had control over. We understood each other.  He saw me.

Dave and I became like siblings. We trusted and valued each other’s opinion more than any others. We spent hours on issues that mattered. We talked about the strengths and weaknesses of each and every graduate student in our program. We sought to break down barriers and encourage success. We made tough decisions together when it was best for the student to leave the program.  And we went to battle against injustice against our students.  Dave did not fight for himself.  Despite attacks against his credibility and weakening of his position at Stony Brook, he smiled and said he was okay.  He had his research grants.  He had his colleagues around the world.  At any conference even indirectly related to engineering and/or technology and society, folks asked, “Do you know Dave Ferguson?”  Everyone in the field loved, admired, and respected Dave.  He did not seek approval, and he did not fight for it, but he would use any leverage he had to defend students, particularly vulnerable students. We co-advised.  We took up the fight together.  And we won on more than one occasion.  Because we were right.

Dave didn’t fight just for vulnerable students.  I was not tenured which made me vulnerable as well.  He knew I was the product of an imperfect system, particularly for women in economics, and this was yet another barrier.  Dave fought hard for me when it really mattered.  I am forever grateful to him for that.  I often contemplated how hard he had to work to get to the status and prominence he did achieve.  It is clear how much smarter he had to be to get a seat at the table, especially given the era he grew up in.   He must have known what it means to be vulnerable himself.

One of the things that brought us together was a shared faith.  We were able to take our conversations to a higher level.  That is something I am not sure too many knew about Dave.  We prayed together.  Though we were not self-righteous, we sought to be righteous by deferring to a higher power.  We wove that into our conversations and planning.  We were not too proud to believe.

Trust is not easy in a political environment like the one you find in academia.   I trusted Dave with my very life.  He was selfless and true.  The last email he sent me, which arrived the day he died, was assuring me that one of our students would be okay.  We had just come out of one major battle, and found ourselves in yet another, which was the new normal under new leadership.  One of the last things he was focused on was working behind the scenes to make sure that another student was treated justly and fairly.   The student subsequently had a very successful defense and made us proud, even though, sadly, without Dave physically present.  But he was there, very much a part of the success.  And that is yet another success story, against the odds.

I still feel a close bond to my dear brother Dave.  The day he died, a song started to play for me over and over—on my car radio and on Alexa, without my asking for it, Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.”  I still hear it when I think of him.  He simultaneously shared a different song for the last advisee we hooded at Stony Brook University, Jonelle Bradshaw de Hernandez.  Someone we both admire and love, and who made us so proud.   Someone we were willing to expend enormous political capital on to ensure she had a successful defense despite unfair opposition from some members of the department.

The song she heard was Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  Others believe in coincidences.  We do not.  The day of Dave’s memorial service at Stony Brook University was a grey misty day.  I was walking over to the venue with a colleague, and I said “This is the kind of weather that calls for a rainbow.  Dave is going to send us a rainbow.”  A few minutes after entering the building that colleague yelled out “Deb, your rainbow.  It’s your rainbow.”  There was one of the brightest double rainbows I have ever seen. All in the room rushed over to the glass walls to witness it.  Then provost, Michael Bernstein, mentioned it more than once, citing it as a message from Dave, as he hosted the ceremony.  Dave is not truly gone.  He is in a better place, and he continues to inspire us.  Still, we miss his physical presence.  There are very few like him.  

The Gatekeeper: Honoring the Legacy of Dr. David Ferguson

Dr. Jonelle Bradshaw de Hernandez

I met David Ferguson in 2014 at Stony Brook University, but I knew of Dave before I met him. Everyone spoke about his excellence, kindness, and dedication to the fields of technology, math, and science. Most of all, I continued to hear about his brilliance, but also his humility. At the time of our first meeting I was pursuing a doctorate at another university focusing on STEM and higher education effectiveness. I met wonderful faculty members at my previous institution, but I was not happy with the program so I began to look elsewhere. Stony Brook University was not on my list. I graduated from Cornell University and Columbia Teachers College with undergraduate and graduate degrees respectively, and I was hoping to stay at a private, Ivy League institution. That all changed when I heard about the Stony Brook University College of Engineering Program in Technology and Society, and especially when I met David Ferguson. 

Dave and I met and immediately connected around the pursuit of science to meet the most challenging needs of society. We were both passionate about the opportunity to utilize higher education to create a talented workforce committed to shaping a better world. Science, data, and technology were at the crux of our conversations. I did not speak to Dave about my interest in enrolling in his department after we connected around academics. Frankly, I never met anyone like him. He understood my intellectual pursuits in science and problem-solving and never questioned my academic goals. He was the first academic in my experience who did not downplay my objective of pursuing the highest and most rigorous goal of scholarly work for the advancement of democracy and society through engineering science, technology, policy, and education. He never questioned my status as a mid-career black woman pursuing the most exclusive credential of higher education—the doctorate. Dave was a fantastic listener, a quick processor of information, and a deep thinker. He saw me.

I spoke with a number of faculty in the department before I spoke with Dave. I did not want a perception that if I applied and was accepted that it was through his support alone. As a black student I was aware that although he was highly admired, he was still a black man leading a prestigious department. I did not want him to be seen as providing preferential treatment. I recognized early on that even with strong grades from top institutions and recommendations from exceptional faculty members across the nation, my student status would be questioned if I were admitted. After three faculty members from the department encouraged me to apply I spoke with Dave. I will never forget that conversation. I think it lasted a couple of hours. Synergy. We talked about philosophy, government, policy, and basic science pursuits. We spoke about the ever-increasing role of technology literacy and its application in pursuit of a better society. I told him I wanted to apply, he said he would be delighted to read my application.

I applied and was admitted and thence followed the best years of my academic life. Dave was the chair and co-advisor along with the brilliant Dr. Debra Dwyer. I learned so much from Dave, Deb, and a cast of characters that I could only describe as, well, quirky. Months before my upcoming graduation everything changed. Dave was no longer the chair, and it seemed from the outside that he was being stripped of everything he had built at Stony Brook. I asked Dave several times if he was OK, but as many of you know, he said he was fine. Modest and stalwart, even in the face of challenge. As more initiatives and more authority were taken away from him, I watched as he made sure we, his academic students, were OK. I was fine, although the politics were tough, and I was being questioned. But we managed until the unthinkable happened. I was accused of plagiarism because of a few grammatical errors in a paper. The accusation did not include the theft of ideas or philosophical views. It was designed to intimidate. It was an attack on me, and the goal was to publicly discredit and to create doubt when people saw my name. I remember the choices I was given, leave the program within months of graduation, or stay an additional three years with a full course load (despite being ABD) under different advisors, or face a public trial. I spoke with my committee, who were livid. Dave was just sad. He continually apologized and I saw in his eyes a sense of impending defeat. I looked Dave in the eye and said I am not going to hide; we do not intend to associate our names with weak scholarship. Through my tears I said let’s go for the public trial. And it was in that moment that I realized that Dave was not just brilliant, kind, and humble, but that he was strong, and because he was kind he was underestimated. His demeanor turned from impending defeat to fiery strength.

This story is long and the people who initiated this charge don’t deserve my time, but the outcome was total vindication and success. The process worked, and an anonymous committee cleared my name and allowed me to move forward. I will be forever grateful for the policy, processes, faculty, and leaders that provided students the ability to be heard and to defend. I will never forget the letter clearing me of the charge of plagiarism. It restored my faith in higher education.

But I realized it was Dave and Deb Dwyer—two academic powerhouses—who saw that this was more than an accusation. It was a process to eliminate future academic leaders of color in the science and tech space, people who were poised to make a difference. Dave spent his entire life at the gates of academic innovation and equity in science, technology, and higher education. Some people saw this as a threat. It did not matter the pedigree of the student he helped, the grades, the recommendations and the academic and professional accomplishments, he knew that they would see me as black and as not belonging. Dave made sure to hold the gates open for those who wanted to pursue our shared goals at the highest level. He recognized the talent, he saw the excellent work, and he wanted to move the field forward and ensure inclusivity. 

I watched Dave hold the gate open for me as his last doctoral student. As he was being stripped of his titles and authority, he stumbled a bit, but he kept the gate open. Even as he was under the most extreme professional stress, he provided one final push and I made it through. I graduated with the support of people who believed in me and kept me going. At the end, Dave’s integrity was intact, and the people who supported me not only stood for truth, they did it because they trusted and respected Dave.

Dave died and I was devasted. Dr. Teng was a good friend of his and he joined my committee and pushed me to my limits. Sadly, he also died soon after, so I was the last Ph.D. student they saw graduate. I’m eternally grateful for their generosity. They opened the gates for scholars like me, and their legacy lives on.

With this tribute I will say only that Dave’s contribution to the field as the honest gatekeeper has been multiplied exponentially. His students, including me, are at the table moving billions of dollars (yes, billions) of resources in science, technology, and innovation for research and application pursuits. We work in higher education and in policy think tanks, and a few of us simply can’t disclose where we are because of the classification of the work. All of my cohort were exhorted by Dave to make an impactful difference, and we are his disciples in plain sight, doing just that.

So, Dave—don’t worry, your life is full of academic children where your work lives on forever. The gate is still there, but guess what: we will no longer merely open the gate; we are determined to kick it off its damn hinges.

Dr. Jonelle Bradshaw de Hernandez is a Research Assistant Professor at University of Texas, School of Information and is the Executive Director of Foundation Relations at UT Austin. She is a mom and loving wife and after living in the great state of New York is now enjoying her new life in the friendly city of Austin, Texas. She continues to work with leaders and scholars in the areas of science, technology and workforce development. She also speaks with scholars of color who left the scientific field after policies like plagiarism were weaponized to keep them out and helps them to pursue a life of purpose for society’s benefit.

Tribute in Honor and Memory of David Ferguson

Nina Maung-Gaona

Dear Friends,

On Friday July 12, 2019, Stony Brook University lost a beloved, esteemed, and prominent international leader, Dr. David L. Ferguson, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor, longtime Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, and Director of STEM Smart.  Dave was my boss for 11 years, co-advisor of my doctoral dissertation, my professional mentor for 19 years, and most of all, my hero.

Although I was his protégé, Dave always treated me like an equal partner. Following his example, I try every day to emulate his leadership style:  passion and compassion. He would always tell me that the best leaders are the ones who inspire a vision and then get out of the way so that people can work their own magic in realizing that vision. He always gave me space to think big and take risks in order to raise the bar of excellence. And he kept me grounded and focused by asking me a simple question from time to time: “Are you having fun, Nina?” For all these reasons, Dave will forever be my hero.

As many of you know, Dave won the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from the White House in 1997.  He donated the prize money for student scholarships. Dave was Principal Investigator on about a dozen externally sponsored awards, all to support the mission of broadening participation in STEM education.  He had millions of dollars of funding from the National Science Foundation and the New York State Department of Education, as well as from various foundations and companies. He brought programs like the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), and Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) to Stony Brook, distinguishing Stony Brook as a national leader for diversity, equity, and inclusion.  

Dave was the Chair of the Department of Technology and Society (DTS) in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences for 15 years. He was very proud of the department’s interdisciplinary research and scholarship and dedicated his life work to ensuring the department’s success by building a robust faculty.  Dave was pivotal in the successful establishment of SUNY Korea; DTS was the first department to offer classes in SUNY Korea and attracted lots of students from all over Asia. Above all else, Dave loved being a professor! A true math nerd.  He taught classes on decision-making, science policy, and problem-solving.  His passion was helping students achieve their biggest dreams, and he was a staunch advocate for access to opportunities for advancement and success.  He had an impact on tens of thousands of students over his career.  Dave’s reach was so deep and so wide that I vow to do my part to honor his memory by ensuring his life’s work continues to grow and flourish.  

Dave’s aura radiated a color that was not of this world.  His frequency vibrated gently, yet he inspired an unshakable confidence and security in all who knew him.  He had an ethereal generosity that permeated his every thought and his every action.  As we each reflect on our own special relationship with Dave, I know we share a deep sorrow, an immense gratitude, and an infinite pride for having his magical presence in our lives.  Dave’s magic is most certainly eternal.





In Dave’s honor and memory, Nina Maung-Gaona


A Tribute for David Ferguson 

Lauren Donovan
Office of the Dean, College of Arts and Sciences,
Stony Brook University

I had the pleasure and privilege of working with Dave Ferguson for more than seven years. I miss him very much.  He was truly unique, epitomizing the kind of authentic and strategic leadership that is too rare. He was kind, yet he would not hesitate to be frank and get his point across. He was thoughtful in his words and actions, and always made one feel like their opinion mattered. In all my years working with Dave, I never heard him raise his voice. He was respectful in his demeanor and behavior and always took the time to listen. Even if he was having a stressful day, Dave’s first question to others was “How can I make your day better?” 

Dave had a knack for surrounding himself with colleagues who shared his values and approached situations as he would—with compassion, discernment, and kindness. He demonstrated that you didn’t need to be loud and abrasive to make an impact, and I, and many colleagues, did our best to copy his example.

Dave’s accomplishments over his long career as a scholar, teacher, and administrator were far greater than most of us could fathom. However, Dave rarely spoke about himself, though he would be the first to congratulate someone and celebrate the achievements of others. You could sense his true pleasure when students or colleagues succeeded. Dave was a very genuine and generous person who is deeply missed as a colleague and a friend.

That generosity and un-hierarchical sensibility, so often cited by anyone who worked with Dave, can overshadow the fact that he was an immensely effective, strategic, and successful academic leader who generated and oversaw millions of dollars in external funding, primarily to support minority students in STEM fields. My own sense is that the two qualities, his generosity and his effectiveness, were inextricable and constituted his “superpower.”  In any project it was clear that Dave listened to everyone and was sincerely interested in their perspectives and experiences, regardless of their status.  Like a true scientist, he did not exclude any reasonable point of view or possible solution that might contribute to the overarching goal, which was always to support and empower students.  He would ask “What is your hypothesis?” and he was not afraid to experiment and take up the ideas and suggestions of others.  He truly enjoyed learning from other people, other disciplines, other cultures, and he was energized, and not intimidated, by the originality and creativity that he found all around him. Unsurprisingly, he attracted similarly generous, creative, and confident people to his teams. 

The lessons I learned from Dave, about listening, respecting diverse perspectives, and always remembering the core mission of higher education, have deeply impacted my current work today as the Dean of Arts and Sciences’ liaison to 10 university research departments and centers.  This position requires listening, synthesizing, and navigating and representing honestly diverse constituencies with sensitivity, good humor, and an open-minded spirit.  Dave’s example has been a lasting gift that I will always carry with me.

Memorial Tribute for David Ferguson

Patricia Aceves, Ed.D.
Assistant Provost & Director (Retired), Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching (CELT),
Stony Brook University

Isaac Newton must have had someone like Dave Ferguson in mind when he wrote, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Dave’s vision, dedication, and advocacy for teaching and learning at Stony Brook University brought the first Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching (CELT) to life in 1998, and he served on the search committee that hired me in 2009. For the next ten years he was a mentor, advocate, and friend to me and the Center; his door was as open as his willingness to share his wisdom.  

I recall fondly several anecdotes about Dave that highlight how he made the world a better place. During the interview dinner with my search committee, I listened intently as Dave told a story about an experience he had as a grad student; and with a straight face, his deep, solemn voice, and not a hint of what was coming, he delivered one of the funniest punchlines I’d ever heard. The group erupted in laughter and I laughed so hard I had tears running down my face.  Over the years, I found his humor was always at the ready when needed.  

I served with Dave on a number of standing committees and was always amazed at how he kept up with his busy administrative, teaching, and research schedule and still found time for service. In one such committee meeting, the group was deep in conversation around a sticking point regarding how best to move forward on a particular issue. On this day, Dave did not appear to be engaged in the conversation and when I glanced over at him, he sat with his head bowed and his eyes closed. But when a question arose that we struggled with, Dave piped up with an insightful response as if he had been pondering the question all along. In that moment, I saw but a glimpse of his genius and the Superman ability he had to juggle his many passions and responsibilities. 

In the last encounter I had with Dave a few months before he passed, I’d asked him to speak at a CELT ribbon cutting ceremony, as he was the founder of our Center, but he graciously declined. He stated that he wanted me and our staff to be the focus of the event.  Even though we were standing on his shoulders, he was comfortable in the knowledge that his work would carry on in the hands of the next generation of passionate teachers and educators.  When you spent time with Dave Ferguson, he made you feel as if you and your cause were the only things that were important, and I have no doubt that was true. 

Memorial Tribute for David Ferguson

Paul Siegel
STEM Smart Co-Director, Retired, Department of Technology and Society,
Stony Brook University

Since Dave’s passing on July 12, 2020, not a day has gone by when I haven’t thought of him. Dave was many things to me: professor, mentor, cheerleader, traveling companion, and friend. He was the most self-effacing man I have ever known, and he was also one of the smartest men I have ever known. I owe my career in academia to Dave. It was Dave who gave me permission to pursue the many grant opportunities that led to the creation of the STEM Smart program and its myriad opportunities in an all-encompassing variety of STEM majors. 

Today, there are hundreds of students of color and from underserved communities who are now holders of advanced degrees due to the programs that Dave created with a little help from his friends. Dave’s work helped to change the face of science and engineering and bring about an increase in diversity in the Academy. My interactions with Dave occupied just a small space of his presence, but he had the ability to make you feel like you were the only one who mattered when you talked with him. Whenever Dave heard news about the accomplishments of our STEM Smart students his face would light up with joy, and I believe that is a measure of his greatness. He wouldn’t think of taking credit for that student’s achievements—he was just joyful that another student had enjoyed academic success.

Tonight, I’ll raise a Heineken in his honor and memory.  

Critiquing the Learning Design of a SENCERized Team-Based Activity


A team-based learning activity is presented that was created to support a university-level course with an integrative theme of environmental sustainability.  Students in a General Education Environmental Biology course were asked to relate academic concepts to real-world scenarios by creating a hypothetical ecoresort on an island that had suffered severe habitat degradation.  The Earth Charter helped guide student understanding of how to balance ecological, social, and economic needs.  Furthermore, the SENCER approach to educational practice helped teach the science through complex social issues.  Student-generated media (in the form of a webpage) helped learners integrate and showcase their gains in knowledge and skills.  The “ecoresort activity” is critiqued against educational best practices, by aligning its design with Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning and Merrill’s Principles for Instructional Design.  Finally, practical recommendations (with an accompanying facilitator’s guide) are provided that should help STEM educators calibrate interacting variables during technology-enhanced course designs: permeable learning spaces, assessment strategies, and social learning settings.


