Winter 2024: From the Editors

 For the Winter 2024 issue of Science Education and Civic Engagement: An International Journal, we are delighted to feature two project reports and an engaging conversation from the 2023 SENCER Summer Institute. These contributions reflect a variety of creative connections between science education and civic engagement.

Kerri Shelton from Columbus State University in Georgia reports on work done by a team of undergraduate researchers (chemistry and nursing majors) who worked to analyze 20th-century medical kits at the Columbus Museum. The analysis provided museum staff with information that will help in the proper curation and storage of the kits. In addition, the information gathered provided the Columbus community with a better understanding of medically related items in the 20th century. The work described in the project report is a good example of civic engagement benefitting a community by increasing the understanding of its own history. (download the PDF here)

Grant Fore et al. (Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis, University of Michigan, Butler University) share a study of student learning outcomes in courses that utilized farm-situated place-based experiential learning modules. The authors also examine the potential influence of two significant external experiences—the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests against police brutality after the murder of George Floyd. The study used a combination of measures of characteristics such as environmental science literacy, civic-mindedness, and sense of place along with focus groups to explore how place-based experiential learning and these significant societal events impacted student learning. (download the PDF here)

 Our final article is a revised and adapted transcript of a conversation between Sara Tolbert and Geraldine Mooney Simmie from the 2023 SENCER Summer Institute on the topic of science/STEM education, democracy, and civic engagement in a fast globalizing and increasingly unequal world. The dialogue draws from the four SENCER ideals to examine the complexity of constantly changing ethical, sociocultural, and political relations between STEM education and democracy. Tolbert and Mooney- Simmie explore commonly used phrases such as “teaching and learning,” “problem-posing,” “civic engagement,” and “inclusion” in the context of STEM education policy in Ireland and New Zealand. The conversation provides an international perspective on ideas important to the larger SENCER community and argues for a reappraisal of how we frame the problem of STEM learning and democracy.  (download PDF here)

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

 Matt Fisher and Trace Jordan Co-Editors-in-Chief 

Marcy Dubroff, Managing Editor

Download the Entire Issue Here


Chemistry in the Museum: 
Elucidation of 1920s Medical Kits

Kerri L. Shelton Taylor, Columbus State University


This project report describes the process of a team of undergraduate researchers (Chemistry and Nursing majors), who analyzed 20th-century medical kits housed at The Columbus Museum (Columbus, GA, USA). Curators and museum personnel were unfamiliar with the contents and needed assistance in identifying the various chemical contents. Items were identified by the Taylor Lab, which was followed by fully elucidating the chemical information in a chemical report and student-curated exhibit. The intent of this project was to help the museum be aware of how to properly curate and store the medical collections for an extended period. Laboratory analyses were executed to determine the composition of the aged items in the collections. The historical context of these kits and their contents provided knowledge of medicine to the community of Columbus, Georgia, in addition to explaining the use of medically related items in the 20th century. 

Download the PDF here

Cultivating Sustainability Praxis on a Campus Farm

Grant A. Fore, Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis
Brandon H. Sorge, Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis
Francesca A. Williamson, University of Michigan Medical School
Julia L. Angstmann, Butler University


This mixed methods study investigates student learning outcomes from undergraduate STEM and non-STEM courses, employing farm-situated place-based experiential learning (PBEL) modules at a private liberal arts university in the Midwest. Given that these courses occurred during both COVID-19 and U.S. police brutality protests, this study critically interrogates the influence of this “dual pandemic” on student meaning-making. The study examines how student scores on environmental science literacy, civic-mindedness, sense of place, and scientific reasoning measures changed throughout the PBEL courses. With the exception of scientific reasoning, change in each measure was statistically significant (p<0.001). A stepwise linear regression determined whether any measures predicted civic-mindedness. Environmental science literacy and university place attachment were found to be predictive of civic-mindedness. Focus group data revealed how PBEL modules affected student learning outcomes and how the dual pandemic affected student civic-mindedness and place attachment.

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A Novel Course-Based Experience to Promote Ecological Field Skills During the COVID-19 Pandemic

R. Drew Sieg, Truman State University
Joanna K. Hubbard, Truman State University
Rachel M. Penczykowski, Washington University in St. Louis
Madison Williard, Truman State University
Zachary A. Dwyer, Truman State University


Providing safe access to functional field experiences during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic was a distinct challenge. However, these experiences are critical to train students in ecological methods and provide an opportunity for open-ended, authentic research. Here, we report on a multi-week lab designed for an introductory ecology course, which was adapted for hybrid instruction during the pandemic. In the lab sequence, students independently surveyed basic phenological, population, and community dynamics of easily identifiable, cosmopolitan plant species in the genus Plantago. Students used this crowd-sourced dataset to develop, analyze, and report on unique research questions regarding interactions between Plantago and the local environment. The new lab sequence effectively met course learning objectives in experimental design, field methods, statistics, and science communication, while being accessible to both in-person and online learners. We conclude by discussing the evolution of this design for other audiences.


Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) promote early and expanded student engagement in scientific research that improves science literacy, analytical skills, and inclusivity within STEM majors (e.g., Bangera & Brownell, 2014; Olimpo et al., 2018). Incorporating academic research interests and novel pedagogies benefits both student and faculty development (Shortlidge et al., 2016). However, the transition to online education during the COVID-19 pandemic posed many challenges to the implementation of such lab experiences (Tsang et al., 2021). 