This article describes a team-based learning activity, where students collaborate in small groups to design an ecoresort and build a website to market their hypothetical resort (see the Appendix for a complete facilitator’s guide). The process of designing the resort can launch additional larger discussions—for example, about how our recreational choices deplete, endanger, conserve, or restore natural resources. Students are given the opportunity to consider what should drive their choices of location, transportation, lodging, food, and healthcare when designing a facility in a fragile ecosystem. The activity addresses the concept of “environmental sustainability” and incorporates scientific concepts in ecology, such as habitat loss and population decline of animal and plant species, and social/technological issues surrounding energy systems and renewable and non-renewable resources. It raises civic questions about the role of science when local communities assess and manage the environmental impact of their own growth and development.

Following the description of the activity, learning design is critiqued through three lenses: Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning, Merrill’s Principles for Instructional Design, and the SENCER Approach to Educational Practice.  Practical recommendations are then made to guide learning design.  Thus, the purpose of this article is to provide STEM educators with the knowledge, skills, and abilities they’ll need to incorporate learner-centered activities into their technology-enhanced learning experiences.

Background Information

Environmental sustainability is the integrative theme of the course for which this ecoresort activity is a major component (SENCER Model Course link:  Within this general education course for non-science majors, learners explore introductory concepts related to ecosystem services, natural resource use, and economic growth (at the expense of the natural world).  The “triple bottom line” provides a useful framework to help students guide their thoughts, although there are other ways to approach learning about environmental sustainability. For example, student participation in Earth Charter–related activities throughout their academic journey may be beneficial in myriad ways ( The Earth Charter is a movement that promotes “respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, social and economic justice, and democracy, nonviolence and peace” (Earth Charter, 2021).

The flagship initiative of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement is Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER), an organization that aims to connect science education with civic engagement to promote student participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education (SENCER, 2016).  SENCER’s mission is to “strengthen student learning and interest in STEM by connecting course topics to issues of critical local, national, and global importance” (SENCER, 2016).  This ecoresort activity (which originated as part of a SENCER Model Course) connects to several SENCER ideals, by “extracting from the immediate issues the larger, common lessons about scientific processes and methods” (Table 1) (SENCER, 2016).  

This SENCER-aligned activity explores an issue of social and scientific significance, the impact of tourism on island ecology.  The metaphor of an island can be expanded upon to include explorations into global issues (Island Earth).  One way to connect learning to students’ daily lives is to align class activities with something meaningful to their social lives. For some of our students, a dream spring break vacation includes spending time in a tropical island resort. What might students’ reactions be to the notion that their choice of vacation destination (as tourists) may be contributing to the tension between economic development and ecosystem preservation?  This question serves as a potential springboard from which to explore a wicked problem, such as human impacts on the natural world.  Learners can investigate how tourists are a blessing and a curse for community members at tourist destinations.  Clearly, tourism brings revenue. But tourism has many possible negative impacts as well, including the depletion and pollution of terrestrial, aquatic, and atmospheric natural resources (Garces-Ordoñez, Díaz, Cardoso, & Muniz, 2020; Leposa, 2020; Lowe & Sealey, 2002; Singh, Bhat, Shah, & Pala, 2021).  

When designing courses, educators usually align course outcomes with the desired knowledge, skills, and attitudes they want learners to demonstrate upon successful completion. Fink (2003) described a taxonomy that integrates these elements and adds an additional element of learner metacognition (thinking about one’s thinking). Merrill (2002) described five core principles that promote active learning and are grounded in problem-based learning.  Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning and Merrill’s Principles for Instructional Design provide two evidence-backed and relevant lenses to critique this SENCERized learning activity.

What Students Will Be Able to Do

By exploring current environmental events and investigating and debating sustainability issues, students will be able to

Conduct basic research related to current environmental issues such as energy consumption, food availability, freshwater supply concerns, waste generation, and habitat restoration.

Generate evidence-based decisions about the degradation of natural capital that results in human-dominated systems.

Develop business plans that incorporate environmental sustainability as a fundamental bottom-line consideration, while addressing social needs, economic interests, and cultural awareness of community members and/or tourists.

Work in teams to demonstrate effective communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills.

Connect issues of civic importance to their daily lives and decision-making processes.

Scientific Concepts Addressed and Related Civic Issues

When development “is greater than the environment’s ability to cope … within acceptable limits of change,” (  the depletion and pollution of terrestrial, aquatic, and atmospheric natural resources are one result, and this is the subject of a great deal of scientific attention in ecology and conservation biology. The ecological destruction stands in contrast to the economic benefits that can accrue to communities that invite tourism into such ecologically delicate areas. Local and national governments may tolerate, and even encourage, tourism’s environmental impacts if the construction of resorts brings economic benefits such as jobs and tax revenue.

By investigating this question in depth, students explore the complexity of “sustainable” tourism and the tradeoffs involved. Students grapple with the question of whether the goals of environmental protection and economic prosperity are compatible, and, if the answer is no, design tourism facilities that attempt to serve economic and ecological goals at once.

The Activity

This collaborative assignment uses a hypothetical case study and student-generated media to make course material relevant to a variety of students’ academic majors, personal interests, daily lives, and decision-making processes.  Students develop a plan for establishing and managing an ecoresort, and then publicize it via a student-created website. The activity can be conducted in a variety of learning spaces, including fully online, blended, and face-to-face settings. The basic learning path for the activity incorporates a technology-enhanced learning environment, so that a carefully choreographed blend enriches learner engagement (Figure 1). While the instructor can take this activity in several different directions, the basic outline is presented in Table 1.

This activity is applicable to a wide range of disciplines and academic levels (Table 3), and instructors can incorporate the activity in multiple ways. For example, they might

  • Use this as a capstone project for the course.
  • Divide the tasks into weekly modules that students complete one by one in a longitudinal fashion throughout the course.
  • Pick and choose the tasks most relevant to course needs and focus only on those, by scaling back the project requirements. For example, parts of this activity could complement lessons and readings related to students’ ecological footprints.
  • Use the project as the primary teaching tool for the entire course. For example, instead of lecturing, guide the students through the course by using this as a project-based learning opportunity within scheduled class time.
  • Use as part of a study abroad class and include a segment related to respecting the cultural needs of an indigenous population.
  • Include a service-learning component, where students are given opportunities to connect their coursework to serving the needs of the community.  Students should be given continuous reflective assignments that help them relate the goals of this project to the community service tasks they are performing.

Each of these approaches can yield learner successes. And given the flexibility, the instructor may adjust the percentage of the overall grade to match the needs of the curriculum. Likewise, the island location can be modified to suit the needs of the course, depending on the geographic location that is most relevant to students and their campus/university.  

What If Projects Were Worth More Than a Letter Grade?

In collaboration with the local chamber of commerce, students could potentially conduct sustainable practice audits for the community as service-learning projects. For example, during these audits, students could work with community partners (local businesses, informal learning centers, schools, etc.), where they could relate service-learning opportunities to course content by accomplishing the following duties: 

  • summarize their on-site observations;
  • identify environmentally friendly and non-friendly practices at the partner site;
  • provide recommendations to the community via an outreach session.

This information could ultimately be used by the chamber of commerce to recognize tourist-oriented businesses that adhere to sustainable tourism practices. Students could also work with the local government and help the town develop a certification program for “sustainable” tourist establishments.

This activity also has the potential to connect students with informal science education centers in their area. Using YouTube videos and quick response (QR) codes, students can create interactive “exhibits” focused on a sustainable practice for regional venues of informal science education (e.g., science and nature centers). QR codes could be displayed on site so that visitors can scan them with a smartphone and view students’ projects. An entire class could create any number of these types of videos, which would likely be welcome in budget-limited informal science education institutions.

Enriching Citizen Engagement with Social and Civic Problems That Have Underlying Scientific Issues

Because tourism, in some form, is an experience most students have in common, this activity is likely to be of immediate interest and relevance to them. In a discussion of the environmental impacts of tourism, instructors can teach “through” larger issues such as conflicting economic and environmental interests “to” the underlying science on the environmental impacts of human activity on ecosystems.  In addition, the instructor has the opportunity to engage students with broader civic questions such as 

  • Who is responsible for ensuring that we have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and healthy ecosystems to support life?
  • What public policies promote or impede environmental sustainability?
  • What are the tradeoffs between economic development and environmental sustainability, and how should these tradeoffs by determined? Who should be involved in the decision-making processes?
  • In light of the extreme environmental challenges faced in underserved communities, describe your thoughts about social justice, equity, and economic opportunity.

Why This Learner-Centered Activity Works Well

Meaningful learning is optimized when instructional strategies are implemented that manage intrinsic cognitive load, limit extraneous load, and maximize capacity for germane load (Kirschner, Kirschner, & Paas, 2006; Mayer, 2011).  These strategies include sequencing curricula, scaffolding content, and encouraging metacognitive behaviors (Deans for Impact, 2015).  Critical reflection by learners is also a key part of meaning-making during the learning process (Dewey, 1933; Dewey, 1938; Rodgers, 2002).  Several frameworks exist to help analyze the ecoresort activity, by critiquing how its instructional design is aligned with accepted educational best practices.  Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning and Merrill’s Principles for Instructional Design are two such frameworks (Table 4).

This team-based learning exercise is aligned with educational best practices, as determined by its alignment with two different instructional design frameworks.  Active learning yields autonomous opportunities that may increase learner motivation.  Multi-tiered assessments (formative and summative) help learners monitor their learning gains and skills development.  Additionally, authentic and real-world scenarios promote emotional connections for learners.  Team-building and collaboration help foster the conditions needed for inclusive settings where all learners can contribute.  Furthermore, this learner-centered activity promotes cognitive, behavioral, socio-cultural, and affective engagement.

From a practical standpoint, learners are provided opportunities to engage academic content individually and in social groups (Figure 1).  They are provided a variety of low-stakes and higher-stakes assessment opportunities within a variety of permeable learning spaces.  When used as a capstone project, this learning experience provides learners with opportunities to demonstrate mastery and competence in critical course outcomes in a social setting (Figure 2).  The ecoresort project helps learners acquire discipline-specific knowledge and provides opportunities for them to integrate their knowledge gains.  Furthermore, learners are able to demonstrate appropriate mastery of skills.  Lastly, this activity provides an opportunity for learners to explore their attitude shifts toward issues of social and scientific importance.


This work was conducted while the author was a faculty member in the Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU).  The author wishes to thank Eliza Reilly, Glenn Odenbrett, and Karin Matchett from the SENCER network for their partnerships and thoughtful reviews.  Laura Frost and Douglas Spencer from The Whitaker Center for STEM Education at FGCU supported travel to SENCER Summer Institutes and professional development.  At FGCU, Donna Henry, Aswani Volety, Mike Savarese, Greg Tolley, Susan Cooper, and Marguerite Forest also contributed to the success of the internal SENCER team.  Finally, from the University of Miami Department of Biology, Kathleen Sullivan-Sealey and Dan DiResta provided early inspiration for high-quality environmental education and critical habitat conservation.

About the Author

David Green specializes in advancing learner-centered curricula in health sciences, medical education, and STEM education.  He has taught award-winning university-level courses, mentored undergraduate and graduate students, and facilitated faculty development initiatives that support innovation and creativity.  He enjoys evaluating the effectiveness of high-impact educational opportunities by continuously monitoring critical program-level and student-level success metrics.  As a Leadership Fellow with the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement and a Collaborating Partner with the Learning Spaces Collaboratory, he actively champions conversations centered on the intersections of physical, community-based, and technology-enhanced learning spaces.  David holds a Doctor of Education from the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education.


Deans for Impact. (2015). The science of learning. Austin, TX: Deans for Impact. Retrieved from

Dewey, J. (1910/1933). How we think. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books. 

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Collier Books, Macmillan.

Earth Charter. (2021). Landing page. Retrieved from

Fink, D. (2003). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Garcés-Ordóñez, O., Díaz, L. F. E., Cardoso, R. P., & Muniz, M. C. (2020). The impact of tourism on marine litter pollution on Santa Marta beaches, Colombian Caribbean. Marine Pollution Bulletin 160, 111558.

Kirschner, P., Kirschner, F., & Paas, F. (2006). Cognitive load theory. Retrieved from

Leposa, N. (2020). Problematic blue growth: A thematic synthesis of social sustainability problems related to growth in the marine and coastal tourism. Sustainability Science, 15(4), 1233–1244.

Lowe, A. M., & Sealey, K. S. (2002). Ecological and economic sustainability of tropical reef systems: Establishing sustainable tourism in the Exuma Cays, Bahamas. In Proceedings of the 1999 International Symposium on Coastal and Marine Tourism: Balancing Tourism and Conservation: April 26-29, 1999 Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (p. 183). Seattle: Washington Sea Grant Program and School of Marine Affairs, University of Washington.

Mayer, R. E. 2011. How learning works. In Applying the science of learning (pp. 13–37, 44–49). Boston: Pearson Education.

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43–59.

Rodgers, C. (2002). Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking. Teachers College Record, 104(4), 842–866.

SENCER. (2016). About us. Retrieved from

Singh, S., Bhat, J. A., Shah, S., & Pala, N. A. (2021). Coastal resource management and tourism development in Fiji Islands: A conservation challenge. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 23, 3009–3027.



Click Here for Appendices

Download (PDF, 1.3MB)

Download the Article

Download (PDF, 2.25MB)

A Community Outreach Chemistry Lab Success in a Pandemic


This project report highlights a simple yet effective outreach lab benefiting the community partner, specifically the Alameda Point Collaborative (APC) youth program and Saint Mary’s College students in a general science course. Building on a partnership focused on reciprocity, a portable lab experiment (Mattson Microscale Gas Chemistry lab) was proposed.  Given the pandemic, the major challenge was working through how to incorporate the community engagement without being physically present at APC.  To address this, the Saint Mary’s students created an instructional video to be viewed in advance of the activity as a replacement for the formal lab handout, which allowed us to participate without being onsite.  With the lab chemicals and materials delivered in advance, APC staff did a pilot run to facilitate a more successful joint lab. When both populations (APC youth and SMC students) met through a Zoom meeting, the lab resulted in a successful experiment and a shared learning experience.  This lab experience raised everyone’s spirits even during the pandemic.  In this report, the two authors provide reflections on the student gains and wish to emphasize that civic learning can still occur even in a pandemic. 


Can one really do a community outreach chemistry lab during a pandemic?  How can college students be truly involved and engaged performing outreach when their classes are taught remotely?  Can a community partner feel supported when colleges keep pressing onward in the midst of the pandemic?

The students in a Saint Mary’s College environmental science course and their stalwart community partner, the Alameda Point Collaborative (APC) ventured together to answer the three questions above and continue a partnership where reciprocity has always been a focal point.  The Urban Environmental Issues (UrbanE) course had previously done educational outreach lab work with APC, but because of the pandemic, it needed to be done remotely.   This project report discusses their shared laboratory experience.   

The UrbanE class studies environmental chemistry issues and investigates the redevelopment of Alameda Point, the former Alameda Naval Air Station (NAS).  Since Alameda NAS became a Superfund site in 1999, the course content was regularly aligned with clean-up activities. Several course labs have followed site characterization and clean-up methods (X-ray fluorescence soil screening and a thermal reaction, which mimics how in situ chemical oxidation (ISCO) is used to clean up the groundwater onsite) (Bachofer, 2010).  Beyond utilizing Alameda Point as a study site, the community engagement aspects of the course have involved some direct service for a community partner, the Alameda Point Collaborative.  APC provides services to the homeless on the former Alameda NAS, assisting them with housing, job training, and social services to empower individuals who were formerly homeless.  In the past, students have performed educational outreach experiments for the APC youth.   This past year, an educational outreach project with APC teens was selected as appropriate in a pandemic.  

Educational outreach projects have been a part of many previous course iterations.  The outreach labs have ranged from inviting APC youth to Saint Mary’s College to do an experiment, implementing a chemistry lab for the local middle school, and learning the chemistry of garden nutrient kits.  These outreach projects were typically done in Alameda. Thus, planning to share a lab experience with the APC teens was somewhat routine, yet this year’s challenge was to do this lab remotely.

The Alameda Point Collaborative claimed, restored, and reinvigorated the base housing and facilities including one building initially used as a Native American health clinic, which was repurposed as a teen center. The central mission of the APC Teen Center is to inform, inspire, and educate the local youth to become productive members of their community and world.  Due to the pandemic, the Teen Center itself took on new role as a remote learning hub for the APC teens.  The center needed a full Wi-Fi upgrade and a new fence surrounding the building to provide some privacy and safety, and all the sinks, toilets, and dispensers were changed to be hands-free along with added temperature detectors so that the APC teens could have a COVID-safe instructional space.

Outreach Lab Methodology


Professor Bachofer and Mr. Cass discussed several laboratory experiments that might be sufficiently portable and educational during the summer of 2020.  To give the UrbanE students a vested interest in the outreach, there were a few Mattson gas generation labs as options.  The UrbanE students were encouraged to select a gas generation lab similar to their first lab preparing carbon dioxide.  The oxygen gas generation lab had a fun aspect of testing the oxygen gas with a smoldering splint (think lighting something on fire, safely) and it was selected.  

The oxygen gas generation lab was designed for students ranging from middle school to college.  The instructional materials are freely available via the Mattson Microscale Gas Generation website (Mattson, 2019).  This resource has three introductory gas labs to prepare either carbon dioxide, oxygen, or hydrogen. The procedure for gas generation and equipment to prepare each gas are nearly identical, except for the reagents.  The oxygen gas generation used only hydrogen peroxide, H2O2, as a reactant and potassium iodide, KI, as a catalyst.  The reaction time required to generate a full syringe of oxygen gas was approximately 10 minutes.  This gas was transferred into a test tube and upon adding a smoldering splint, reignition occurred.  

Professor Bachofer had previously used this lab with visiting middle school students on educational field trips to the College, so it was known to be very safe.  As the lab equipment and consumables were affordable and easily transportable, APC needed to only provide a safe working space and access to water for syringe work.  This implementation built on previous educational labs, so again the only real challenges were the restrictions imposed to keep everyone safe from the corona virus. 

UrbanE Student Preparation

The UrbanE students performed a gas generation lab as one of their labs.  Three lab periods were devoted to delivering the outreach lab to the APC teens.  Specifically, the UrbanE students’ carbon dioxide gas generation lab gave them hands-on experience. The UrbanE students generated CO2 gas following procedures from the Mattson website (Mattson, 2019).  During the two planning lab periods, the UrbanE students were asked to recall what was most helpful for them when they did the lab remotely.  This reflection activity led them to propose that a video be created, along with a one-page instructional sheet replacing the formal lab handout that they had used.  Two sets of students agreed to be filmed doing a setup and generating oxygen gas, one student edited the videos, and another few students revised a bulleted set of directions.  They were confident that this would provide multiple instructional tools to make the lab a success.  In the meantime, Professor Bachofer and Mr. Cass worked on the final logistics—how long these two groups would meet and the exact date and time (the lab would last approximately one hour and the course class time matched the Teen Center’s workday).  Cass and Bachofer also planned a discussion for the APC teens on what college is like, and Cass coordinated a starter set of questions.  This would prepare both groups of students to have a discussion. 

This outreach lab was aligned with productive educational civic engagement aspects outlined by W. Robert Midden (2018).   Elvin Aleman and his coworkers also noted that undergraduates exhibit significant gains in learning when planning educational service-learning projects designed to inspire the next generation of scientists (Godinez Castellanos et al., 2021).  Remote hands-on instruction has become a more critical tool during the past year, and many straightforward lab experiences can be instructional and fully portable as noted by Jodye Selco (2020).  All of these authors have indicated that faculty can easily provide guidance to undergraduates, and that implementation of hands-on and civic engagement activities empowers all students (Midden, 2018; Godinez Castellanos et al., 2021; Selco, 2020).    

Unfortunately, there was not time to request formal institutional review board approval of this project, which means that this article cannot include any student response data.  The results and conclusion sections will have only the authors’ reflections and insights on the effectiveness of this activity. 


After the delivery of individualized laboratory materials, Mr. Cass and other APC staff performed a pilot run using the UrbanE students’ video to guide them.  This preparation gave them intimate knowledge of the experiment and made the joint lab day a tremendous success.

The APC teens did the experiment a total of three times, twice on the day of the joint Zoom session, plus another time approximately a week later.   The experiment was considered a success when the iodide catalyst caused the hydrogen peroxide to decompose forming the oxygen gas.  The APC teens, however, evaluated the experiment as a success only if one reignited a smoldering splint in the oxygen gas, generating a burst of flames!  With that definition, there was only 50% success on the first trial, yet on second trial, there was 100% success.  Only one detrimental incident occurred when the glass test tube broke and one APC teen got a minor cut.  The successful demonstration of oxygen gas reactivity with a smoldering splint overshadowed this minor incident, and all students gained from the shared lab experience.

When all were on the Zoom call, a further dialogue began during the second trial’s 10-minute gas generation time.  Mr. Cass asked the UrbanE students about the challenges of going to college and learning under COVID conditions.  This discussion was instructional as the UrbanE students shared their thoughts about college in general and their learning in a pandemic.   It gave the APC teens some idea how college could still be accomplished in a pandemic.  This outreach lab was so successful that two groups arranged for a subsequent shared meeting so that the UrbanE and APC teens could share thoughts on the challenges of recycling various materials, providing a second linkage to their course content.    

There were two big successes from this outreach lab.  The APC teens noted that the UrbanE student videos did help them do the experiments and come away with some renewed confidence that doing science, specifically chemistry, was possible.  The UrbanE students recognized that they could use their new knowledge to positively impact others.

Co-Instructor Reflections

Mr. Cass’s Reflection 

In my case, there was a personal reason why this experimental format was beneficial, besides all of the obvious educational reasons. During my interview for Teen Center coordinator, in December 2018, I was playing basketball with some of the APC teens who also happened to be present during the experiment. We chatted while we played and when I asked “What do you guys want to be when you grow up?” one of the students responded to me that he wanted to be a chemist when he grew up. On the day of our experiment, that student reminded me of our conversation in 2018 and how the opportunity to try the experiment firsthand was satisfying. 

Recently, I asked what they remembered about the experiment. I was surprised to find that they were able to give me the step-by-step instructions and they remembered a lot about why and how the experiment worked.  They noted that they hadn’t read the instructions initially, but to finally see the splint ignite was great. In fact, the syringe lab was really interesting and was worth doing over with them.  They also commented that the experiment could teach students something deeper than just chemistry: that you can fail at something over and over again but if you keep doing it, eventually you’ll get it right.  

Prof. Bachofer’s Reflection

The impact of this educational outreach lab was quite remarkable.  The UrbanE students came away from the hour-long Zoom session impressed and exhilarated that the APC teens had conducted a very successful experiment. The student reflections were filled with positive thoughts and nearly all began with a note that they were initially unsure that we could accomplish this outreach.  The students were graded on their contributions to both the outreach lab and discussion.  Marque Cass’s most impactful question was, “What are you as Saint Mary’s UrbanE students likely to take away from this course?”  This prompted many students to remark in their reflections that they would be more committed to helping their communities in the future.  Again, the reciprocity of this educational outreach was apparent.

The community engagement made this environmental science course more meaningful for the Saint Mary’s UrbanE students, and it truly heartened the faculty member in these exhausting times.  The major takeaway is that educational outreach can be done in a pandemic and it will truly enrich you and your community.   

Key Points to Ensure Success

  • The college and the community partner were committed to listen and to make plans that would benefit each other.
  • The planning was done in advance and follow-up through emails ensured the project progressed on schedule.
  • The instructor and the supervisor aligned their work expectations to benefit both student groups.
  • The lab experiment yielded an easily observable reaction.  The lab materials were also very affordable.
  • The students were empowered to do tasks connected to the educational content of their courses and recognized that each community was a significant contributor.


At Saint Mary’s College, this Urban Environmental Issues course serves as a general education science course with an integrated community engagement component.  It assists students to fulfill two core curriculum requirements with one course.  Via CILSA (Catholic Institute for LaSallian Action), the institution supports faculty and community partners in their efforts to organize and implement the latter curricular objective.  This does not eliminate the work that is required to implement it. However, CILSA does assist with the administrative challenges (MOUs), helps to maintain more durable college/community organization partnerships, and provides the faculty with additional training on effective implementation.  

About the Authors 

Steven Bachofer teaches chemistry and environmental science at Saint Mary’s College and has worked with the Alameda Point Collaborative for more than 15 years through his affiliation with the SENCER project. He has also co-authored a SENCER model course with Phylis Martinelli, addressing the redevelopment of a Superfund site (NAS Alameda).  

Marque Cass has been in the field of education since before his graduation from UC-Davis, where he earned a BS in Community and Regional Development with an emphasis in Organization and Management. Since January 2019, he has been the youth program coordinator for Alameda Point Collaborative, doing mentoring and advocacy work for formerly homeless families. More recently, he has been elected a community partner liaison with Saint Mary’s College, working to help create stronger networks between organizations.


Bachofer, S. J. (2010). Studying the redevelopment of a Superfund site:  An integrated general science curriculum paying added dividends.  In R. Sheardy (Ed.), Science education and civic engagement: The SENCER Approach, 117–133. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society. 

Godinez Castellanos, J. L., León, A., Reed, C., Lo, J. Y., Ayson, P., Garfield, J., . . . Alemán, E. A. (2021). Chemistry in our community: Strategies and logistics implemented to provide hands-on activities to K–12 students, teachers and families.  Journal of Chemical Education, 98(4), 1266–1274.  

Mattson, Bruce. (2019). Microscale gas chemistry. Omaha, NE: Creighton University. Retrieved from  

Midden W. R. (2018). Teaching chemistry with civic engagement: Non-science majors enjoy chemistry when the they learn by doing research that provides benefits to the local community.  In R. Sheardy and C. Maguire (Eds.), Citizens first! Democracy, social responsibility, and chemistry, 1–31. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society. 

Selco, J. (2020). Using hands-on chemistry experiments while teaching online. Journal of Chemical Education, 97(9): 2617–2623. 

Download the article

Download (PDF, 845KB)

Farming Practices as Funds of Knowledge


This study examines farming practices across regions as funds of knowledge that may be integrated into K–12 curricula and instruction. Funds of knowledge, as conceptualized by Moll, Amanti, Neff, and González (1992), include the knowledge students bring from their families and home communities to the classroom, and serve as resources to enhance curricular relevancy, concept and skill development, learner and family engagement, and a positive learning environment. Funds of knowledge include home language use, family values and traditions, caregiving practices, family roles and responsibilities, and professional knowledge, among other factors identified by González, Moll, and Amanti (2005). This qualitative study interviews four participants with U.S. and international farming experience to invite reflection on practices across cultures and regions. Constant comparative analyses of interviews (Merriam & Tisdell, 2015) highlight ways culture and farming are connected and present farming practices as important funds of knowledge. This inquiry offers valuable implications for elementary curricula and instruction. 


This study examines farming practices as funds of knowledge that may be integrated into K–12 curricula and instruction. Funds of knowledge, as conceptualized by Moll, Amanti, Neff, and González (1992), include the knowledge students bring from their families and home communities to the classroom, and serve as resources to enhance curricular relevancy, concept and skill development, learner and family engagement, and a positive learning environment. Funds of knowledge include home language use, family values and traditions, caregiving practices, family roles and responsibilities, and professional knowledge, among other factors identified by González, Moll, and Amanti (2005). This research has sought to develop theory and practical approaches for educators to learn about the funds of knowledge of language learner families, and all learner families, in their school communities and to “re-present them on the bases of the knowledge, resources, and strengths they possess, thus challenging deficit orientations that are so dominant, in particular, in the education of working-class children” (Moll, 2019, p. 131). Collaborations among teachers, parents, and students are needed. 

Historically, U.S. public schools have not acknowledged the “strategic and cultural resources” or “funds of knowledge” that U.S.-Mexican multilingual learners have brought to the classroom from their home environments (Velez-Ibenez & Greenburg, 1992). Research offers creative approaches for integrating learner funds of knowledge into curricula and instruction. Alvarez (2018) invited bilingual first graders to author autobiographical stories sharing about life in a town on the Mexican-American border. Stories demonstrated self-perceptions as adding to family well-being. Humanizing pedagogies have drawn on students’ politicized funds of knowledge to support critical thinking, literacy skills, and political participation in achieving social equity for all by connecting their lived experiences to school curricula (Gallo & Link, 2015). This study builds on previous research demonstrating family farming experience as valuable student knowledge to engage in elementary science classrooms (e.g., Harper, 2016). Moll (2019) includes farming as one of the careers in the primary and secondary sectors of the economy that learners may bring to the classroom from marginalized working-class homes, and he encourages educators to create opportunity for learners of all backgrounds, including farming families, to “display, elaborate, and share” their experiences as a learning resource and rich knowledge base (p. 131).

Need for the Research

In Fall 2017, 10.1% of students in U.S. public school K–12 classrooms were identified as English Language Learners (ELLs), an increase from 8.1% in 2000 (U.S. Department of Education, 2017–18). These statistics also reflect the population of ELLs in a sample Midwest county, indicating that diversity of student populations exists not only on the borders and coasts, but is integral to the nation. In the Bartholomew County School Corporation in South Central Indiana, of approximately 1,200 students, just over 10% of the K–12 school population identified as English Language Learners (ELLs) (Johannesen, 2019). Of multilingual families in the U.S., about 77% reported speaking Spanish at home, with other common home languages including Arabic, Chinese, and Vietnamese (Bialik, Scheller, & Walker, 2018). Migrant language learning families make up a significant percentage of U.S. agricultural workers. In an article on immigration and farming, Kurn (2018) reflected that “immigrants are deeply involved in this complex journey from seed to plate … an indelible part of rural America, contributing to the economic and cultural fabric of these communities” (para. 2). Farmworkers Justice found that around 70–80% of farmworkers are immigrants, while the United States Department of Agricultural (USDA) found that 60% of all agricultural workers are immigrants (Kurn, 2018, para. 4). The above statistics demonstrate the need to prepare teachers and teacher candidates to support ELLs, farming and migrant families in U.S. schools. Classrooms need curricula and instruction that affirm and engage student backgrounds and knowledge as resources for all in the classroom, including farming knowledge. Moreover, teacher preparation programs need to prepare teacher candidates with curricular resources and instructional capacities for this.


This study seeks to “re-present” (Moll, 2019, p. 131) farming knowledge across cultures and regions as funds of knowledge. To do this, the study examines connections between culture and farming practices, including similarities and differences across the U.S. and international regions. This study further considers how these farming practices as funds of knowledge may be integrated into elementary curricula and instruction and in teacher preparation contexts seeking to prepare teachers to support multicultural, multilingual learners. A model lesson plan (Appendix A), developed in a teacher preparation course for integrating funds of knowledge into curricula and instruction, is shared.


This qualitative study engaged constant comparative analysis (Merriam & Tisdell, 2015) to examine similarities and differences across farming practices and consider how culture and farming shape one another, from the perspectives of participants who have farming experience in the U.S. and in one or more international regions. Collected data included 30–45-minute interviews with four participants identified through a purposive selection process (Merriam & Tisdell, 2015) that involved asking the county’s soil and water conservation district for suggested participants. The first three participants were identified through this route. The fourth participant was identified by inviting volunteers through a social media outreach posted by one of the two researchers conducting the study. All four participants were selected to participate in the study because they had farming knowledge and experience in a U.S. region and in an international region culturally, ecologically, and politically distinct from their own. In the interviews participants were asked to consider how culture shapes and is shaped by farming practices in the U.S. and in international regions where they farmed. The interview protocol is included in Appendix B. Constant comparative analysis was used to identify themes and sub-themes that emerged from the interview data; the themes were not predetermined. This analysis process involved recording participants’ responses to each of the five interview questions, then coding responses focused on the U.S. context or the international context, to identify similarities and differences. The next layer of analysis involved reviewing this chart for key themes that emerged, including theme-based comparisons the participants made about the U.S. and international contexts in which they farmed. Finally, thematic findings were considered for how farming practices as regionally and culturally distinct funds of knowledge might inform and be integrated into K–12 curricula and instruction, and how this integration might play a role in supporting multicultural, multilingual learners and in meeting Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Teacher Preparation Standards.

Findings: Farming Practices as Funds of Knowledge

The findings from this qualitative study build on previous research by suggesting that culture shapes and is shaped by farming practices, and demonstrate specific ways in which U.S. farming practices contrast with farming practices in international settings. Analyses of participant interviews resulted in findings highlighting the following themes: automated vs. manual labor, individual vs. social farming, climate impact on food cultivation, institutionalized vs. personalized practices, and the politics of land ownership. Each of these themes highlights how farming involves funds of knowledge embedded in the communities and cultures of practice.

Automated vs. Manual Labor

Across interviews, participants emphasized distinctions observed in automated farming in the U.S. and manual farming practices in international developing regions, specifically the Philippines, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. One participant reflected on the necessity to be well versed in technology to farm in the U.S.: “Here in the U.S. we are so reliant on technology and the data it gives us” (Peru-Ecuador-U.S. Farming Participant). She noted the similar use of automated practices in Canada, the Netherlands, and England. In contrast, she reflected on practices in Ecuador, where farming was “super hands-on” and where farmers had the opportunity to obtain technology, “but they choose not to, and would rather have their cows they know personally, and 20 cows they milk every day” and yet “here in the U.S. we might have 10,000 cows on a big farm” (Peru-Ecuador-U.S. Farming Participant). 

Individual vs. Social Farming

Another theme that surfaced across interviews is the noted distinction between individual and social farming practices. The participant with experience in the Philippines described farming there as a social enterprise that brought together family and community members. In contrast, he reflected that much of the farming that took place in the U.S. tended to be individually experienced. He noted that in the Philippines, there were “family groups working together in the gardens and fields” and that farming was “part of their social life, so there was a connection there with the culture” that “happens a lot less in the farms here” because “we are just more spread out” (Philippines-U.S. Farming Participant). Another participant, who had farming experience in Bolivia, reflected on his family’s difficult transition to farming abroad but said that their intentional development of friendships resulted in their “farm not walking away on them,” or having items taken. This farmer described his transformation in discovering the importance of community to support one another. He emphasized near the end of the interview, “Get to know your neighbors and the services they can offer for free. That is priceless” (Bolivia-U.S. Farmer Participant), and he encouraged this practice across professional fields and across international regions—in the U.S. as much as in Bolivia.

Climate Impact on Food Cultivation

Only one participant emphasized the importance of climate in shaping agriculture and the kinds of foods that can be cultivated, and thus the kinds of foods that are enjoyed most often by the local culture. This farmer referenced his experience in the Philippines to highlight that “where we live determines the climate and what is possible to grow” (Philippines-U.S. Farming Participant). This then influences the kinds of foods that are enjoyed at family and community gatherings, holidays, and other cultural celebrations.

Institutionalized vs. Personalized Practices

All participants described distinctions between institutionalized farming practices in the U.S. and more personalized farming practices in international regions, particularly the Philippines, Peru, and Ecuador. The participant with experience in Ecuador and Peru described the value farmers hold there for knowing “each cow, personally,” in contrast to her experience in the U.S. She reflected, “In America we are taught Go big and do what makes it easier, but in Peru [the focus is] take care of yourself, take care of the land, take care of others” (Peru-Ecuador-U.S. Farming Participant). She said that in Peru there are more “diverse, small field” crops and that farmers “care more about their native plants and what they can grow well,” but in the U.S., there are “mass farming or commercial farms that plant all the same crop … 100 acres of potatoes and they are exported” (Ecuador-Peru Farming Participant). This participant felt there was more “pride in what [Ecuadorians and Peruvians] grow because they know it is feeding their neighbors and the community,” while in America, it just seems more of an industry” (Peru-Ecuador-U.S. Farming Participant). This participant referenced her observations of farming practices in Canada, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom that minimized “Go big or go home” practices putting smaller farms out of business. For example, a quota system in Canada requires farmers to purchase rights to the amount of milk a farm will produce—aside from the cost involved in producing that milk. Thus, bigger farms have greater incentive to veer from large-scale farm development. This middle ground seemed ideal to her, as Ecuador’s system led to underproduction of milk for the people, yet America’s big farm efficiency led to 100 family farms closing their doors in one year. One of the participants with experience in Bolivia emphasized the political challenges they faced in accessing the resources they needed to sustain their living situation. He felt similar challenges will be faced in the U.S. if big business farming pushes out smaller farms, leading to lease farming, and minimizing a farmer’s ability to understand and respect the land being cultivated. Likewise, another participant noted that most U.S. farm families are “looking for the next generation to farm that same ground,” so it is “critical to preserve that land, so their kids and grandkids can make a living from the land” (Philippines-U.S. Farming Participant). Without personal connection to the land, the process of land ownership can become complex, both financially and politically driven.