Institutions adopted myriad strategies for course delivery early in the pandemic, including distanced labs, hybrid formats, and asynchronous learning. Purely online simulations or recordings of experiments did not maintain student engagement and led to a superficial understanding of lab methodology or purpose (Sansom, 2020). Several methods to promote active participation in remote labs were later adopted, including computer simulations and ecological field research (Abriata, 2022; Creech & Shriner 2020), although it was important to ensure equal accessibility for all students using hands-on modalities (Jawad et al., 2021; Kelley, 2020). These rapid shifts to new modalities and implementation of new technologies induced anxiety and revealed inequity among students (Tsang et al., 2021). Feelings of isolation were common, making it difficult for students to establish a routine and remain motivated from home (Feldman, 2020). The pandemic also triggered emotional stressors caused by direct illness, grief, financial instability, and loneliness and led to physical and mental health issues including disordered eating and depression (Flaudias et al., 2020; Mushquash & Grassia, 2020). Within a semester of teaching during COVID-19, it became clear that pedagogical modalities should acknowledge and accommodate evolving student needs.

Independent field experiences using cosmopolitan organisms are one option to combat accessibility and equity issues associated with remote learning. Organisms that are easy to find and identify can be used by students to crowd-source data collection, address ecological research questions, and connect to their local community (Penczykowski & Sieg, 2021). Having students or community members assist in the collection of observational data can generate robust datasets while promoting bioliteracy and data management skills in participants (Hitchcock et al., 2021; Jones et al., 2021; Putman et al., 2021). Hands-on exposure also tackles “plant awareness disparity” and “biodiversity naivety” problems (Niemiller et al., 2021; Parsley, 2020; Wandersee & Schussler, 1999), whereby students fail to recognize the identities or functions of floral and faunal community members (Schuttler et al., 2018; Soga & Gaston, 2016). Engaging in field work may also lead to greater student retention or interest in ecological careers.

In approaching our first hybrid academic year (2020-2021), we recognized that traditional labs would be rendered non-functional due to social distancing procedures, safety concerns, and unpredictable attendance. Many labs were reconfigured or condensed to accommodate these challenges, but we wanted to maintain a field experience despite the challenges with hybrid instruction. We elected to build a new experience based on an accessible plant genus (Plantago spp.) that could be observed by both in-person and remote students while promoting skills in experimental design, data management, statistics, and science communication. In this report, we outline the pilot project and preliminary outcomes, discuss its limitations within our changing institutional curriculum, and describe how the fundamentals of this project have led to “second-generation” projects for other audiences on campus.


The Institution and Course

Truman State University is a rural public liberal arts university of under 4,000 undergraduate students located in Kirksville, MO. During this study (2020), Truman State had a 72% acceptance rate, the gender identity at Truman was 40:60 identifying male:female, and approximately 80% were white, in-state, and received financial aid. Truman has a long-standing reputation in the Midwest as an affordable, quality public college option. As at many universities across the United States, enrollment has been steadily declining at Truman; undergraduate enrollment is down approximately 35% in the past five years. Biology is a consistently popular major that accounts for 12% of incoming freshmen, but enrollment has declined more than 50% since 2017. Recently, the Biology department implemented a new curriculum for the major. Biology majors who started before fall 2019 were required to take Introduction to Ecology (BIOL 301); after the curriculum change, BIOL 301 was one of four organismal biology course options. With many Truman students pursuing careers in medicine or healthcare, microbiology has proven more popular than ecology or the other two organismal courses (evolutionary biology and eukaryotic diversity). Since the new curriculum has been implemented, student demand for ecology has steadily decreased from six 24-seat sections per year in 2017 to a single section in 2022.


Course Structure Amidst the Pandemic

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Truman transitioned to a fully remote modality to conclude the spring 2020 semester. During the 2020–2021 academic year, faculty could select from several delivery options, including fully asynchronous, online, or hybrid instruction. Four hybrid sections of BIOL 301 were offered during fall 2020, with two asynchronous recorded lectures and one synchronous Zoom activity per week. Lab sections were split into three groups (two in-person sections, one virtual) that each met for 50 minutes of the nearly three-hour period to accommodate social distancing. Excluding the new Plantago project, labs were modified from established protocols used in previous semesters.

Course instructors (Drew Sieg and Joanna Hubbard, hereafter RDS and JKH) collaborated extensively to develop materials for this model; they restructured the learning management system, co-developed asynchronous recorded lectures and lecture activities, and held weekly meetings to discuss how the hybrid course was supporting student success and wellness. A full comparison of course changes to accommodate a hybrid delivery are listed in Table 1. Pre- and post-surveys evaluating student skills in science communication, statistics, and graphical interpretation were issued, but IRB approval was not established until after implementation of this project. Thus, evaluative feedback on this study is limited to voluntary course evaluations administered for all Truman courses and reflects the pedagogy of the course as a whole, rather than just the new lab experience. As both instructors taught sections in 2019 and 2020, comparisons between years were made to evaluate changes in student perceptions due to both COVID-19 and the intervention.

Experimental Study System

In pre-COVID semesters, BIOL 301 students would survey water quality and macroinvertebrate diversity from local streams to acquire field experience (modified from Doherty et al., 2011). Sampling sites were located up to 30 minutes from campus, which required university transportation and longer lab periods, neither of which were feasible using a hybrid model. For the new field experience, we expanded on a survey protocol for Plantago lanceolata and P. rugelii used by Rachel Penczykowski (RMP) to train students in the Tyson Undergraduate Fellows program at Washington University in St. Louis. Plantago are short-lived perennials commonly found in human-disturbed habitats, including lawns, parks, paths, and pastures. The geographic distributions of these species span gradients in latitude, elevation, urbanization, and other environmental factors. They are easy to find and identify, are regionally abundant, of low conservation concern, and extremely accessible (Penczykowski & Sieg, 2021). They are suitable for addressing research questions at the population or community level, due to their distinct phenological stages and easily recognizable evidence of interactions with both herbivores and fungal pathogens (Penczykowski & Sieg, 2021).

Project Outline

Three labs interspersed throughout the semester were developed to encompass the Plantago field experience. In addition to the instructional goal of providing an effective hybrid learning experience, student outcomes from the experience included the ability to 

quantify the abundance and status of local plants to combat plant awareness disparity, 

develop novel research questions regarding local variation in Plantago dynamics, and 

analyze data, address challenges with crowd-sourcing data, and practice visual science communication. 

Activities and assessments for each lab session are summarized below and in Table 2.

Lab 1: Introducing the Study System and Tackling Plant Awareness Disparity

The first lab established the utility of Plantago as a model organism for ecological research. Students watched a 13-minute recorded video by RMP discussing how the species can be used to address questions at multiple spatial scales across varying environment types. Connections to climate change and urban development were stressed, along with the use of cosmopolitan Plantago species in global collaborations including PlantPopNet and HerbVar. This video also emphasized the value of community science engagement and collaborative research across universities.

Following the video, students were trained to identify focal species, their flowering status, types of herbivory damage, and evidence of infection by a fungal pathogen (powdery mildew). These skills were practiced as a group for in-person students, followed by an individual homework assignment. Remote students participated in the training, but practiced individually. Example images were provided via PowerPoint, so that students could participate in synchronous group work in person or via Zoom. Groups also brainstormed research questions and hypotheses, generally focusing on variation in herbivory or infection between species or survey locations.

Lab 2: Field Surveys

After completing a series of guided online tutorials and discussing a paper on common issues in data management (Broman & Woo, 2018), each student independently conducted a field survey of P. lanceolata and P. rugelii using a modified line transect protocol. Students identified a local site containing both Plantago species, noted environmental conditions, and then recorded observations regarding flowering phenology, neighbor density, and evidence of community interactions for a single Plantago individual (summarized in Table 3). Students advanced 2 m to another individual Plantago and repeated the process a total of 30 times for each focal species. 

Students could complete surveys at any accessible site in their vicinity on their own schedule within a one-week window. Most surveys were conducted in parks or neighborhoods in Kirksville, but remote students provided data from across Missouri. Students recorded data on a data collection sheet provided by the instructor, entered handwritten data into a spreadsheet, and uploaded the file as a homework assignment. A teaching assistant compiled each unedited dataset into a master “crowd-sourced” spreadsheet for use in lab 3.

Lab 3: Experimental Design, Analysis, and Reporting

For the final lab activity, students accessed the master spreadsheet and worked in teams either in person or via Zoom to analyze their research questions. Tutorials on statistics were provided, and each group framed questions as testable hypotheses with their instructor prior to analysis. Groups worked over two weeks to organize their data set, conduct analyses, and synthesize their findings into a graphical abstract. A major component of this assignment was recognizing the amount of time and effort associated with organizing large datasets.

Graphical abstracts were a novel concept for most students. Therefore, the class initially evaluated examples from scientific journals and discussed their use in comparison to written abstracts. Instructors then provided a tutorial on building graphical abstracts in PowerPoint. Student products were posted to Padlet (, which allowed students to asynchronously provide and receive feedback on their research questions, analyses, and abstract designs. In practice, most products took on a form resembling a research poster, probably because students had greater familiarity with that medium and a fear of leaving information out.


Results and Discussion

Novel Research Outcomes from the Lab Activity

Via this lab activity, 3360 plants were surveyed by 55 students, primarily in Kirksville. A map displaying Plantago distributions in the city was generated from these data (Figure 1), which has subsequently been used by independent research students to conduct follow-up studies on Plantago community dynamics. Survey locations were clustered around Truman State, as it is primarily a residential campus. The majority of student-generated questions and hypotheses focused on comparisons of herbivory and/or fungal infection across plant species, sunny vs. shaded microhabitats, or location types (e.g., roadsides vs. parks). Primary findings included a significantly higher likelihood of infection on P. rugelii than P. lanceolata, particularly in shaded habitats, while infection frequency was not affected by mowing or herbivory.  Undergraduate research students (Madison Williard and Zachary Dwyer) working with RDS independently evaluated the dataset and confirmed these patterns, presenting their research at Truman State’s Student Research Conference (Dwyer et al., 2021).  

Due to restrictions on social gatherings, students in the course did not disseminate their findings in the broader Kirksville community. However, this pilot study demonstrated that data collection within the Plantago system is tractable for novices. Elements of this project have been incorporated into submitted research proposals that incorporate community science, public outreach, and civic engagement as broader impact objectives (RDS & RMP, personal communication).