The Politics of Land Ownership

The two participants with farming experience in Bolivia continued to emphasize throughout the joint 1.5-hour interview the complex politics involved in land ownership in Bolivia and increasingly in the U.S. One of these participants reflected on observing land permit applications being stacked in one pile for those with “the right connections” and in another pile for those without such connections. He relayed the fear expressed by American Mennonite farmers in Bolivia when a new political leader entered office, and the negative consequences this would have for their ability to access the resources needed to farm and make any profit on their produce. This participant reflected, “governments and institutions are just a way for whoever has control to have legitimacy to look the other way on the people who they want to get ahead” (Bolivia-U.S. Farming Participant). The same farmer expressed concern over the rising trend in big business farming in the U.S., leading to land rentals and pushing smaller generational family farms out of business.

Discussion and Implications

This study offers insights into important connections between culture and farming practices, and demonstrates ways that farming practices are funds of knowledge integral to communities and their cultures. These findings are important for teachers seeking to support multicultural, multilingual learners who may immigrate to a new region and bring a farming background with them, and learners who might gain new knowledge from classmates with a farming background. This study recognizes farming practices as meaningful funds of knowledge that learners and their families may bring to K–12 classrooms, as emphasized by Harper (2016). This study also recognizes that student familiarity with farming will vary based on the family, school, district, and region, and teachers will need to adjust accordingly. More broadly, this study builds connections across local and international cultures to promote glocalization as a valuable societal aim for K–12 schools and society, as supported by Patel and Lynch’s research (2013). This study reveals specific connections across culture and farming practices regarding the use of automated vs. manual labor, individual vs. social farming, the impact of climate on food cultivation, institutionalized vs. personalized farming, and the politics of land ownership.

Implications for Elementary Curricula and Instruction

This study demonstrates ways culture and farming shape one another and reveals farming practices as a significant fund of knowledge that students and their families may bring to a classroom and to a school community. Understanding similarities and differences across regional farming practices can support teachers in integrating this knowledge into curricula and instruction. Moreover, foundational understandings about agriculture connect to important climate-related content. The following themes from this study align with content covered in the Next Generation Science Standards, particularly Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems: Environmental Impacts on Organisms taught in Grade 1, 2, and 3; Weather and Climate in Kindergarten and Grade 3; Earth and Space Systems in Grade 1, 2, 4 and 5; and Structure and Function in Grade 1 and Variation in Grade 3. For example, climate impact on cultivation addresses NGSS 3-ESS2-2: Obtain and combine information to describe climates in different regions of the world, and 3-LS4-3: Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all. Examination of institutionalized and personalized farming practices and the use of land meets NGSS 4-ESS3-2: Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans, and 5-ESS3-1: Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment. The following themes address topics covered by the National Council for the Social Studies Standards, including Culture; People, Places, and Environments; Science, Technology, and Society; Global Connections; Civic Ideals and Practices. The potential thematic connections to these standards are many, and we encourage educators to explore them in depth.

Automated vs. Manual Labor

Teachers might guide elementary students in examining both the values and limitations of automated and manual farming practices in the U.S. and in one or more international regions. Such instruction might draw on this study by asking students to debate the pros and cons of using automated farming equipment for different types of farming work such as harvesting crops and milking cows, and to consider how their own values interact with the cultural values of the regions where these farming practices are implemented. One group of students might be asked to learn about and argue for the cultural value of knowing every cow, as in some smaller farms, while another group may be asked to learn about and argue for the business value of producing high volumes of milk in big farms.

Individual vs. Social Farming and Climate Impact

Teachers might partner with the community by inviting parents, older siblings or students, instructional aides, or other members of local multicultural, multilingual communities to visit their classroom and share about their own or their family member’s experiences with social farming practices in international regions. This sharing might articulate the benefits of farming together to feed the local community, as well as nutritional benefits and traditional celebrations that are based around specific locally cultivated crops. The speaker might also share any challenges navigated in a family unit and/or local community when members are farming together. Related to culturally cherished foods, the teacher might guide students to research the climate of different regions, how this shapes the kinds of foods grown there, and specific dishes and recipes that become integral to cultural gatherings, holidays, and traditions.

Institutionalized vs. Personalized Practices and Land Politics

Teachers might connect two themes of this study, by helping students examine how institutionalized and more personalized approaches to farming shape and are shaped by the politics of land ownership. Student groups might each take a country and examine how the national and local policies of land ownership shape attitudes toward the land and the practices therein. They might also examine how local farmers and their farming needs and practices influence (or not) local and national policies on land use and ownership. As students compare similarities and differences across regions, the teacher will need to guide students to continually contextualize farming and policy practices with broader local and national cultural influences. Students can be guided to view and understand this new information as funds of knowledge they may use to support their own local and global understandings.

Implications for Teacher Preparation

This study offers valuable implications for institutions of teacher preparation, and suggests that the integration of farming knowledge as funds of knowledge into teacher preparation coursework is valuable for multicultural, multilingual classrooms. Both local and international learners and their families benefit from connecting with and learning about local and international farming knowledge and practices. Such knowledge is a window for introducing complex cultural, ecological, and political topics, including automated vs. manual labor, individual vs. social farming, climate impact on food cultivation, institutionalized vs. personalized practices, and the politics of land ownership. Preparing teachers to integrate farming knowledge as culturally shaped funds of knowledge into curricula and instruction supports teacher candidates in meeting the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) Elementary Teacher Preparation Standards, particularly using knowledge of diverse families and communities to plan inclusive learning experiences that build on learners’ strengths and address needs (Standard 1b); integrating cross-cutting concepts in the content area of science (Standard 2c); differentiating plans to meet the needs of diverse learners (Standard 3d); supporting student motivation and engagement through culturally relevant and interesting content (Standard 3f); and collaborating with peers and other professionals to create developmentally meaningful learning experiences for all (Standard 5a). 

Preparing teachers to integrate funds of knowledge into curricula and instruction also supports teacher candidates in meeting TESOL PreK–12 Teacher Preparation Standards, including guiding students to engage in discourse across the content areas (Standard 1a); planning for culturally and linguistically relevant, supportive environments (Standard 3a); utilizing relevant materials and resources to support learning (Standard 3e); and collaborating with the broader community as a resource to support student learning (Standard 5a). A model lesson plan, Farming Practices as Funds of Knowledge for Multilingual Learners, is provided in Appendix A. Local and international farming practices as funds of knowledge serve as a window to better understand students’ diverse backgrounds. It is important to prepare teachers to engage this important form of cultural knowledge to affirm and learn from diverse learners. 

About the Authors 

Laura B. Liu, Ed.D. is an assistant professor and Coordinator of the English as a New Language (ENL) Program in the Division of Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus (IUPUC). Her research and teaching include the integration of civic science and funds of knowledge into elementary and teacher education curricula and instruction.

Taylor Russell is an elementary teacher and earned her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus (IUPUC), with a dual license in teaching English as a New Language (ENL).


Alvarez, A. (2018). Drawn and written funds of knowledge: A window into emerging bilingual children’s experiences and social interpretations through their written narratives and drawings. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 18(1), 97–128.

Bialik, K., Scheller, A., & Walker, K. (2018, October 18). 6 facts about English Language Learners in U.S. public schools. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

Gallo, S., & Link, H. (2015). “Diles la verdad”: Deportation policies, politicized funds of knowledge, and schooling in middle childhood. Special Issue Dissolving Boundaries: Understanding Undocumented Students’ Educational Experiences for Harvard Educational Review, 85(3), 357–382.

García, O. (2009). Bilingual education in the 21st century: A global perspective. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

González, N., Moll, L., & Amanti, C. (Eds). (2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities and classrooms. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Harper, S. G. (2016). Keystone characteristics that support cultural resilience in Karen refugee parents. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 11, 1029–1060.

Johannesen, K. (2019, January 26). BCSC superintendent outlines legislative priorities. The Republic. Retrieved from

Kurn, J. (2018, August 24). Immigration and the food system. Cambridge, MA: Farm Aid. Retrieved from:

Merriam, S. B., & Tisdell, E. J. (2015). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Milway, K. S. (2010). The good garden: How one family went from hunger to having enough. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press.

Moll, L. C. (2019). Elaborating funds of knowledge: Community oriented practices in international contexts. Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice, 68, 130–138.

Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & González, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory Into Practice, 31(2), 132–141.

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next generation science standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: Introduction. (n.d.). Silver Spring, MD: National Council for Social Studies. Retrieved from

Patel, F., & Lynch, H. (2013). Glocalization as an alternative to internationalization in higher education: Embedding positive glocal learning perspectives. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 25(2), 223–230.

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

TESOL International Association (TESOL). (2019). Standards for initial TESOL Pre-K–12 teacher preparation programs. Alexandria, VA: Author.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), Local Education Agency Universe Survey, 2017–18. Retrieved from

Vélez-Ibáñez, C. G., & Greenberg, J. B. (1992). Formation and transformation of funds of knowledge among U.S.-Mexican households. Anthropology & Education Quarterly 23(4), 313-335.  

Appendix A

Lesson Plan: Farming Practices as Funds of Knowledge for Multilingual Learners

Teaching Context

Grade Level(s): 5th   
Number of Students: 20–25  
Multilingual Learners: 50–75%

Lesson Planning

Indiana Science Standard 5.ESS.3:
Investigate ways individual U.S. communities protect the Earth’s resources and environment.

Learning Outcome:
Students will COMPARE how communities in three regions practice sustainable farming.

Indiana Social Studies Standard 5.2.8, Roles of Citizens:
Describe group and individual actions that illustrate civic virtues, such as civility, cooperation, respect, and responsible participation. 

Learning Outcome:
Students will DESCRIBE sustainable farming practices in three regions as funds of knowledge. 

WIDA ELD Standard 3 and WIDA ELD Standard 5:
English language learners communicate information, ideas and concepts necessary for academic success in the content areas of Science and Social Studies

Language Objectives:
Students will IDENTIFY and DESCRIBE similarities and differences in sustainable farming practices as funds of knowledge in Honduras, Guatemala, and the U.S. (Indiana).

Lesson Instruction

Lesson Introduction: 

Share with the class three pictures of sustainable farming practices, in Honduras, Guatemala, and the U.S. Ask if anyone knows or can guess what sustainable farming, means. Repeat student ideas in English and Spanish and write ideas in both languages on the board. Provide a definition for sustainable farming in English and Spanish. Explain that sustainable farming is important for all countries as everyone needs access to sustainable, nutritious food. Note the class will learn about sustainable farming practices in three different countries today: Honduras, Guatemala, and the U.S.—Columbus, Indiana! Introduce the book, The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough (Milway, 2010). Ask the class to examine the title and picture on the front cover to predict what the book may be about. Explain the book is about one family’s work in Honduras to begin sustainable farming practices, by creating a garden to provide sustainable food security for local families. 

Learning Activities: 

Pass out the Venn Diagram graphic organizer.

I DO: Model for students how to complete the Honduras section. Read The Good Garden in English, with Spanish translation by the instructional aide. Complete this sentence frame on the board: “In Honduras, sustainable farming can include ____ and ____.”

WE DO: Invite the instructional aide to share in English and Spanish about sustainable farming practices on her grandparents’ farm in Guatemala. As a class, complete this sentence frame on the board: “In Guatemala, sustainable farming can include ____ and ____.”

YOU DO: Play video a local farmer in Columbus, Indiana created about sustainable farming practices that many farmers use in Indiana. Invite students to pair-share and complete this sentence frame by speaking and writing, in English OR another language: “In Columbus, Indiana, sustainable farming can include _____ and _____.”

Lesson Conclusion: 

Invite pairs to verbally respond to the following questions: What are similarities across the sustainable farming practices in Honduras, Guatemala, and Indiana? What are differences? Students will be invited to use their Venn Diagrams and the following sentence frames to respond: “One similarity in sustainable farming practices across the three regions is ______.” and “One similarity in sustainable farming practices across the three regions is ______.” Ask students how these practices relate to the concept, funds of knowledge, shared in the previous lesson. Conclude that the sustainable farming practices discussed today are funds of knowledge of the cultures and families within those regions, including their agricultural, environmental, and professional knowledge.

Appendix B

Interview Questions: Farming Practices as Funds of Knowledge

Interview Introduction: 

We are conducting this interview as part of a study to learn more about farming practices as funds of knowledge and how these may be integrated into K–12 classroom curricula and instruction. Dr. Luis Moll, from the University of Arizona, studied and describes  funds of knowledge as the knowledge that students bring from their families and homes to the classroom, which can be used to teach concepts and skills in the classroom curricula. Dr. Harper of the University of Georgia encourages reciprocal construction of classroom knowledge in which families’ farming practices are engaged as valuable  funds of knowledge in science. 

Funds of knowledge can include a variety of understandings, such as cultural traditions, values, beliefs, languages, professional skills, farming practices, recipe nutrition, etc.

Interview Questions:

1. Explain any farming practices that are valuable to your culture and may represent  funds of knowledge within your culture.

2. Explain any views toward the ecology and the land that are important in your culture and may represent  funds of knowledgewithin your culture.

3. Do you feel your culture and farming practices are connected? Explain your response.

4. Do you feel your culture may shape farming practices in your region of origin? Explain.

Download the article

Download (PDF, 567KB)

Promoting STEM Learning through a Multidisciplinary SENCER Framework at a Minority-Serving Institution


The Prospect Park Biodiversity Project was a SENCER collaboration project between the Departments of Biological Sciences, Chemistry, and Mathematics at the New York City College of Technology.  The goal of this project was to enhance students’ participation and learning in STEM disciplines through a civically engaged framework. The project utilized the eco-complexity of Prospect Park Lake in Brooklyn, New York for an interdisciplinary study on the water quality. The project, which involved ten students and four faculty mentors, integrated microbiology, chemistry, and mathematics perspectives using active-learning pedagogies, including hands-on exploration and collaborative learning.


The Prospect Park Biodiversity project was initiated by four faculty—a microbiologist, a biochemist, and two mathematicians—at the New York City College of Technology (City Tech).  Located in downtown Brooklyn, City Tech is a public, open access, non-residential, minority-serving institution. With students representing the demographics of Brooklyn and the Metropolitan New York City area, it is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse higher education institutions. The intention of the project was to promote STEM learning among women and underrepresented minority students through an interdisciplinary collaboration in a SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities)  framework (Figure 1).  The main goals were to accomplish the following: 

  1. To promote STEM learning through a hands-on collaborative interdisciplinary experience.
  2. To create an undergraduate research experience for students.
  3. To heighten students’ awareness of community resources and their civic responsibilities.
  4. To encourage STEM learning and research among women and underrepresented minority students.

According to Heidi Jacobs’ manual, “interdisciplinary” is defined as a “knowledge view and curriculum approach that consciously applies methodology and language from more than one discipline to examine a central theme, issue, problem, topic, or experience.”  She recognized the growing need for interdisciplinary content and emphasized “linkages” and “relevance” rather than fragmentation or polarity in curriculum design (Jacobs, 1989).  Studies have shown that an interdisciplinary framework for teaching encourages cognitive thinking and real life problem-solving (Husni & Rouadi, 2016; Cowden & Santiago, 2016). Pedagogy in Action, a project of the Science Education Resource Center (SERC) and the National Science Digital Library (NSDL) that shares and disseminates pedagogical practices, points out that interdisciplinary teaching helps foster the development of self-efficacy and multi-dimensional thinking, such as recognizing bias and understanding moral and ethical considerations (Pedagogy in Action, 2021). Shifting away from the traditional discipline-focused learning, today’s education values interdisciplinary learning in multi-perspective contexts and the transferability of skills across disciplinary boundaries (Murray, Atkinson, Gilbert, & Kruchten, 2014).  

Research also shows that active-learning pedagogy enhances the success of underrepresented minority students in STEM. Ballen, Wieman, Salehi, Searle, and Zamudio (2018) found that active-learning pedagogy (ALP) disproportionately positively benefited underrepresented minority (URM) students in science classes. While the non-URM (white and Asian) students showed little or no difference in course performance using ALP compared with the traditional lecture, the URM students showed an increase in science self-efficacy and sense of social belonging in classes that employed ALP, resulting in better grades and academic performance for URM students (Ballen et al., 2018). For active-learning pedagogies, Cattaneo (2017) used key words such as discovery-based, project-based, learner-centered, interdisciplinary, collaborative, etc., all considered high-impact STEM education practices for promoting deeper understanding and critical thinking, and for building STEM identity and belonging (Betz, King, Grauer, & Montelone, 2021; Kuh, 2016; Repko, 2006; Singer, Montgomery, & Schmoll, 2020).  

The SENCER framework was chosen because we believe in SENCER’s mission of connecting STEM learning to real-world problems and the issues of local, national, and global importance as well as teaching students about their civic responsibilities (SENCER).  The site of our study was Prospect Park, which was selected not only for its vast biodiversity and eco-complexity, but also for its vital role in the life and vigor of the community as “Brooklyn’s Backyard.” With 10 million visits a year, the Park provides events, concerts, and recreational and educational programs to help promote healthy, balanced living for its community. With one lake, the Park supports wildlife habitat of over a hundred species of birds and other fauna and offers resting, feeding, and breeding grounds for migratory birds (Prospect Park Alliance, n.d.).  

Project Design

The four faculty designed an interdisciplinary project involving students from the following three courses: Microbiology (BIO3302), General Chemistry 2 (CHEM 1210), and Statistics (MAT 1372). Students selected for the project would also enroll in the Honors and Emerging Scholars Programs, undergraduate research programs at City Tech. Of the ten undergraduate students, seven (70%) were female, seven (70%) were identified as underrepresented minority; five (50%) were female in the underrepresented minority group. Altogether, nine (90%) of the ten participants were either female or underrepresented minority students. They came from various STEM and health majors including Biomedical Informatics, Chemical Technology, Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Nursing. The project had three main components:

  1. Disciplined specific research with the faculty mentor: Students worked individually with the faculty mentor of their discipline to review literature and study the background of the project.
  2. Group work and interdisciplinary activities: Students and faculty from all three disciplines worked collaboratively in team meetings, laboratory experiments, field trips, etc.
  3. Project presentations and conference participation: Students were encouraged to disseminate their research results at local and national venues. This is integral to STEM identity building. 