Student Responses to the Course

Beyond the Plantago project, other activities were implemented to promote an active classroom amidst a hybrid redesign. These included weekly interactive case studies using Zoom and Google Docs, a semester-long “EcoPhoto” project on Flickr to document local ecological interactions, discussion board prompts that pushed students to reflect on their wellness or creatively discuss course concepts (such as a knockoff of “Dear Abby” called “Dear Ecology”), a month-long lab that used EPA datasets to estimate water quality in wadable streams (modified from Nuding & Hampton, 2012), and team-based problem sets instead of virtually proctored traditional exams. We communicated with students through consistently formatted weekly announcements on our course management software and email, aiming to keep students on track without bombarding them with disparate notices. Collectively, these activities made our redesign distinct from previous versions of BIOL 301, but also from other hybrid courses at Truman.

Evaluative Likert-scale data and representative free responses reported in Table 4 pertain to the fall 2020 hybrid course redesign, including the Plantago CURE. While some outcomes are likely driven by the Plantago experience, we acknowledge that other elements of our redesign influenced student perceptions of the course. Total responses to the course survey (n=48) represent approximately 85% of the class. Since submissions were anonymous, we cannot directly compare different demographic responses to the redesign, but we can assume that the makeup of students roughly matches that of Truman State as described in the methodology section.


Students valued the applicability of the course, with more than 97% of respondents agreeing that the course related concepts to real-world issues or everyday life (Table 4). Informally, students noted that they found themselves spotting Plantago between classes, and felt a sense of pride that they could better identify the plants around them. Extended engagement and sense of familiarity with focal plants is a key component to combat plant awareness disparity (Krosnick et al., 2018; Niemiller et al., 2021); thus this new lab experience appears to have promoted greater bioliteracy and plant awareness.

The general organization, approach, and transparency regarding expectations in BIOL 301 was viewed by students as exemplary in comparison to other courses that transitioned to hybrid instruction (Table 4). Whether the new approach led to long-term positive feelings about ecology is less clear, as 29% of respondents indicated that they would not want to take additional ecology courses (Table 4). This may be a product of the hybrid design: students viewed asynchronous assignments (quizzes, readings, discussion boards) as busy work. Hybrid courses require a distinct mindset from both the instructor and the student in order to be effective (Shea et al., 2015), and most of our students took hybrid courses out of necessity rather than desire. Animosity towards materials used to maintain asynchronous engagement makes sense considering the rapid transition to online modalities. However, lessons learned from similar experiences are leading to new evaluations of best practices in hybrid or online instruction in a post-COVID era (e.g., Singh et al., 2021).

Using course evaluations, we also statistically compared student responses to these questions in fall 2019 (the pre-pandemic version of the Plantago project) and fall 2020 (during the pandemic, with the hybrid changes described in this study; Table 5). However, there are extrinsic factors that should be accounted for, such as general stress and COVID fatigue, which make direct comparisons between these two student populations tenuous. 

For three of four questions, no significant difference between semesters was seen (Table 5), suggesting that students perceived equal course rigor and relevance with the traditional in-person delivery and hybrid instruction. It is encouraging that objectives related to real-world application of ecology were maintained in the hybrid delivery, despite the new format and disruptions to instruction during the pandemic. We also take this to mean that the course structure and activities were seen as equivalent to a non-disrupted semester by upper division students who had taken college courses both before and during the pandemic.

In contrast, there was a significant increase in student willingness to take other courses in ecology (Table 5, p=0.020). The new lab module, coupled with accommodations made for hybrid instruction, may have made ecology a more tangible sub-discipline for students relative to the traditional mechanism of instruction. As a result, several of the activities used to improve the use of learning management software, communicate with students, and check in on student wellness have been continued by RDS and JKH in other courses, and have been formally presented to other university faculty.

Current and Future Status of the Project

Despite the effort to restructure BIOL 301 as a hybrid course, reduced student enrollment, curricular changes, and interest in the topic remains low, such that the department now offers only a single, in-person section per year. That section is not scheduled to be taught by RDS or JKH in the near future, and thus many changes are not trackable beyond the pilot implementation. The Plantago field experiment continues to be offered by the current BIOL 301 instructor, but a lower number of participants reduces the crowd-sourcing project elements. Since our pilot delivery, the project has been conducted two more times, with minimal changes to the established protocol. The instructor has considered widening the project to tackle other core skills in ecology related to estimating other population dynamics.

We had previously used social media (e.g., Flickr) in observational ecology projects to connect our students with peers enrolled in similar courses across the country (RDS and JKH, personal communication) and intended to build out a similar network with this project that would allow students to compare Plantago demographics across wider urban-rural, latitudinal, climatic, or temporal gradients. While we encourage interested parties to reach out if the modules would fit their course needs, the restructuring of BIOL 301 has limited our ability to further develop broader community engagement aspects of this project. 

We recognized the benefit of using open-ended projects to promote observational and data management skills in students majoring in biology at Truman, and we have since modified the Plantago project for an introductory biology course (BIOL 104) that RDS and JKH regularly teach. Introductory courses are a wise target for open-ended inquiry, as it introduces bioliteracy, statistics, and communication skills needed to succeed academically and in STEM-related careers. Early exposure to authentic research eliminates “cookie-cutter” experiences that do not accurately reflect the challenges associated with research (Wood, 2009), providing students with a better representation of the scientific process. 