The project attempted to investigate the key question “What is the water quality in Prospect Park Lake?”  The project activities were hands-on and exploratory, and encompass the scientific process from the microbiology, chemistry, and mathematics perspectives. The students worked as a team throughout the whole project. They went on field trips to Prospect Park, made observations of the park habitat, and collected water samples from the lake.  A map of Prospect Park Lake is provided in Figure 2, showing the water collection sites numbered 1–5 in red.  These accessibility sites were defined by the Prospect Park Alliance. Next, 50-ml water samples were collected in sterile tubes from the five sites in the lake. To avoid bacterial growth, the water samples were stored at 4°C in a cooler. After water collection, the team of students reconvened in the laboratory and performed chemical and microbial analysis (Figures 3 and 4). 


The Microbiology Perspective

As a result of an extensive literature search, students found that one of the most-used parameters to monitor environmental water quality is the level of enteric bacteria (coliforms), usually occurring in the intestines of humans, animals, and birds.  The presence of coliforms, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Enterobacter spp. is an indicator of fecal contamination (Coulliette, Money, Serre, & Noble,  2009; Tortora & Funke, 2013). This could be of serious concern because the higher levels of coliforms show potential presence of pathogens (bacteria, viruses, etc.) and other pollutants (Bergman, Nyberg, Huovinen, Paakkari, Hakanen, & the Finnish Study Group for Antimicrobial Resistance, 2009). 

In our research, following collection of water samples, the students performed tenfold serial dilutions, and 1 ml from each dilution was inoculated, using nutrient agar and MacConkey agar plates (Gavalas & Cook, 2015). Nutrient agar is a general-purpose medium, supporting growth of wide range of microorganisms. MacConkey agar is a selective and differentiating medium for cultivation of coliforms (E. coli and Enterobacter spp.) After incubation at 37°C for 48–72 hours, the number of bacteria was determined by the colony forming units (CFU) assay. The colonies were counted manually, and the results shown as the number of CFU in 100 ml of water. Additionally, Simmons Citrate agar was used to differentiate between E. coli and Enterobacter spp. 

The Chemistry Perspective

The chemistry perspective focused on examining water quality in terms of dissolved oxygen, conductivity, concentration of nitrates and nitrites, pH, and hardness of water. Chemical analysis was performed on the water samples in the following manner: a) a Fischer Scientific Traceable Conductivity Meter was used to measure the conductivity; b) the dissolved oxygen (DO) was measured using the Winkler Method (data are reported as an average of three trials); and c) LaMotte multi-factor test strips were used to measure the water pH and nitrate or nitrite levels. All analyses were done at room temperature.  Distilled water was used as reference sample (where the dissolved oxygen levels were recorded to be 6.6 ppm and the conductivity 2.3 μS/cm [microSiemans/cm], both acceptable values).

The Mathematics Perspective 

The mathematics perspective provided students with the tools to examine the experimental data, think critically, and make scientific connections between the data and the water quality.  Students used Excel spread sheets for data analysis. Students learned to formulate alternative and null hypotheses based on practical problems and assessed the data critically using chi-squared test and correlation coefficient.

Results and Discussion

The Prospect Park Lake provides a wide variety of habitats with multiple wildlife species. The results from our water sample analysis are presented in Table 1. The students identified the potential sources of fecal contamination to be domestic dogs and wildlife. A variety of birds were observed along the lake (specifically at sites 1, 4, and 5), such as ducks, geese, and swans (members of Anatidae family). It has been shown that some birds can excrete high amounts of coliforms, which may be a potential risk for pathogens. An earlier study has demonstrated that the density of aquatic birds affects the total number of bacteria in lakes, as birds are a natural source of coliforms, including E. coli (Hoyer, Donze, Schulz, Willis, & Canfield, 2006). 

Furthermore, the students observed the presence of multiple freshwater turtles at site 3, which most likely contributed to the highest numbers of total bacteria and coliforms at that site. Another factor resulting in the large number of bacteria at sites 2 and 3 could be the water stagnation, with lack of aeration and water currents, and the fact that these sites of the lake are very narrow. In contrast, the low number of total bacteria and coliforms at sites 4 and 5 could be explained by the water dynamics and free flow, as well as the location of the sites at the widest part of the lake. Other potential factors that affect the total number of bacteria are the temperature and weather conditions. Our results indicate that the sites in which the number of coliforms was higher are the areas with significant concentration of wildlife. Thus, it seems that the water contamination is due to the inhabitants of Prospect Park Lake. Moreover, the samples obtained from sites 4 and 5, which are from the area used for recreation purposes such as fishing and boating, showed the lowest bacterial levels. The numbers of coliforms at all sites of the lake, however, were above the safety standards established for boating and fishing (1000 CFU/100ml) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2017).

Conductivity and dissolved oxygen are two important water quality parameters.  Conductivity measures the ability of a solution (such as water) to conduct electricity and can be correlated to salinity level. Higher conductivity values indicate more dissolved ions (which are necessary to conduct electricity) such as phosphate or chloride anions, or calcium or sodium cations (EPA, 2012a).  Prospect Park Lake appears to be on the lower end of conductivity; lakes and river water in the U.S. are typically 50–1500 μS/cm (EPA, 2012a).    The level of dissolved oxygen in water is temperature dependent.  Colder water typically has higher levels of dissolved oxygen (EPA, 2012b). Stagnant water contains less dissolved oxygen.  This was observed in sites 2 and 3, as the water was stagnant.  These two sites also had the lowest dissolved oxygen levels.   According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) (2018), as organic matter decomposes, “bacteria in water can consume oxygen,” which may also point to why the levels of bacteria at sites 2 and 3 are high and dissolved oxygen levels relatively low, as well as to their moderately strong negative correlation coefficients (see mathematical analysis below). On the other hand, most enteric bacteria (coliforms) are facultative anaerobes.  In the presence of oxygen, they perform oxidative metabolism (respiration), whereas if dissolved oxygen levels are low, they switch to fermentation and still survive. As noted previously, the high bacterial counts at site 1 could be attributed to birds along the lake.  For aquatic life (i.e., fish) to be sustained, the dissolved oxygen level in water should be above 5 ppm.   Overall, the water quality of Prospect Park Lake (based on dissolved oxygen level) shows potential to support some aquatic life.

The undergraduate students made use of Excel spread sheets to record, organize, and analyze data. Students were tasked with finding the correlation between several parameters using correlation coefficients. The correlation coefficient, r, takes on a value between –1 and +1; an r value close to 1 implies a strong positive correlation between two parameters, an r value close to –1 implies a strong negative correlation, and an r value close to zero implies weak or no correlation.  We found a moderate negative correlation between the total number of bacteria with dissolved oxygen (r=-0.64353) and the number of coliforms with dissolved oxygen (r=-0.52226); a correlation between bacteria and dissolved oxygen is expected as explained in the paragraph above. Comparisons of other parameters yielded insignificant correlations. A chi-squared test on the number of coliforms revealed statistically significant variations in coliform counts between various sites for all sample data (p-value < 0.0001), meaning that the variations in the coliform counts were too large to have occurred by chance alone. Other factors such as animal activities and water conditions (stagnation or open lake) may have contributed to the coliform counts, as previously discussed.

This project led to two poster presentations at City Tech’s Semi-Annual Poster Sessions for Honors and Emerging Scholars, two oral presentations and a poster presentation at the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) Metropolitan New York Section Annual Conference, an oral presentation at the SENCER Regional Conference hosted by City Tech, a poster presentation at SENCER Summer Institute (SSI) and a student publication in the City Tech Writer (our college journal for exemplary student writing)  (Gavalas & Cook, 2015). 

A highlight and an eye-opening event for the students was the SENCER Summer Institute.  Here are comments by students reflecting their experience:

My SSI trip was one of highlights of my summer. And it was my first time attending an out-of-state conference. Although my team and I were the youngest participants, I really enjoyed showing the audience our poster. Many of them commended us for our work.… I watched many presentations by other attendees and even got to learn interesting facts about the National Park Service. It was amazing to hear what they do to preserve our country’s national parks.

My peers and I had the opportunity to meet the other attendees, and learned about the topics of their projects.…  I had an amazing time, thank you Professors for the opportunity.  

My group and I presented our poster and communicated with attendees of various backgrounds. It was interesting to see the poster presentations that (other) professors and students worked on.


Collaboratively, faculty members from biology, chemistry, and mathematics designed an interdisciplinary SENCER project on Prospect Park biodiversity.  Our investigation revealed that the coliforms in Prospect Park Lake exceeded the safety standards for secondary human contact (boating and fishing) (1000 CFU/100ml) established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, 2017). The water quality in the lake is considered “threatened” (e.g., supports recreational use but exhibits a deteriorating trend) because of contamination with coliforms and other pollutants. In the last decade, the Prospect Park Alliance worked diligently to engage the community, expand its volunteer force, and secure funds for restoration and environment protection projects. We recognize the importance of their work and how much more still needs to be done. 

In addition to the SENCER framework, the project achieved its four goals: (1) The project activities were interdisciplinary, collaborative, and hands-on. All students regardless of disciplines were engaged in the activities; computer science and engineering students learned about biodiversity and performed laboratory tests alongside biology and chemistry students; biology and chemistry students learned to formulate and test scientific hypotheses using Excel alongside computer science students. (2) All students were required to enroll in the undergraduate research program and worked with faculty mentors an average of two hours per week. Research activities included one-on-one research with the faculty mentor as well as joint work with all faculty and students in the team. (3) All students had to read literature regarding water quality and its importance before starting the activities.  In addition, all students worked collaboratively to prepare posters and presentations, resulting in seven presentations and one student publication. (4)  Nine of the ten participants were women or underrepresented minority students in STEM or in a health major. All participants successfully completed the program.  Faculty and students shared the sentiment and appreciation for the richness and meaningfulness of the experience.  Future work may include an expansion or repetition on a regular basis for the benefits of civic engagement and educational values. 


This work was partially supported by a SENCER Post-Institute Implementation Award. We acknowledge the SENCER mission, which gave this team the opportunity to create a nontraditional and interdisciplinary curriculum to support the STEM learning of our students. We also acknowledge the City Tech Foundation, which provided financial support for students to present at the SENCER Summer Institute.

We acknowledge the excellent research performance of all student-researchers: Andrew Cook, Natassa Gavalas, Victor Adedara, Edrouine Gabriel, Erica Yeboah, Mallessa Yeboah, Eni Sejdini, Bryan Cespedes, Farjana Ferdousy, Natalie Nelson. We are grateful to the Office of Undergraduate Research, Emerging and Honors Scholars Programs at NYC College of Technology and City Tech Foundation for their support. DS acknowledges the support of the Chemistry Department and CUNY Compact funding.  The authors dedicate this paper in memory of Dr. Janet Liou-Mark, mathematics professor, scholar, and humanitarian.

About the Authors

Diana Samaroo is a professor in the Chemistry Department at NYC College of Technology in Brooklyn, New York.   She has experience in curricular and program development, as well as administration as the chairperson of the Chemistry Department for six years.  She has mentored undergraduates under the support of the Emerging and Honors Scholars program, CUNY Service Corps, Louis-Stokes for Alliance Minority Participation (LS-AMP), and the Black Male Initiative programs.  She serves as co-PI on several federal grants, which include NSF S-STEM, NSF RCN-UBE, and NSF HSI-IUSE grants. With a doctoral degree in biochemistry, Dr. Samaroo’s research interests include drug discovery, therapeutics, and nanomaterials.  Her pedagogical research is in peer-led team learning in chemistry and integrating research into the curriculum.

Liana Tsenova is a professor emerita in the Biological Sciences Department at the New York City College of Technology. She earned her MD degree with a specialty in microbiology and immunology from the Medical Academy in Sofia, Bulgaria. She received her postdoctoral training at Rockefeller University, New York, NY. Her research is focused on the immune response and host-directed therapies in tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. Dr. Tsenova has co-authored more than 60 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals and books. At City Tech she has served as the PI of the Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program, funded by NIH. She was a SENCER leadership fellow. Applying the SENCER ideas, she mentors undergraduates in interdisciplinary projects, combining microbiology and infectious diseases with chemistry and mathematics, to address unresolved epidemiologic, ecologic, and healthcare problems. 

Sandie Han is a professor of mathematics at New York City College of Technology. She has extensive experience in program design and administration, including service as the mathematics department chair for six years, PI on the U.S. Department of Education MSEIP grant, and co-PI on the NSF S-STEM grant. Her research area is number theory and mathematics education.  Her work on self-regulated learning and mathematics self-efficacy won the CUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mathematics Instruction in 2013. She was one of the eight selected participants in the CUNY-Harvard leadership program in 2018.

Urmi Ghosh-Dastidar is the coordinator of the Computer Science Program and a professor in the Mathematics Department at New York City College of Technology – City University of New York. She received a PhD in applied mathematics jointly from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University and a BS in applied mathematics from The Ohio State University. Her current interests include parameter estimation via optimization, infectious disease modeling, applications of graph theory in biology and chemistry, and developing and applying bio-math related undergraduate modules in various SENCER related projects. She has several publications in peer-reviewed journals and is the recipient of several MAA NREUP grants, a SENCER leadership fellowship, a Department of Homeland Security grant, and several NSF and PSC-CUNY grants/awards. She also has extensive experience in mentoring undergraduate students in various research projects.   


Ballen, C. J., Wieman, C., Salehi, S., Searle, J. B., & Zamudio, K. R. (2018). Enhancing diversity in undergraduate science: Self-efficacy drives performance gains with active learning. CBE Life Sciences Education, 16(4).

Bergman, M., Nyberg, S. T., Huovinen, P., Paakkari, P., Hakanen, A. J., & the Finnish Study Group for Antimicrobial Resistance. (2009). Association between antimicrobial consumption and resistance in escherichia coli. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, 53(3), 912–917. 

Betz, A. R., King, B., Grauer, B., Montelone, B., Wiley, Z., & Thurston, L. (2021). Improving academic self-concept and stem identity through a research immersion: Pathways to STEM summer program. Frontiers in Education, 6, 281.

Cattaneo, K. (2017). Telling active learning pedagogies apart: From theory to practice. Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research, 6(2), 144–152.

Center for Brooklyn History, Map Collections. (2021). Prospect Park map, 2009. Retrieved from 

Coulliette, A. D., Money, E. S., Serre, M. L., & Noble, R. T. (2009). Space/time analysis of fecal pollution and rainfall in an Eastern North Carolina estuary. Environmental Science & Technology, 43(10), 3728–3735. 

Cowden C. D., & Santiago, M. F. (2016). Interdisciplinary explorations: Promoting critical thinking via problem-based learning in an advanced biochemistry class. Journal of Chemical Education, 93(3),464–469.

Gavalas, N., & Cook, A. (2015). Prospect Park biodiversity project: A microbiological perspective. City Tech Writer, 10, 6–10. 

Hoyer M. V., Donze, J. L., Schulz, E. J., Willis, D. J., & Canfield, D. E., Jr. (2006). Total coliform and escherichia coli counts in 99 Florida lakes with relations to some common limnological factors. Lake and Reservoir Management, 22(2), 141–150.

Husni, N., & Rouadi, N. (2016). Interdisciplinary curriculum empowers cognitive advancement to solve real life problems. Journal of Education and Learning, 5(4),34–43. 

Jacobs, H. H. (Ed.). (1989). Interdisciplinary curriculum: Design and implementation. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Kuh, G. D. (2016). Making learning meaningful: Engaging students in ways that matter to them. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 145, 49–56.

Murray, J. L., Atkinson, E. J. O., Gilbert, B. D., & Kruchten, A. E. (2014). A novel interdisciplinary science experience for undergraduates across introductory biology, chemistry, and physics courses. Journal of College Science Teaching, 43(6), 46–51.

Pedagogy in Action. (2021, May 26). Why teach with an interdisciplinary approach? Retrieved from 

Prospect Park Alliance. (n.d.) Official web site of Prospect Park. Retrieved from 

Repko, A. F. (2006). Disciplining interdisciplinarity: The case for textbooks. Issues in Integrative Studies, 6(24), 112–142 

Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER). (2016–2017). SENCER: An NCSCE initiative. Retrieved from 

Singer, A., Montgomery, G., Schmoll, S. (2020). How to foster the formation of STEM identity: Studying diversity in an authentic learning environment. International Journal of STEM Education, 7, 57.

Tortora, G. J., & Funke, B. R. (2013). Microbiology: An introduction (11th ed.). Boston: Pearson. 

United States Geological Survey (USGS). (2018, June 5). Dissolved Oxygen and Water. Retrieved from

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2012a, March 6). Conductivity. Retrieved from 

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2012b, March 6).  Dissolved oxygen and biochemical oxygen demand. Retrieved from 

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2017, October). National water quality Inventory: Report to Congress. Retrieved from 

Download the article

Download (PDF, 1.57MB)


Winter 2022: From the Editors

In the winter 2022 issue of this journal, we are delighted to feature a collection of five project articles, plus a special tribute to Dr. David Ferguson, whose generosity of spirit and commitment to student success touched many within the SENCER community and beyond. This tribute section is introduced by Dr. Eliza Reilly, Executive Director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement.

Steven Bachofer (St. Mary’s College) and Marque Cass (Alameda Point Collaborative) describe a collaboration to develop a community outreach chemistry lab under the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using portable microscale gas chemistry equipment, students at St. Mary’s College recorded an instructional video on how to perform the lab activity, which guided students at the Alameda Point Collaborative Youth Program as they performed the experiment during a shared Zoom meeting. This case study shows how cooperation and creative use of technology was able to create a shared scientific experience despite the challenges of the pandemic.

Jacqueline Curnick and Brandi Janssen, both at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, examine the transfer of scientific knowledge after a science café. These community gatherings provide an opportunity for scientific researchers to engage with the general public in an informal setting. The authors organized two science café series held in rural Iowa, with a focus on environmental health. A qualitative evaluation of the events included a questionnaire and follow-up phone interviews. This evaluation revealed that science café participants shared the information they learned via three main connections—family and friends, professional colleagues, and community groups. This article demonstrates the value of science cafés as a forum for informal scientific outreach to local communities.