In the new introductory biology module, students mine iNaturalist ( to quantify global images of infection or herbivory on Plantago and address questions that are thematically similar to those emphasized in BIOL 301. The pilot implementation of this version of the project occurred in spring 2022, resulting in 13,700 images processed by 105 students (RDS, personal communication). This new initiative has the potential to be expanded both at Truman and in the wider community and has been a core component of new grant proposals written by RDS and RMP. We intend to build this database annually and embrace iNaturalist as a tool for community science, while tracking student perceptions of effective science communication and assessing challenges associated with community-sourced data (e.g., Dickinson et al., 2010). Ultimately, this introductory version of the Plantago project is likely to be a more impactful initiative than the original pilot project outlined in this manuscript.


The transition to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic was difficult for students and faculty alike, and we are now assessing which instructional approaches are most effective. The adjustments we made to maintain an accessible and rigorous field experience were largely successful within a hybrid undergraduate course. The pilot implementation of this project has evolved into a more robust project that targets new biology majors.

About the Authors

Drew Sieg is an assistant professor of biology at Truman State University. He is a SENCER Leadership Fellow whose traditional research examines chemically mediated ecological interactions among plants, fungi, algae, and herbivores. He is also involved in educational research, particularly examining how authentic research experiences and other novel pedagogies affect student engagement in STEM.

Joanna Hubbard is an assistant professor of biology at Truman State University. Her research interests include questions related to animal behavior, animal coloration, and evolutionary ecology in birds. She has conducted education research examining how different question formats provide insight into student misconceptions and understanding.

Rachel M. Penczykowski is an assistant professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research focuses on effects of climate change and urbanization on plant-pathogen interactions and food webs. She mentors graduate, undergraduate, and high school students in this work, including through summer field research programs at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center.

Madison Williard is currently a first-year student at Southern College of Optometry located in Memphis, TN. She graduated from Truman State University in 2021 with a BS in biology.

Zachary Dwyer is currently a first-year medical student at A.T. Still University, located in Kirksville, MO. He graduated from Truman State University in 2022 with a BS in biology and a minor in psychology.



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Teaching STEM Through Climate Justice and Civic Engagement

Sonya Remington Doucette, Bellevue College
Heather U. Price, North Seattle College
Deb L. Morrison, University of Washington
Irene Shaver, Washington State Board of Community and Technical College


This article provides a rationale and resources for teaching climate justice and civic engagement across the STEM curriculum in 

K-12 and higher education. It presents a culturally responsive approach to STEM teaching and learning that centers social justice issues arising from climate impacts, and energy extraction and development activities, with a focus on participatory and equitable solutions and actions. This approach promotes STEM curricula that introduce social justice issues into the classroom as an entry point for investigating the issues using STEM. A social justice approach allows students to make meaning of abstract and disparate STEM knowledge and skills through real-world issues aligned with their interests, experiences, identities, and communities. In this article, we provide resources for teaching STEM through climate justice and civic engagement that are being collectively developed by groups in Washington (WA) State, led by Deb Morrison at the University of Washington (K-12); Sonya Remington Doucette and Heather Price at local community colleges (Bellevue College and North Seattle College); and Irene Shaver at the WA State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.

What is Climate Justice?

A good working definition of climate justice is rooted in the histories of the people who first defined it. In 1991, more than 1,100 people attended the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C to address environmental inequities across the United States and define the issues they were concerned about. At this event, the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice were created (First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, 1991). This event, which preceded the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), provided a basis for defining climate justice. A decade later, the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice were used as the basis for the 27 Bali Principles of Climate Justice (International Climate Justice Network, 2002). This brief history illustrates the significant role American grassroots organizations have played in shaping a global understanding of climate justice. 

Bali Principle 7 states that environmental justice demands the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision making. This principle can help us begin to think about what climate justice looks like. Additionally, Principle 7 helps us consider what climate justice learning might look like, in terms of what is learned, how it is assessed, and how curricula are planned and implemented.

The Mary Robinson Foundation, founded by former President of Ireland Mary Robinson a member of The Elders, an organization started by Nelson Mandela to foster issues of justice globally, has also contributed thinking to definitions of climate justice. In 2011 they developed basic principles of climate justice, specifically that climate justice is rooted in the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. As such climate justice centers the voices of those most vulnerable to climate change impacts to ensure that they are heard, their knowledge and experiences are prioritized, and their thoughts are acted upon. These principles also note that a vital aspect of any coherent approach to climate justice is an openness to partnership in an arrangement that is equitable.

Emerging from this historical foundation, some central themes around defining climate justice are clear. First, climate justice sits at the intersection of climate change and social justice. This means that climate change and climate science are not value-neutral but instead are connected to social issues in the world. Second, the mobilization of resources for climate mitigation and adaptation is an equity issue when it comes to who gets what resources. Third, climate justice is about networks for collective action, not only individual behavior change. Grassroots organizations, and community organizations and efforts, are at the heart of climate justice because they offer a collective voice that is more powerful than any individual voice and this collective voice is grounded in the real life opportunities and struggles of people in communities most impacted by climate and environmental injustices. Finally, climate justice involves equitable participation in decision making, policy development, and implementation, including in the field of education. 