David Green (Florida Gulf Coast University) provides a critique of an ecoresort exercise that is a team-based, active learning component of a course on environmental sustainability. After describing the structure and learning goals of the ecoresort activity, the author compares the project design to educational best practices, such as Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning and Merrill’s Principles of Instructional Design. This careful analysis of a SENCER-based instructional module illustrates how the application of teaching and learning principles can be used to enhance educational effectiveness.

What are “funds of knowledge”? Laura B. Liu and Taylor Russell from Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus explore this concept in the context of farming practices. By interviewing participants who have farmed in the U.S. and international regions, the authors reveal interesting connections between farming and culture, such as automatic vs. manual labor These funds of knowledge about farming can be used to inform K–12 curricula and instruction to support multicultural and multilingual learners.

A team of faculty from New York City College of Technology (Diana Samaroo, Liana Tsenova, Sandie Han, and Urmi Ghosh-Dastidar) developed an interdisciplinary biodiversity project to examine the water quality in Prospect Park Lake in Brooklyn, NY. Students engaged in authentic civic research by integrating analytical techniques from microbiology, chemistry, and mathematics. After collecting and analyzing their data, students developed their communication skills by presenting their results at conference poster sessions.

We wish to thank all the authors for sharing their scholarly work with the readers of this journal.

Matt Fisher & Trace Jordan

Marcy Dubroff
Managing Editor


Download the Full Issue

Download (PDF, 2.39MB)

Access Individual Articles

Pandemic Reading Roundup

For almost 12 months, we have been living through the worst pandemic in more than 100 years. During that time, much has been written about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19, especially by journalists writing for various media; I have been particularly impressed by the work of Ed Yong (The Atlantic), Kai Kupferschmidt (Science), and Carl Zimmer (The New York Times). But now we are seeing books being published on COVID-19, and it is some of those that I want to look at more closely. 

Raul Rabadan’s Understanding Coronavirus (Cambridge University Press, 2020) is designed, as the title suggests, to help the reader comprehend some of the basic science involved in the coronavirus pandemic. The publisher describes the book as “a concise and accessible introduction to all the science and facts you need to understand how the virus works.” That turns out to be a good description of the book. Rabadan is a Professor of Systems Biology and Biomedical Informatics at Columbia, and he describes the book as his attempt to inform a general reader (one who has very limited knowledge of biology, virology, or epidemiology) about the basic science important to understanding the pandemic. In 94 pages, he provides an overview of the molecular biology and epidemiology of the virus, a little bit of genomics connected to SARS-CoV-2 origin and evolution, and comparisons to other respiratory viruses like influenza and the coronavirus responsible for the 2003 SARS outbreak. There is also a chapter at the end that looks at therapeutic options such as drugs or vaccines, although I found it much more dated and incomplete than other parts of the book. Readers interested in learning more about the vaccines currently being deployed will have to look elsewhere, as the chapter’s description of vaccines is restricted to general concepts applicable to any vaccine. My second criticism of the book is the small size of some of the graphics, particularly some that portrayed genomic relationships. The organization of chapters and subsections as a series of questions makes it easier for readers to find information. I’m not sure how easy it would be for the general public to understand everything in the book; to me it seemed that a background equivalent to college general biology would be needed to grasp all the ideas that Rabadan presents. But for STEM faculty, particularly those in biology or chemistry or environmental science, I see Understanding Coronavirus as a useful way to get basic background information on epidemiology and virology. 

Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live by Nicholas Christakis (Little, Brown Spark, 2020) and COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One by Debora MacKenzie (Hachette Books, 2021) take very different approaches than Rabadan. Both Christakis and MacKenzie set out to contextualize the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. Christakis is a physician and sociologist on the faculty at Yale, where his research, as described on his group’s website, “focuses on how human biology and health affect, and are affected by, social interactions and social networks.” Not surprisingly, he takes an expansive approach to understanding COVID-19, one that places the current pandemic in the context of how humans have responded to pandemics and disease outbreaks over the past 2500 years. Apollo’s Arrow is wide ranging in the different aspects of the current pandemic that it examines. Medicine, public health, social interactions, network science, human psychology, economics, and policy are all explored in this book. The last two chapters look forward to how the pandemic may end and how global society was changed by the experience. But Christakis is not a dispassionate narrator simply describing the events that happened; throughout the book he incorporates sharp and appropriate criticisms of how governments and organizations responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. When I finished Apollo’s Arrow, I felt that I had gained a much broader and nuanced understanding of how pandemics, including the current one, impact human lives and societies. I also realized that while humanity has in some ways made significant progress since the Black Death of the Middle Ages, in other ways we seem to make the same mistakes again and again.

MacKenzie is a European science writer who has written for The New Scientist for many years, including articles on the subject of infectious diseases. She uses a different framework for her overview of the COVID-19 pandemic, placing it in the context of how we deal with emerging pathogens. Her narrative of how the current pandemic unfolded is connected much more to recent outbreaks such as the 2003 SARS and Ebola outbreaks than is Christakis’s book (although Apollo’s Arrow does make some reference to the first SARS outbreak). She also incorporates how governments around the world and international organizations have tried (with widely varying degrees of success) to be prepared for future pandemics. Like Christakis, MacKenzie is very critical of what she views as mistakes and oversights that contributed to the severity and global toll of COVID-19. As the title COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One suggests, the book also looks at what actions need to be taken on a global scale to ensure that the world is prepared for the next pandemic. MacKenzie makes it very clear in her book that the question is not “Will there be another pandemic?” The question is when it will happen, and will the pathogen be one that we have encountered in the past or a new one that will have jumped from an animal to humans.

I found both Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live and COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One well worth reading. For STEM faculty teaching courses with a focus on microbiology and emerging infectious diseases, MacKenzie’s book may be slightly preferable. On the other hand, faculty teaching courses with a broader focus (courses for nonscience majors, first-year seminar courses) may find Christakis’s book more useful. Personally, I’m happy that I have both of them on my bookshelf.

While Christakis and MacKenzie set out to describe what happened and contextualize the events of the COVID-19 pandemic, two other books are more focused on just the analysis. Richard Horton is the longtime editor of The Lancet, a British weekly medical journal that is one of the oldest in the world. In June, he published The COVID-19 Catastrophe: What’s Gone Wrong and How to Stop It Happening Again (Polity Press, 2020), which may be best described as a combination of analysis and polemic. The dictionary definition of polemic is “an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another”; as a longtime advocate for the importance of global public health, Horton is well prepared to present an aggressive refutation of how the world responded to COVID-19. He uses as examples how different countries responded to the pandemic, although he provides more details about actions/inactions in the US, UK, and China. Consequently, reading Horton’s book may help US readers develop a better sense of how similar or dissimilar government reactions to COVID-19 were in different countries. The COVID-19 Catastrophe doesn’t go into as much detail about global responses to other pandemics as MacKenzie’s book does. When Horton does make comparisons between COVID-19 and other pandemics, it is typically to the SARS outbreak of 2003 and what was learned from that. The book was published in June 2020 and presents Horton’s scathing critique of government responses to COVID-19 in the first six months of the pandemic. In the last two chapters of the book, Horton looks at the implications of COVID-19 for society in general, particularly in regard to the problem of inequality. I found the argument and analysis in this section significantly less compelling than the earlier sections of the book. A major difficulty is that Horton’s argument comes across as much more abstract, theoretical, and unevenly supported. Faculty may find the The COVID-19 Catastrophe worth reading as one person’s analysis of the mistakes that were made and how countries should respond differently in a future pandemic, but I think there is significant overlap between this book and the one by MacKenzie.

In The Pandemic Information Gap: The Brutal Economics of COVID-19 (MIT Press, 2020), Joshua Gans approaches the pandemic from the perspective of economics. A recurring theme in his analysis is that responding to COVID-19 is, in many ways, an information problem. How do we know who has been exposed, who is infected, and who is capable of infecting others? Another recurring theme is the challenge of balancing human health and economic activity. Separate chapters look at a number of different topics: viral transmission and human behavioral responses, communicating public health information, distributing resources that are limited in quantity, restricting physical movement, testing, re-emerging safely from periods of mandated lockdowns, and the role of innovation. The final chapter asks what we should learn from the COVID-19 pandemic and how that knowledge can inform future actions. As an economist, Gans’s perspective on these topics is markedly different from, although not opposed to, what I routinely encounter in the scientific literature. As I read the book, I found myself thinking in new ways about aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic that students and I had talked about during 2020. 

There are, however, two chapters where I felt Gans’s analysis fell far short: the question of wearing masks and the role of innovation. In his discussion of the changing recommendations on wearing masks, Gans writes that “[w]e, the public, were played. And we were played by those whom we were supposed to trust implicitly because of their expertise.” Harsh words, which Gans tries to justify in a footnote, where he writes:

I use the word “played” to refer to the fact that experts gave advice to prevent mask adoption by claiming that there were no public health benefits from using face masks when there was ample evidence that masks would prevent the spread of infections prior to COVID-19.

However, I think Gans is ignoring two important things. The first is how our understanding of COVID-19 infection was rapidly changing in the spring. Aerosol transmission, now viewed as a significant mechanism for infection, wasn’t initially understood as well as it is now. The extent to which transmission involved people who were asymptomatic was also becoming clearer. Gans also makes no mention of the mixed and often contradictory messaging coming from public health and government officials and the politicization of wearing a mask. I’m not suggesting that there isn’t room to criticize how public health messages related to masks were conveyed to the general public. There is. But I found Gans’s analysis of this topic flawed and incomplete. In a later chapter focused on the role of innovation in combatting the pandemic, Gans’s analysis completely ignores how scientific research on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 built on a combination of prior research on other viral diseases (AIDS, Ebola, SARS) as well as the development of new technologies long before the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, RNA-based vaccines have been an area of active research for at least a decade and were being actively discussed before Gans’s book was published in November 2020. But even with these flaws, I would recommend The Pandemic Information Gap: The Brutal Economics of COVID-19 to faculty interested in seeing how another discipline approaches the challenge of a pandemic.

All of the books that I’ve described up to this point are works of nonfiction, most of them in the category of science writing. I want to finish this reflection on pandemic reading by encouraging faculty to spend some time also looking for works that are more creative in nature. In The Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Higher Education: Branches from the Same Tree,  the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine encouraged faculty to continue efforts to integrate the arts and humanities with STEM in higher education. Such integration offers potential for increased student engagement and learning. Living through a pandemic certainly provides unique opportunities for such integrations. There are, of course, the obvious “classics”: Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year and Albert Camus’ The Plague. But more recent works may also be of interest to faculty and students. Emily St. John Mandel’s luminous Station Eleven is a novel set in a post-pandemic world that explores the idea embodied in the phrase “because survival is insufficient” (from a Star Trek: Voyager episode). Mandel’s novel is wonderful exploration of the human spirit and ways we can bring meaning into our lives. There Is No Outside: COVID-19 Dispatches (published in June 2020) is a collection of essays that look at the experience of COVID-19 in a variety of contexts: prisons, emergency rooms, homeless encampments, migrant camps, and even in our homes. I will finish with two poems written in response to COVID-19. Paul Muldoon’s “Plaguey Hill”  is set in a small village in central New York state but connects back to memories of the Plaguey Hill burial mound in Belfast, Ireland that contains the bodies of people who died in the cholera epidemic of the 1830s.  Simon Armitage’s “Lockdown” connects an outbreak of bubonic plague in the English village of Eyam in the 17th century and the resulting quarantine to the experience of living in the UK during the COVID-19 lockdown.  

List of Books Reviewed

Christakis, Nicholas A. (2020). Apollo’s arrow: The profound and enduring impact of coronavirus on the way we live.  Pp. 384.  New York: Little, Brown Spark. ISBN 978-0316628211.

Gans, Joshua. (2020). The pandemic information gap: The brutal economics of COVID-19. Pp. 160. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0262539128.

Horton, Richard. (2020). The COVID-19 catastrophe: What’s gone wrong and how to stop it happening again. Pp.140. Cambridge: Polity Press. ISBN 978-1509546466.

MacKenzie, Debora. (2021). COVID-19: The pandemic that never should have happened and how to stop the next one. Pp. 304. New York: Hachette Books. ISBN 978-0306924248.

Rabadan, Raul. (2020). Understanding Coronavirus. Pp. 120. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1108826716.

About the Author

Matthew A. Fisher is a professor of chemistry at Saint Vincent College, where he has taught since 1995. He teaches undergraduate biochemistry, general chemistry, and organic chemistry lecture. Active in the American Chemical Society, he has been involved in ACS’ public policy work for more than 15 years and was recognized as an ACS Fellow in 2015. His research interests are in the scholarship of teaching and learning, particularly related to integrative learning in the context of undergraduate chemistry.

Download the article:

Download (PDF, 2.69MB)

Integrating Feminist Pedagogy into Science Teacher Education


With a growing need to give underrepresented populations equitable opportunities in science, less traditional pathways for science instruction must be considered. Incorporation of feminist pedagogies into secondary science teacher education provides an opportunity for pre-service teachers (PSTs) to help underrepresented minority groups connect to and build an interest in science. A civic engagement project was designed for undergraduate students in a capstone course in a Women and Gender Studies program, in which students were charged with identifying and interviewing a person in their dream career who was involved in feminism. This paper discusses the responses from an interview with a secondary science education methods professor with an intersectionality as an African-American female scientist in a predominately White institution in the Midwest. The interview focused on how different feminist principles affected her goals for the science education courses she teaches, and included a critical analysis and discussion of activities completed in the secondary methods course. In this paper we discuss how a secondary science methods course grounded in inclusionary feminist principles led to the development of activist pre-service science teachers with a commitment to representation and to recognition and discussion of bias.  The data supporting the project are excerpts from the interview questions as well as specific activities implemented in the secondary science methods course that influenced the first author’s lesson plan development and philosophy of teaching. Clearly, experiences for PSTs that are grounded in exposure to and awareness of pre-service teacher activism, representation, and recognition and discussion of bias are necessary if we are to create equitable opportunities and to foster an interest in science that is accessible to all students and teachers. 

Keywords: feminist pedagogy, secondary pre-service teachers, activism, secondary science education, feminism, inclusion, diversity, STEM


The purpose of this paper is to discuss how incorporation of feminist pedagogies and principles such as representation, recognition, discussion of bias, and science educator activism in a secondary science methods course provides a framework for future science educators. The current demographics of the STEM workforce reveal that Black and Hispanic workers are underrepresented, and this indicates a need to ensure that STEM pedagogy is made available to underserved students (Funk & Parker, 2019). Teachers are on the front lines when it comes to encouraging and fostering student interests and must therefore be prepared to meet the diverse needs and experiences of the students in their classrooms. In science education, minority representation is lacking in both the curriculum and in those who teach it. Over 90% of science educators are White, and in the progression from middle school to high school, the percentage of female teachers in science drops from 70% to 54% (Wilson, Schweingruber, & Nielsen, 2015).

Uplifting the next generation of scientists and science educators starts with breaking the cycle of traditional teaching methodology, in which White teachers are prepared to inspire only White students. This shift can occur through applying feminist pedagogy to science education. Many feminist scholars of science education desire a change in how and what students are taught—with a shift in favor of inclusive practices and curricula that encourage underrepresented populations to connect and thrive in science (Brotman & Moore, 2008; Capobianco, 2007; Richmond, Howes, Kurth, & Hazelwood, 1998). Another feminist scholar Karan Barad (2001, p. 237) argues that most scientific literacy projects have failed because society is so scientifically illiterate and believes that scientific literate information is irrelevant. Thus, attempting to help students see science as significant to their lives is paramount and requires practices that fully engage them with the nature of science as a social process (Barad, 2001). This feminist and African-American professor attempted to move toward these goals in her secondary science methods course. The project, called the Training Future Scientist Program (TFS), is embedded in a secondary methods course using culturally responsive teaching and feminist pedagogies to explore how these pedagogies can influence traditional White secondary science pre-service teachers (PSTs) who will teach secondary students during student teaching and in their future classrooms. 

This paper highlights how integration of feminist pedagogy into a secondary science methods course will prepare secondary PSTs with the skills they need to foster a passion for science in all students. Using this pedagogy will equip these future secondary school teachers with the tools they need to motivate students who are often underrepresented in the STEM curriculum and in the STEM workforce. For our discussion, “underrepresented” includes both females and students of diverse ethnic groups. 

Feminist Pedagogy in PST Education

There are many different approaches to the incorporation of feminist pedagogy into science education. Broadly defined, “the tenets of feminist praxis [are combined] with the principles of science teaching” (Barad, 2001, p. 3); at its core, feminist pedagogy focuses on utilizing educational practices that support the diverse needs and experiences of all students, while examining and dismantling the biases within the current educational system (Capobianco, 2007). Examples range from (a) incorporating practices that encourage more female participation and (b) utilizing methods with an emphasis in activism, to (c) analyzing what aspects of science education are currently excluding women and minorities (Capobianco, 2007). Teo (2014) reports newer approaches toward feminist studies in science education that focus on activism, in which feminist principles like intersectionality, identity, and positionality are used to empower students to take control of their understanding of science. Jackson and Caldwell (2011) attempted a project for non-major biology students that coupled the Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) approach with feminist pedagogy. The goal of this project was to encourage students to (a) investigate the production of knowledge, (b) participate in construction of knowledge, and (c) apply these skills to issues requiring civic engagement and responsibility. Through the connection of civic importance to science information, many students gained increased confidence and engagement with the material (Jackson & Caldwell, 2011). Our goal of implementing feminist pedagogy in PST education is similar to the goals of the Jackson and Caldwell project, and includes making the content and connections meaningful and relevant to students and their community.

Our idea of feminist pedagogy for PST education draws upon all students’ interests, experiences, and preconceptions. We want to validate the voices and experiences of all, while challenging oppressive practices and structures that are currently in place, in order to eliminate the historic inequity found within the education system (Capobianco, 2007). With that foundation, our PST education would incorporate the following four approaches presented by Brotman and Moore (2008) in an effort to engage underrepresented populations more effectively and meaningfully in science: (a) equity and access (the need to eliminate inequities and provide equitable science opportunities in the classroom), (b) curriculum and pedagogy (changing what is taught to include the experiences, learning styles, and interests of all students), (c) reconstructing the nature and culture of science (changing how science is viewed and defined in school and society), and (d) identity (encouraging all students to incorporate science as a component of their identity) (Brotman & Moore, 2008).  

Description of the Interview

For a capstone course in a Women and Gender Studies program, the students were given the following charge: Identify and interview a person in your dream career involved in feminism. The first author selected the second author, a Black female secondary science methods assistant professor, because the experiences he had in her secondary science methods course and her research interests published on the university’s website included “[providing] authentic science instruction to underrepresented students in grades K-5, by preparing elementary science PSTs in SCI 397” (Ball State University, 2020). This decision led to an interview and post-interview discussion concentrated around how science methods courses can authentically prepare PSTs to recognize and discuss bias, as well as to promote inclusivity in their future classrooms.

The interview included seven questions to reveal how feminist principles including diversity, inclusion, ethnicity, and gender contributed to her pedagogical reasoning. The questions were as follows:

  1. What influenced your decision to become a science educator?
  2. When and how did you develop an interest in creating a more positive space for underrepresented students in science classrooms?
  3. What do you believe are the biggest issues schools are facing in terms of inclusion and diversity?
  4. What are your recommendations for how science teachers can get more students, especially minority students, interested in further pursuing science?
  5. How have race/ethnicity and gender impacted your goals and career path up to this point?
  6. Do you consider yourself a feminist?  Do you consider your work to be contributing to feminism?
  7. If you could offer two pieces of advice to future science educators looking to pursue a similar pathway (i.e. increasing diversity in the science education classroom, getting more minority/ underrepresented students interested in science,…etc.) what would they be?

Following the interview, four projects that highlighted feminist principles the first author participated in while in the second author’s secondary methods course were also discussed. Brief summaries of the projects are provided below.

  • “Shadow-A- Scientist”: Each student identified a STEM research interest, chose a scientist at the university to shadow and spent a minimum of 12 hours working alongside the scientist in their research lab.
  • DAST (Draw-a-Scientist Test): Each student drew a scientist and chose a skin-colored crayon to shade in the reverse side of the image. An analysis and discussion of the images drawn, and colors chosen followed the assignment.
  • Black History Month Bingo: Trivia presented during each class throughout the month of February educated students about prominent African Americans across many different career fields. Students actively participated in discussion and in a process of determining the identified person on their bingo board. 
  • Precision versus Accuracy Lab: Students were given a ruler and a block and asked to take measurements of the length, width, height, and volume. The measurements were compared to the expected results, followed by a discussion of why discrepancies occurred.

Outcomes of the Interview

Analysis of the responses to the interview questions and the activities completed in the course revealed three major themes that should be addressed in PST science methods courses. These themes include representation, recognition and discussion of bias, and creation of activist science educators.  


In the interview, the following responses involved representation:


 1.  “I was the first African American and female to earn a Ph.D. in my program and I am the first African American to pursue a tenure-track position in the biology department at BSU. So, a lot is riding on my success so I have to make it so others know they can do it.”

2.  “My ethnicity and gender have provided me access since being an African-American female places me in a diverse and marginalized group to earn a Ph. D. and work at a predominantly white university.”

3.  “Most of my work focuses on reducing the fears of White female PSTs to teach underserved diverse groups with confidence and competency.… I am producing teachers that are not afraid to work with diverse underserved groups.”

In her responses, Dr. Robinson-Hill focuses on how representation has affected her life firsthand (Response 1 & 2) and on the positive impact she is trying to make within the education system (Response 3). The experiences she has had throughout her career have allowed her to recognize the changes needed to create PSTs who are not only prepared to teach underrepresented groups (Response 3) but who can also inspire them to pursue careers in STEM themselves. Women and other underrepresented groups are often disinclined to choose careers in STEM because of the lack of role models (Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara, & Pastorelli, 2001; Brickhouse, Lowery, & Schultz, 2000). Thus, having a Black and female professor for this secondary science methods course could potentially impact both underrepresented demographics of PSTs and inspire their future students to pursue a career in STEM. Boumlik, Jaafar, and Alberts (2016) have alluded to the important influence that role models in higher education can have on students’ future academic and career choices.  Research has also shown that a more diverse population of science educators can encourage PSTs of color to be more committed to multicultural teaching, social justice, and providing children of color with academically challenging curriculum (Sleeter, 2001, p. 95). Thus, diverse PST educators could lead to a more diverse population of teachers: the cyclical advancement begins when students also learn and connect to STEM because they see themselves represented (Brickhouse et al., 2000). 

With her understanding of the need for representation in PST education courses, the second author implemented two activities mentioned above, “Shadow-A- Scientist” and Black History Month Bingo. Incorporation of the “Shadow-A-Scientist” project allow PSTs to be paired with professionals and share in an authentic and positive research experience. This firsthand research experiment and mentorship can affirm PSTs’ commitment to pursuing careers in STEM, as it did for the first author. Estrada, Hernandez, and Schultz (2018) have also shown that authentic science research and mentorship have a positive impact on underrepresented minorities who pursue STEM careers, and thus, recreating this experience in the PST’s future classroom, can provide students with a reciprocal learning opportunity. The other representation activity, Black History Month Bingo, can serve as both an implicit and an explicit representation instructional activity, focused on highlighting the achievements and exceptionalities of hidden figures in a minority community. The adaptability of the activity for other meaningful cultural awareness months, including LGBTQ Pride, Women’s History, Hispanic Heritage, and more, allows for in-depth coverage of many areas of diversity.  

Recognition and Discussion of Bias

In the interview, the following responses involved recognition and discussion of bias:


1. “What influenced me to become a science educator were the fears I saw in many of the White female teachers that were hired by my school district in STL. I felt I had the secret to their success in my tool belt, so I decided to leave secondary education and become a professor to train future teachers in grades K-12 that desire to work with underserved diverse groups.”

2. “My desire to create a positive space for underserved students in science classrooms was to motivate these students to want to do science by allowing them a space to do science without being judged if they did not get the right answer.”

In further discussion of her responses, Dr. Robinson-Hill said that the secret to the success she had with her White female PSTs (Response 1) was providing them with an education grounded in authentic learning experiences coupled with activities preparing them to work  and learn with underserved students. Many White PSTs do not understand the level of inherent bias and discrimination, especially regarding race/ethnicity (Sleeter, 2001).  The DAST activity brought this phenomenon of inherent bias to light by exposing the stereotypes we hold about those who pursue science. As seen in other studies, even at a young age many students hold masculine ideals of a scientist (Brotman & Moore, 2008). The other bias that was analyzed by this activity was ethnicity. The crayons chosen represented skin tones, and the first author, as did much of the class, chose a color that closely resembled his own skin tone. This in combination with the drawings, allowed for an in-depth discussion about our subconscious association with things that are similar and how to be cognizant of our own inherent biases around gender and ethnicity. 

Bias can be seen outside of gender and racial categories as well, as is exemplified by the Precision versus Accuracy lab. The Precision versus Accuracy lab addressed assumptions and misconceptions in science education regarding previously obtained knowledge. Even though using a ruler is a presumed basic skill, this activity revealed to the first author the diversity of knowledge on how to read and use a ruler, and thus the possibility for misunderstanding and confusion. This experience resulted in the first author’s recognition of the inherent value of beginning a lesson with a basic fundamental skill review that provides every student an equitable foundation. Dr. Robinson- Hill mentioned in their discussion how the Precision versus Accuracy lab was so important in creating the infrastructure for success in a science classroom. Through this activity, Dr. Robinson-Hill instilled in the first author the need to provide students the opportunity to learn—no matter what their previous background knowledge—while supporting them through success and failure without judgement (Response 2). Creating an equitable base for all students to build their knowledge upon while thwarting biases is a central approach of our feminist pedagogy.

Creation of Activist Science Educators

In the interview, the following responses involved the creation of activist science educators:


1.  “The biggest issue we are facing in schools in terms of inclusion and diversity is the lack of access to authentic science instruction for diverse populations of students.”

2.  “Some possible recommendations for how science teachers can get more diverse students interested in pursuing science is allowing them access to inquiry-based science in their schools, then access to authentic science experiences in the summer at BSU and other universities.”

3.  “Two pieces of advice I would give to future science education majors would be: 1) to make sure you advocate for diverse students in your school to have access to science and science enrichment opportunities: and 2) make sure you stay connected to university researchers that are willing to invite secondary students and/or teachers into their lab to perform research.”

The theme of activism was present in Dr. Robinson-Hill’s responses through her determination to provide her students, and especially her underserved students, with the best possible instruction, (Response 1 and 3). Teacher preparation programs that emphasized advocacy for students and families and incorporated it into fieldwork led to PSTs who were advocates both in and out of the classroom (Whipp, 2013). By getting more underrepresented students interested in STEM, we create growth in schools and in the community.  When students of color choose to pursue STEM, the experiences are usually service oriented, affording these students with opportunities to volunteer and participate in their communities (McGee & Bentley, 2017).

Dr. Robinson-Hill also instilled authentic science opportunities through guided and open inquiry (Response 2). Inquiry-based lessons focus on student engagement and give students the opportunity to find solutions through individual input and collaboration. Inquiry lessons allow teachers to function as facilitators of high-quality prompts while not dominating the classroom conversation (Bulba, 2015). It is highly effective in conjunction with feminist pedagogy, where teachers function as collaborators, negotiators, and facilitators (Capobianco, 2007).  This process can amplify student voices and provide associated mentorship, which leads to students’ investing in and impacting their own education. 

It was important to analyze the topics of representation and bias in order to allow the first author, a White male secondary PST, the chance to grasp the value of advocating for and becoming an activist educator for underrepresented students. Studies have shown that many White PSTs rarely discern discrimination, especially racism, and these challenges can then appear in the classroom (Sleeter, 2001). It has also been noted that many PSTs and in-service teachers have low efficacy in terms of teaching African-American children successfully (Sleeter, 2001). Discussion about representation, bias, and equity are essential if PSTs are to appreciate the needs of all students and thus properly educate and advocate for them. Having a secondary methods course that incorporates modeled activities with a basis in the three themes mentioned above allows for the success of PSTs, especially those who are White, in realizing the changes that need to occur within science education in order to influence underrepresented groups to enter. This realization also comes with understanding the importance of transferring the knowledge and skills learned in their teacher preparation programs to their future classrooms. 


As a result of this entire process, the first author realized the value of connecting research to real-life practice. The meaningful connections in one-on-one conversations with professionals in the field can have a greater impact on teacher pedagogy than traditional classroom instruction. The interview was an epiphany in the first author’s own understanding of science education and comprehension of the skills needed to improve as a future science educator. Boumik et al. (2016) found that perceptions of gender inequalities in the sciences are related to a person’s attitudes and behaviors, and, especially if their culture is different from the majority culture, this can impact their viewpoint in specific sectors of STEM.  Indeed, further research may show that inclusion of personal reflection and direct interaction with passionate secondary science methods professors could have a significant impact on skill development and the future success of secondary science PSTs. Potential outcomes from these relationships might include the creation of meaningful experiences, the ability to directly relate to students, and an opportunity to bring real-world meaningful experiences into the classroom.

About the Authors

Jackson Z. Miner is a graduate of Ball State University with a major in secondary life science education, a major in biology with a concentration in zoology, and a minor in women and gender studies. He is starting his career as a secondary science educator and has a passion for diversity, inclusion, and equity. Contact at


Dr. Rona Robinson-Hill is an assistant professor at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. Her research focuses on teaching and learning in elementary and secondary science methods courses, so that pre-service teachers learn how to reach underserved populations by using culturally relevant, inquiry-based pedagogy. She is the Principal Investigator of the Training Future Scientist (TFS) Program, which exposes elementary and second pre-service teachers to authentic pedagogy to reduce their fears about teaching science to diverse underserved students. This program provides instruction in inquiry-based elementary science teaching for diverse underserved students in grades K–5 and gives secondary science educators an opportunity to perform research in a STEM research lab. Contact at


Ball State University, Department of Biology, Biology Department. (2020). Rona Robinson-Hill.  Retrieved from

Bandura, A., Barbaranelli, Caprara, G, & Pastorelli, C. (2001) Self-efficacy beliefs as shapers of children’s aspirations and career trajectories. Child Development (72), 187-206. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00273.

Barad, K. (2001). Scientific literacy ◊ agential literacy = (learning + doing) science responsibility. In M. Mayberry, B. Subramaniam, and L. Weasel (Eds.), Feminist science studies: A new generation, 226–246. New York, NY: Routledge.

Boumlik, H., Jaafar, R., & Alberts, I. (2016). Women in STEM: A civic issue with an interdisciplinary approach. Science Education and Civic Engagement, 8(1), 66–88.

Brickhouse, N., Lowery, P., & Schultz, K. (2000). What kind of a girl does science? The construction of school science identities. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37(5), 441–458.

Brotman, J. S., & Moore, F. M. (2008). Girls and science: A review of four themes in the science education literature. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(9), 971–1002. doi:10.1002/tea.20241

Bulba, D. (2015, November 10). What is inquiry-based science? Retrieved from

Capobianco, B. M. (2007). Science teachers’ attempts at integrating feminist pedagogy through collaborative action research. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(1), 1–32. doi:10.1002/tea.20120 

Estrada, M., Hernandez, P. R., & Schultz, P. W. (2018). A longitudinal study of how quality mentorship and research experience integrate underrepresented minorities into STEM careers. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 17(1). doi:10.1187/cbe.17-04-0066

Funk, C., & Parker, K. (2019, December 31). Diversity in the STEM workforce varies widely across jobs. Retrieved from 

Jackson, J. K. & Caldwell, J. (2011). Feminist interventions in less than feminist spaces applying feminist pedagogies to the large non-majors science classroom.  Science Education and Civic Engagement, 3(1), 26–35.

McGee, E., & Bentley, L. (2017). The equity ethic: Black and Latinx college students reengineering their STEM careers toward justice. American Journal of Education, 124(1), 1–36. doi:10.1086/693954

Richmond, G., Howes, E., Kurth, L., & Hazelwood, C. (1998). Connections and critique: Feminist pedagogy and science teacher education.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35(8), 897–918. doi:10.1002/(sic)1098-2736(199810);2-p

Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities. (2016–2017). SENCER. Retrieved from 

Sleeter, C. E. (2001). Preparing teachers for culturally diverse schools. Journal of Teacher Education, 52(2), 94–106. doi:10.1177/0022487101052002002

Teo, T. W. (2014). Inside versus outside the science classroom: Examining the positionality of two female science teachers at the boundaries of science education.  Cultural Studies of Science Education, 10(2), 381–402. doi:10.1007/s11422-014-9581-4

Whipp, J. L. (2013). Developing socially just teachers: The interaction of experiences before, during, and after teacher preparation in beginning urban teachers. Journal of Teacher Education, 64(5), 454–467. doi:10.1177/0022487113494845

Wilson, S. M., Schweingruber, H. A., & Nielsen, N. (2015). Science teachers learning: Enhancing opportunities, creating supportive contexts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.Saint Vincent College


Download the article:

Download (PDF, 793KB)

Winter 2021: From the Editors

For the Winter 2021 issue of this journal, we are delighted to feature a research article and an extensive book review. A previously published project report, however, has been removed. These contributions reflect a variety of creative connections between science education and civic engagement.

Jackson Miner and Rona Robinson-Hill, both at Ball State University, examine the impact of integrating feminist pedagogies into secondary science education. Drawing on a rich interview with an African-American female scientist, who teaches a secondary education science course at a predominantly White institution, this research article explores how inclusionary feminist principles influenced the pedagogical development of pre-service teachers. The outcomes of the project included a commitment to representation, recognition and discussion of bias, and motivation for reconceptualizing lesson plans and teaching philosophy. The authors provide a valuable case study for using inclusive educational principles to broaden interest in science among students and teachers.  

The second contribution to this journal issue is a book review essay from one of us (Matthew A. Fisher, Saint Vincent College) that discusses how various authors are analyzing our current experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic. Ranging from scientific principles to public policy, these books provide insights into the origin, spread, and impact of the novel coronavirus. A common theme in several of these books is the systemic failure to mount an adequate response to containing COVID-19, which has now caused more than 2 million deaths worldwide. The book review concludes with references to works of fiction and poetry, which provide a literary lens for processing the personal and societal toll of the pandemic. 

We wish to thank all the authors for sharing their scholarly work with the readers of this journal.

Matt Fisher and Trace Jordan

Download the Full Issue

Download (PDF, 4.94MB)

Access Individual Articles

Turning STEM Education Inside-Out: Teaching and Learning Inside Prisons


The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program is an international network of teachers and learners who work to break down walls of division by facilitating dialogue across social differences.  In this model, first developed by Lori Pompa at Temple University, campus-based college students (outside students) join incarcerated students (inside students) for a college course that is taught inside a correctional facility.  Compared to other disciplines, STEM courses are underrepresented in the Inside-Out program.  Here we discuss the unique opportunities of teaching a STEM course inside prison using the Inside-Out approach and how it differs from other models of STEM teaching in prison.  Our analysis is based on the experience of three instructors from two liberal arts colleges, who taught Inside-Out courses in statistics, number theory, and biochemistry inside a medium-security state prison for men.  


For over 20 years, the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program (, based at Temple University, has brought campus-based college students together with incarcerated students for semester-long courses held in prisons, jails, and other correctional settings all around the world (Davis and Roswell, 2013). The Inside-Out approach to education is a collaboration between all parties involved, not one in which higher education professors and students go to a carceral organization to “help inmates” out of a sense of volunteerism or charity. The Claremont Colleges Inside-Out program at the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC), a medium-security  state prison for men located in Norco, CA, was originally brought to Claremont by Pitzer College (one of the Claremont Colleges).  The Claremont Colleges Inside-Out program is run in part by a group of incarcerated men at CRC who are vital members of our “Think Tank.”

Although hundreds of Inside-Out courses have been taught nationwide and the outcomes have been extensively studied (Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, 2020), a very small number of the Inside-Out courses offered to date have been in the fields of mathematics or the natural sciences. In this paper, we explore some of the unique challenges and opportunities of using the Inside-Out approach for STEM classes.  