Thus from a climate justice perspective within education, we can ask: Who is deciding what is being learned and how it is being learned? Who is at the table to make those decisions? Climate justice teaching and learning is about transformation and participation, and how we learn together in doing that. With a focus on disproportionate impacts of climate change on vulnerable and marginalized groups, and future generations, climate justice is often defined as what is missing based on how these frontline communities are more negatively impacted. However, Communities of Color and other heavily impacted groups have a wealth of knowledge, understandings, and resources that need to be brought into educational work. Those on the frontlines of climate change do not need to be saved, they do not need anybody’s pity; they need to be adequately resourced, engaged in ethical and equitable partnerships, and be equitably involved in decision making processes. 

In her book Mind, Culture, and Activity (2004), Barbara Rogoff, a leading learning scientist, defines learning as “…a process of transformation of participation itself” and notes that “… how people develop is a function of their transforming roles and understanding in the activities in which they participate.” This is very much what the environmental justice and climate justice communities are asking for; changes in participation, improved access for youth into STEM careers, improved involvement in local decision making, and the authority to shift money and resources toward things that are central to community interests. 

Why Teach “Through” Climate Justice? 

Our students are the Climate Generation (Jaquette Ray, 2020). Most were born into a world in which the climate was already changing. To them, the connections between climate impacts and social inequity are clear. They are the most ethnically diverse of all time, and face some of the greatest challenges in human history: global climate and environmental change as it intersects with socioeconomic and racial inequity. Their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education needs to be relevant to the scale and complexity of the problems they face. It needs to equip them with disciplinary practice and scientific knowledge in partnership with the systems thinking skills, critical consciousness, and civic engagement tools needed to leverage STEM to create societal change and improve their communities. Centering social justice issues, such as climate justice, in STEM classrooms broadens the participation of women and racial and ethnic groups that have been historically underrepresented in STEM fields. Over the past few decades, the STEM education community has awakened to the idea that the content and skills we teach in our courses must be humanized and taught in a context that is relevant to students’ interests, experiences, identities, and communities. This brings meaning to seemingly abstract and disparate STEM knowledge and skills. Such work has been happening, in parallel and sometimes in collaboration, at both the K-12 level and in higher education.

The National Research Council, in its A Framework for K-12 Science Education (Framework; 2012), provided a strong entry point for bringing climate justice education into K-12 STEM teaching and learning. In particular, Chapter 11 deserves a read as it provides research and background on equity within STEM education. The Framework authors provide a grounded vision of equitable STEM education, such that “…all students are provided with equitable opportunities to learn science and become engaged in science and engineering practices…,” with a recognition that “…connecting to students’ interests and experiences is particularly important for broadening participation in science” (p. 28). 

Teaching climate justice in STEM courses, and especially the gateway courses of mathematics and chemistry, offers learning spaces and authentic opportunities for meeting students where they are at by providing meaningful learning that connects to their interests, experiences, communities, and identities. We cannot teach STEM in a neutral, disconnected way,  because it does not have meaning for students; students lives and science itself are connected to human socio-political activities and experiences. Science learning, and science itself, is a cultural activity. We want students to see STEM in their everyday experiences and it is our job as educators to help them make connections between their lives and seemingly abstract STEM content and skills. 

Higher education has come to a similar realization, albeit in a more disconnected way. A SENCER evaluation showed that students who took SENCER courses, in which STEM was taught through complex unresolved social issues with a focus on civic involvement and democratic processes, learned more STEM content, were more interested in STEM, and more capable of relating it to real world problems (Weston et al 2006). They also found that gains in science literacy were particularly pronounced for women and other racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in STEM. 

A transformation of STEM culture away from an economic workforce focus, toward socially-relevant civic issues, is needed to attract and retain these groups and make STEM relevant to 21st century challenges. A shifted focus on social and civic issues as part of an equitable STEM curriculum is illustrated by a quote by a high-performing Black male student who left an engineering major:

“A big concern of a lot of Black students is we feel like we’re being prepared to go into white corporate America, and it won’t really help our community—we won’t have the opportunity through our careers to give back to the community. Anything that we do for the community would be outside of our academic field, and that’s a very serious concern.” (Seymour & Hewitt, 1997, p. 337)

More than 20 years later Seymour & Hewitt (2019) reconfirmed similar values at play: 73% and 60% of women and racially and ethnically diverse students, respectively, who switched out of STEM majors had altruistic career intentions. Co-authors Remington Doucette and Price regularly receive similar feedback from their diverse community college students regarding their climate justice lessons. A Black woman in Price’s class recently expressed thanks:

“…for teaching me chemistry the way it should be taught with real life reference and practicality. I have been accepted to UW Chem E [University of Washington Chemical Engineering]. I can’t wait to be a part of the problem solving community and hopefully come up with solutions to combat the climate crisis.” (Personal Communication, February 2020)

These findings are echoed by a recent study about the Equity Ethic, a concept developed at Vanderbilt University (McGee & Bentley, 2017). The Equity Ethic focuses on “students’ principled concern for social justice” (p. 6) and explains why a social justice-centered approach to STEM teaching may be more appealing to groups typically underrepresented in STEM fields, particularly Students of Color and women. Patterson Williams & Grey (2013) offer excellent examples of how the Equity Ethic may be operationalized in the classroom, with social justice as a meaningful phenomena for investigation using STEM knowledge and skills. Bringing social justice issues into the classroom brings real-world issues into the classroom that connect with students’ identities and communities, which is one of eight core competencies for culturally responsive teaching (Muñiz, 2020). Furthermore, real-world issues focused specifically on social justice are part of educational equity in the STEM curriculum. Social Justice Education (SJE) is one of the three key areas of instructional equity (Hammond, 2015; Hammond, 2020).

A social justice approach to STEM teaching, rooted in climate justice, will resonate with most students. Two recent Pew Research Center polls found much higher concern about climate change in people ages 18 to 39, compared to their elders, even for youth with more conservative social and political leanings (PRC, 2020; PRC, 2022). This quote, by a White male student, who took Remington Doucette’s chemistry course to transition from a career in big tech to a career in medicine, illustrates that students want and demand this type of STEM education:

“I think if I remained in the big-tech-world and didn’t take your class, I wouldn’t have started thinking about these complicated health effects [related to climate impacts and fossil fuel burning] and general need for awareness. UW CS [University of Washington Computer Science] didn’t reveal any of this to me which is a bit annoying to me now. ”(Personal Communication, February 2021)

At their community colleges, Remington Doucette and Price implemented student surveys beginning in 2021 with faculty from several other STEM disciplines as part of an NSF IUSE grant focused on teaching climate justice in STEM. The preliminary survey results showed that the top three issues of concern about the world today for students are climate change, racial inequality, and mental health. About 60 % of students felt these issues were not addressed in their STEM courses, but almost 80 % want them addressed. Climate justice lies at the intersection of these issues. (For an introduction to mental health and climate, and what we can do about it, see Remington Doucette, 2021.)

Climate Justice in Community College STEM Learning: The C-JUSTICE Project

Climate Justice in Undergraduate STEM: Incorporating Civic Engagement (C-JUSTICE) aims to improve STEM education by supporting community college faculty as they create course modules that teach disciplinary content through climate justice and civic engagement, with a solutions focus and action orientation. The project aims to improve student learning, broaden participation of women and racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in STEM fields, and prepare citizens and scientists to deal with 21st century challenges. It is supported by an NSF IUSE grant. Since the project’s inception in 2021, course modules (C-JUSTICE modules) have covered a range of climate justice issues and have been implemented by 21 faculty across eight different STEM disciplines at Bellevue College (BC) and North Seattle College (NSC).  (Table 1).

C-JUSTICE is based on a professional development curriculum for teaching climate justice and civic engagement across the curriculum developed at BC in 2017 and adopted by NSC in 2019. It is situated in two frameworks from STEM education practice and research: SENCER and the Equity Ethic. (Figure 1) SENCER provides a pedagogy for bringing complex unresolved societal issues into the classroom, whereas the Equity Ethic (McGee & Bentley, 2017) is more of a theory about why a social justice-centered approach to STEM teaching can be more appealing to groups typically underrepresented in STEM fields, particularly Students of Color and women. At its very heart, the Equity Ethic is about “students’ principled concern for social justice.” When students can see STEM as a means to promote social justice, help their communities (Elmi et al., 2022), and disrupt systems of oppression, then they are more likely to pursue a STEM major, stay in a STEM major, or end up in a STEM career. It is about transforming STEM culture away from a singular focus on workforce development and economics, toward a focus on socially relevant civic issues and democracy. C-JUSTICE modules aim to expose the social political context that students experience, raise consciousness about inequity in the world, and help students and faculty develop a “lens” for recognizing inequitable patterns and practices in society and develop the tools needed to interrupt them. A recent book by Eric Liu, You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen (2017), provides frameworks and ideas for civic involvement being used by C-JUSTICE.

The three broad learning goals for C-JUSTICE modules are that they:

  •  make clear to students the intra- and inter-generational connections between climate change and racial, economic, gender, intergenerational, interspecies, and other injustices,
  • foster the skills, knowledge, commitments, responsibilities, values, and efficacy (Figure 2; Wang & Jackson, 2005) as well as the actions needed to engage civically with a community beyond the classroom in a way that promotes collective systemic change, and
  • highlight positive stories of change that make the world a more just and equitable place.

C-JUSTICE portrays intra-generational justice as a wedge (Figure 3), adapted from (Making Partners, 1988). The more vulnerable a person or group is, the more difficult it is going to be to deal with climate impacts. In the wedge, climate impacts are represented by the ball and vulnerabilities are the wedges. The more vulnerabilities, the steeper the ramp, the harder it is to handle climate impacts. Faculty in C-JUSTICE workshops find this wedge framework to be helpful for developing a “lens” or critical consciousness for recognizing inequities that arise from climate impacts.

Preliminary C-JUSTICE student survey data collected at BC and NSC are compelling (Remington Doucette and Price, unpublished). They show that top issues for students are climate change, racial inequality, and mental health and that students want these issues taught in their courses. Most have a desire to be more socially, politically, and civically engaged in their communities, but are not presently engaged because they don’t know how. Finally, students agree about the need for equity, but there are gaps in their understanding of the systemic causes.