We recognize that there are myriad STEM programs inside carceral institutions.  They range from the nationally supported (e.g., NSF INCLUDES Alliance) to the very local (e.g., a program at CRC that allows inmates to earn an AA degree from Norco Community College).  At the Claremont Colleges, a group of student volunteers goes into prisons to teach non-credit physics, chemistry, and engineering through the Prison Education Project ( 

In contrast, here we are addressing the specific case of bringing traditional campus (outside) students into prison, not to be teachers, but to be co-learners alongside incarcerated (inside) students.  The simple difference of bringing together inside and outside students (which for us included both male and female students) fundamentally changes the structure of the classroom.  Without the co-learning process, both the inside and outside students miss out.  As part of the Inside-Out experience, the inside students have an opportunity to learn material to which they do not necessarily have access; but more importantly, the power structure of the learning is dismantled in a setting (a STEM class) where hierarchies typically dominate the space (Martin, 2009). For the outside students, the disruption of the power structure of the STEM classroom can be enlightening. The outside students experience the depth of learning that can happen when ideas come from many different perspectives.  In our experience, the impact of the Inside-Out classroom can be transformative for both groups of students, helping them to approach their learning and the world in a more humane way (Peterson, 2019).  

Here we present reflections based on three separate courses (math, statistics, and biochemistry) taught by three instructors from two different liberal arts colleges.  All three instructors had completed the weeklong Inside-Out Training Institute, and we were all teaching our first class in this format.  Each course was a full semester, credit-bearing course for all students, both inside and outside.  During the semester, the courses met once per week for up to three hours a week inside the prison.  We will talk about each course individually and then integrate our thoughts to offer a synthesis and analysis.

Thinking with Data (Jo Hardin)

Although Math 57 was a statistics class taught at an introductory level, it was not “Introduction to Statistics” as most university campuses conceive it.  The learning goals centered around being able to critically evaluate numbers and claims based on data that are presented.   The hope was for the students to realize that statistical conclusions are being made around them every day, and that to understand how those conclusions come about is a matter not only of quantitative literacy but also of a larger logical framework.  

Each week, the students read from a chapter of a statistics text (Utts, 1999) along with external articles.  For example, during the week when we covered sampling, the text was supplemented by articles on the sampling methods suggested by the Census Bureau as a way to improve the accuracy of the census—methods that were ultimately ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, although statisticians believe the outcome of the ruling is to continue to undercount people of color and people with transitional living situations (Department of Commerce v. U.S. House of Representatives, 1999).  During the week covering probability, we spent time discussing forensics and how different “match” probabilities (e.g., hair match, DNA match, etc.) can have very different accuracy rates.

A typical day started with an activity designed to bring us all into the space, followed up with an activity which would highlight the day’s topic.  For example, during the week in which we covered confidence intervals, I brought in a blow-up globe.  We stood in a circle and threw the ball to one another, each time recording whether our right thumb landed on water or land.  We used technical details from the week’s readings to calculate a confidence interval for the proportion of the Earth that is covered in water.  (Depending on the correctional facility’s character, you might not choose to throw a ball around in an Inside-Out class; some facilities have strict security protocols and will not allow anything to be thrown around the classroom.)

After the topic-specific activity, we would often gather in small groups with a list of pre-written discussion questions.  The thought questions were meant to help the students dig deeper into the readings and debate the topic at hand.  Time and again, both the inside and outside students reported that the group discussions were their favorite part of the class.  In their small groups, hesitant students were given a voice, and each student could share their understanding of the material without fear of speaking up incorrectly in front of the entire class.

 Although we often ran short on time, we would always close with some kind of reflection on the material or on the day’s activities.  Sometimes we would go around the circle with a one-word reflection.  Sometimes I would ask them to report the part of the day which they were still struggling to wrap their heads around, or, slightly nuanced, the topic which was hardest to understand in general. 

After the class session each week, students were asked to write a reflection essay.  The reflection essay was among the most powerful aspects of the class, as it gave the students an opportunity to spend time putting down on paper both their emotional reactions and their understanding of the statistical topics.  The reflection paper had three sections: (1) observations from the class meeting—anything that stood out, (2) statistical analysis—using references from the texts, and (3) emotional reactions—feelings.

The reflections essays were not given a letter grade, yet they served the incredibly valuable purpose of connecting each and every student to both the material (statistical content) and the people in the room.  Detailed instructor feedback was provided on the essays, and without the essays, especially the personal reflection part, it would have been much harder for the students to feel connected and integrated into the course.

The last three weeks of the semester were spent working on projects whose purpose was to bring the ideas from the class into a larger space.  Outside visitors were invited to the closing ceremonies, but the logistics surrounding visitors’ clearance was unfortunately too complicated.  Instead, the students presented their projects to each other.  One group did a Dear Data ( assignment where they compared artistic visualizations of the data describing a week in an inside student’s life with a week in an outside student’s life.  Another group made a chain link out of construction paper where each link detailed a study, a dataset, or an individual’s story describing recidivism.  A third group talked about some of the biggest misconceptions in statistical studies and how we can raise our consciousness to form valid conclusions about a study. 

HIV/AIDS: Science Society & Service (Karl Haushalter)

Chemistry 187 explored scientific and societal perspectives on infectious disease.  The course was divided into three modules focusing on plague, HIV-AIDS, and tuberculosis, with time approximately evenly divided between societal context and scientific content.  The complex and multidisciplinary challenges of responding to highly stigmatized infectious diseases such as HIV-AIDS can be fertile ground for exploring the entanglement of science and society, as demonstrated by the large number of published courses that use HIV-AIDS as a focus for integrating science education and civic engagement (for example, see Fan, Conner, & Villarreal, 2014; Iimoto 2005; SENCER 2020a; SENCER 2020b).  

Chemistry 187 was taught with the Inside-Out pedagogy, which emphasizes a dialogic approach with the majority of class time spent in small, mixed discussion groups (Pompa, Crabbe, & Turenne, 2018).  For the Chemistry 187 content related to our societal readings, this format was a natural fit for the issues we examined.  The students learned substantially from each other, especially given their differing perspectives based on life experiences related to the social determinants of health, which was an underlying theme of the course.  

Implementing the Inside-Out pedagogy for the science content of Chemistry 187 was challenging for me as an instructor.  Many of our chosen topics (e.g., virology) required a firm understanding of threshold concepts (e.g., the central dogma of molecular biology) in order to have an entry point into meaningful discussions (Meyer and Land, 2003).  As an instructor, I felt that I could not ignore the variation in previous exposure to biology instruction, but I did not want to center upon this difference either.  Thus, even though the students majoring in biology could have taught lessons on the threshold concepts, this approach would be counter to the spirit of Inside-Out in which the students are all co-learners. Ultimately, I used a hybrid approach that featured some mini-lectures that I strived to make as interactive as possible. When possible, these mini-lectures were preceded by small-group brainstorming sessions to generate motivating questions for the mini-lectures and followed by small-group applied problem-solving sessions.  The Inside-Out emphasis on community building, through icebreakers, circle activities, and jointly authored ground rules, paid dividends in the smooth functioning of the small group science lessons.   

If Chemistry 187 were taught as a traditional college campus-based course, the class would utilize technology (lecture slides, PyMOL, YouTube animations) for visualizing the molecular details of host-pathogen interactions.  In prison, where it was not possible to routinely access this type of technology, our class had to develop other methods to help the unseeable be seen.  Indeed, the absence of technology led to creative solutions.  By providing the students with large-format flip chart paper and thick colored markers, I allowed them to be creative in making colorful, detailed images that were even more informative than the standard slides used in the traditional campus-based course.  Several of the students had untapped artistic talent and working together with their classmates to interpret our readings, they were able as a group to communicate complex scientific ideas visually on the flip chart paper.  

An important part of an Inside-Out course is the end-of-semester group project. These projects are intended to be focused specifically on intersections of the course disciplinary topic and prison, with a strong emphasis on application (Pompa, Crabbe, & Turenne, 2018, p. 55).  In Chemistry 187, teams were blended, with two or three inside students and two or three outside students in each team.  All students were tasked to bring their own expertise to bear on the project, the theme of which was picked by the student teams.  For example, one of the student teams created educational posters about influenza vaccination.  As a class, we learned from the inside students that the flu vaccine is available at the California Rehabilitation Center, but many incarcerated men do not opt to get vaccinated, possibly due to low trust in the prison health system and widespread conspiracy theories (e.g., prison officials used the flu vaccine to inject people with tracking devices).  This is a missed opportunity to prevent a serious communicable disease that spreads easily in confined spaces (Sequera, Valencia, García-Basteiro, Marco, & Bayas, 2015). Working together, the inside and outside students on this team developed materials to address the common concerns of the target audience related to influenza vaccination and provide health-promoting education in the context of prison.  

Other team projects included a letter to the warden proposing the adoption of harm reduction strategies (e.g. bleaching stations for sterilizing needles used for illicit tattoos or injection drug use) to reduce the spread of hepatitis C in prison; educational pamphlets about preventing sexually transmitted diseases; and an evidence-based letter to the State Prison Board about the connection between nutrition and a healthy immune system.  The student projects shared in common the key feature of bringing together inside and outside students to share their unique expertise as they collaborated on a project that applied what they had learned about the science of infectious disease during the semester to an authentic issue in the living context of the inside students.  

Introduction to Number Theory (Darryl Yong)

Even though I have no formal training in number theory, I chose to teach this subject because it lends itself well to exploration and rehumanizing approaches to teaching and learning mathematics (Goffney, Gutiérrez, & Boston, 2018). Requiring only some mathematics skills and ideas from high school algebra, this course started with the divisors of integers and modular arithmetic and culminated with the Rivest–Shamir–Adleman (RSA) cryptosystem, a widely used method for secure data transmission.

Of our three courses, this one was perhaps the most grounded in its disciplinary content. While I organized several class discussions around our prior experiences of learning mathematics and about contemporary mathematicians (mostly of color), about 90% of class time was spent working on carefully sequenced sets of mathematical tasks in small groups. Students shared their results communally on the board, and I occasionally convened the group to share their findings with each other. The list of tasks for each class was adjusted based on what students accomplished and found interesting in previous classes.

In “Math Instructors’ Critical Reflections on Teaching in Prison,” Robert Scott writes: “A math pedagogy premised upon following the rules, accepting that there is only one right answer, and relying on practice/repetition in order to habituate oneself to predetermined axioms would seem to reprise the culture of incarceration itself.” How does one teach a class on a well-established field like number theory without reproducing the dehumanizing effects of prisons in the classroom?

To do this, I used a pedagogical approach based on my work delivering professional development to secondary school teachers through the Park City Mathematics Institute. In this approach, students encounter new mathematical ideas without any formal definitions or specialized notation. The mathematical tasks are designed to encourage students to look for patterns and make connections. Mathematical ideas are solidified when students give voice to them by sharing them publicly. Finally, after several exposures to similar patterns and connections, I formalized ideas by introducing their established mathematical names and notations. I followed this general approach during the entire course except for the last day of class when we used all of the machinery that we had developed to explain how the RSA cryptosystem works (Omar, 2017). So, even though students were often practicing and repeating mathematical calculations, they were in fact creating meaning for themselves and others in the classroom.

My observations of the students’ progress and their written reflections lead me to believe that they truly enjoyed learning mathematics, even though some had been traumatized by previous mathematics learning experiences. Each class period seemed to fly by. Students would work almost continuously for the entire period, though there was also quite a bit of casual banter and joyful laughter around the room. It felt like a space where both inside and outside students were doing mathematics and creating meaning together. My Inside-Out experience made me wonder why I don’t try to use more of this kind of rehumanizing pedagogy in my usual classes at Harvey Mudd College.

Lessons Learned

Examining the experiences of the three instructors, we find that several common themes emerge from our efforts to integrate STEM content within the Inside-Out Prison Exchange program. First, while many undergraduate STEM courses are primarily lecture-based, the Inside-Out program challenges faculty to use liberatory pedagogies (Freire, 1970).  Thus, we all chose to minimize lecturing as much as possible and spend most of our class time in small group activities or whole class discussion.  These forms of instruction democratize intellectual authority in the classroom and allow both inside and outside students to draw on personal funds of knowledge. An inside student wrote, “In non-Inside-Out classes I don’t learn who my peers are, whereas this class was unique in the fact that we were learning from one another just as much as we were learning from our professor.” Furthermore, with the inside and outside students constantly talking together and working with each other, the students discovered for themselves the many ways in which traditional college-age STEM students and incarcerated STEM students share common struggles, concerns, and motivations.  

A second common theme that we encountered in our classes was how Inside-Out courses helped students uncover and confront societal expectations and stereotypes about who is competent in STEM. In our end-of-course evaluation surveys, we asked students what their biggest worry about the class was prior to starting the course. A few outside students wrote that they were concerned that the Inside-Out course wasn’t going to be as rigorous as their usual courses, whereas inside students wrote that they were initially concerned about being able to “keep up” with the outside students. These concerns relate to societal stereotypes that STEM competence is innate rather than a skill to be developed and that incarcerated people and people of color are not able to access STEM. Fortunately, these surveys also revealed that students uniformly felt their Inside-Out courses to be intellectually demanding and that inside students felt successful in the class and were recognized for their contributions in class. The reason that students were able to upend their worries was because our Inside-Out courses brought together groups of people who would otherwise never get to meet each other in the context of doing rigorous, challenging STEM work together. One inside student wrote that he was surprised at the “ease [with] which people from diverse lifestyles and backgrounds can struggle with a subject, work together, and succeed.”

Finally, all three of the authors chose to teach an Inside-Out course primarily because of the humanity it offered to our work.  And while none of us are experts in criminal justice, we are all deeply aware that STEM is neither objective nor apolitical.  When designing our courses, we specifically chose topics and approaches that would connect STEM back to the human condition, for example, discussing how disease manifests in different communities, how forensic probabilities do not represent truth, and how mathematical self-identification is different from mathematical ability. There is abundant evidence that bringing humanity into STEM can have an enormous impact on marginalized communities, and we believe that our courses are part of that trend.

Along with humanizing the course content in each of our STEM courses, the act of bringing the courses inside is a manifestation of our collective belief that STEM is not the domain of the privileged few.  Instead, science and science education belong to and are in service of all people.  In plain sight of each other, students of all backgrounds are able to embrace the learning of STEM content. Creating a space that allows for the tangible recognition by everyone involved that STEM is for all people is itself a highly political act.  


We are grateful for the guidance and support of our colleagues from the Claremont Critical Justice Education Initiative, especially Tyee Griffith, Tessa Hicks Peterson, Gabriela Gamiz, and Nigel Boyle.  We would like to thank the staff at the California Rehabilitation Center for their continuing partnership.  Financial support was generously provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Academic Deans Council of the Claremont Colleges.  Critical feedback on the manuscript was provided by Tessa Hicks Peterson and David Vosburg.  We gratefully acknowledge Lori Pompa and the Inside-Out Center for their leadership and expertise.  Finally, we owe the largest debt of gratitude to our students, both inside and out.


This article is dedicated to the memory of David L. Ferguson, whose lifelong work in extending the joys and benefits of STEM education to underserved students continues to inspire us.  David saw the potential to be a scholar in all of his students, even before they could see it in themselves.  We strive to follow the example of David’s pioneering work in diversity and inclusive excellence in STEM education.


Jo Hardin

Jo Hardin ( is a professor of mathematics at Pomona College.  She is a statistician by training, and her research focuses on applied and interdisciplinary projects with molecular biologists.  Through the Posse Foundation, she has mentored students at Pomona College originally from Chicago, IL.



Karl Haushalter

Karl Haushalter ( is an associate professor of chemistry and biology at Harvey Mudd College.  His research interests include the enzymology of DNA repair and the regulation of gene expression by small RNA.  Karl works closely with the Office of Community Engagement at HMC and has led faculty development workshops to promote community-based learning.



Darryl Yong

Darryl Yong ( is a professor of mathematics, associate dean for faculty development and diversity, and mathematics clinic program director at Harvey Mudd College. He was also the founding director of the Claremont Colleges Center for Teaching and Learning. His scholarship has several foci: the retention and professional development of secondary school mathematics teachers, effective teaching practices in undergraduate STEM education, and equity, justice, and diversity in higher education.


Davis, S., & Roswell, B. (Eds.). (2013). Turning teaching inside out: A pedagogy of transformation for community-based education. New York, NY: Springer.

Department of Commerce v. United States House of Representatives, 525 U.S. 316 (1999).

Fan, H. Y., Conner, R. F., & Villarreal, L. P. (2014). AIDS: Science and society (7th ed.). Burlington, MA:  Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed (M. B. Ramos, Trans.). New York, NY: Continuum.

Goffney, I., Gutiérrez, R., & Boston, M. (Eds.). (2018). Rehumanizing mathematics for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx students. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Iimoto, D. (2005). AIDS and other human diseases: Teaching science in the context of culture. Journal of College Science Teaching, 34, 38–41.

Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. (2020). Scholarship on Inside-Out. Retrieved from

Martin, D. B. (2009). Researching race in mathematics education. Teachers College Record, 111(2), 295–338.

Meyer J. H. F., & Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge. In C. Rust, (Ed.), Improving student learning—ten years on (pp. 412–424). Oxford, UK: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development.

National Science Foundation (NSF). (2019). NSF INCLUDES Alliance: STEM opportunities in prison settings. Retrieved from

Omar, M. (2017). Number theory toward RSA cryptography: In 10 undergraduate lectures. (n.p.): CreateSpace Publishing. 

Peterson, T. H. (2019). Healing pedagogy from the inside out: The paradox of liberatory education in prison. In R. Ginsburg (Ed.), Critical perspectives on teaching in prison: Students and instructors on pedagogy behind the wall (pp. 175–187). New York, NY: Routledge.

Pompa, L., Crabbe, M., & Turenne, E.  (2018). The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program instructor’s manual. Philadelphia, PA: The Inside-Out Center, Temple University.

Scott, R. (2019). Math instructors’ critical reflections on teaching in prison. In H. Rosario (Ed.), Mathematical outreach: Explorations in social justice around the globe (pp. 211–232). Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific.

SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities).  (2020a).  

Backgrounders. Retrieved from 

SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities).  (2020b).  Model courses. Retrieved from 

Sequera V. G., Valencia, S., García-Basteiro, A. L., Marco, A., & Bayas, J. M. (2015). Vaccinations in prisons: A shot in the arm for community health. Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics, 11(11), 2615–2626. doi:10.1080/21645515.2015.1051269

Utts, J. (1999). Seeing through statistics (2nd ed.).  Pacific Grove, CA: Duxbury Press.

Download the article

Download (PDF, 2.89MB)