Survey data also showed that after experiencing a C-JUSTICE module in a STEM course, more students see STEM as a tool for achieving social justice and that it can be used to help solve problems in communities they care about and serve racially and economically marginalized communities. They also have a much greater understanding of climate justice and know how to become involved. More students also see STEM as useful for informing and taking civic action, and they intend to become more involved in their communities. Finally, learning STEM in the context of climate justice increased their interest in STEM and their motivation to learn STEM.

Beyond the efforts at BC and NSC, this work is being disseminated to 34 community and technical colleges (CTCs) across Washington state through a Climate Solutions effort led by the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) and funded at $1.5 million by the WA state legislature (Washington SBCTC, 2022). On average, more than 320,000 students enroll in a community or technical college across the state per year. More than half of those students are Students of Color. With statewide coordination and resources supporting this climate solutions effort, systemic inequities can be overcome to empower Students of Color from frontline communities who, due to structural racism, disproportionately experience the burdens and risks of a changing climate, are the least economically resourced to enact change in their communities and are the most excluded from the benefits from the green economy. Utilizing this specific educational lever for systemic change—expanding climate solutions education and green workforce development in CTCs and making our colleges more sustainable—has the greatest potential to increase equity in all areas—in higher education, in the workforce and economy, and in frontline communities across the state of Washington. This work expands climate solutions education and green workforce development to ensure that all people can be sustainability and equity minded leaders in their communities and professions, can respond to the impacts of a changing environment, benefit from the green economy, and can contribute to community-based and industry-led climate solutions.

The SBCTC is working to integrate climate solutions education into curricula, align green workforce development programs with climate solutions, and develop a system-wide climate action plan. The SBCTC’s goal is to promote greater economic vitality in the green workforce for the state of Washington, generate community based climate solutions, and make CTCs in Washington state more sustainable. It has four focus areas: Climate Solutions Education, Green Workforce Development, Sustainability Colleges, and Centering Equity. The climate justice faculty professional development (PD) curriculum developed by BC and NSC, both across the curriculum and as part of C-JUSTICE, is being integrated into the Climate Solutions Education focus area. The goals of this focus area are to establish faculty leadership, provide training and PD for college faculty and staff to develop integrated curricula across disciplines, in concert with local community-based organizations, employers, and tribal communities that address the needs of frontline communities and support students in building the problem solving, social justice, and civic engagement related skills to be climate solutions leaders in their fields.

Resources for Engaging in Climate Justice Teaching and Learning

How can we teach climate justice in STEM? In order to resource learning in the areas of STEM, equity, climate change, and climate justice, there is a demand for resources to help address emerging questions of practice. Several initiatives have been working to provide such resources across the United States including: the STEM Teaching Tools and the CLEAN Network. 

The STEM Teaching Tools collection, initiated in 2014 by the Institute of Science and Math Education at the University of Washington, provides such learning supports. In the last few years, more of the STEM Teaching Tools resources have centered around issues of climate learning with a justice lens, as educators have expressed increasing needs for resources in this area. Additionally, resources that help educators communicate with families and administrators, engage with communities, and foster more equitable place-based learning opportunities that center sustainability or climate mitigation and adaptation efforts are also in need. All these resources are being developed in collaboration with educators, researchers, and community organizations working at the intersection of climate change education, spanning K-12 to higher education contexts. A special mention should be made of the Washington State ClimeTime effort and the more recent Climate Teacher Education Collaborative, that have brought those involved in climate change education in the state together in deep collaboration with the Institute of Science and Math Education to foster resources for use in diverse socio-political teaching contexts.

The CLEAN Network, which stands for the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network, began building resources in 2010 as part of the National Science Digital Library Pathways project work. Today the CLEAN Network provides extensive scientist and educator vetted resources on climate change learning, teacher learning resources on climate change science and age-appropriate equitable pedagogies, and a community of practice to connect those engaged in climate change education nationally. The Institute of Science and Math Education has been in partnership with CLEAN for the last five years around resource development collaborations and these two organizations continue to seek co-generative opportunities to collaboratively build and resource the capacity of educators seeking to learn and implement climate change related education.

The teaching of climate justice in STEM is rapidly expanding, yet the disparate pockets of climate justice STEM teaching resources can be difficult to locate. In 2021, the National Science Teaching Association published a Special Issue on Climate Change (NSTA, 2021). This is one of the best set of STEM-specific climate justice examples to date for K-12. Other resources emerging from the C-JUSTICE project, developed at the community college level, will be published in the form of course modules within the next two years to the Curriculum for the Bioregion’s Activity Collection on Carleton College’s Science Education Resource Center (SERC) site. There is currently one existing STEM-specific climate justice module for General Chemistry focused on systems thinking and civic engagement around CO2 and PM 2.5 emissions from coal combustion in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. 

Strategies for Engaging in Climate Justice Teaching and Learning

When planning out climate justice teaching, there are three principles that are important to keep in mind. First is the idea of nurturing hope and action. In order to help students, and ourselves, work through the feelings of despair that come along with learning about climate justice issues, we must teach climate justice within a solution-centered or action-centered framework. This means starting with and focusing on solutions or actions, rather than tacking them on in a very small way to the end of a climate justice lesson that is mostly focused on the problem. For example, starting with alternative energy and having students analyze the social impacts of one particular form of alternative energy over another. Centering teaching around phenomena such as alternative energy centers both the STEM issues and the social issues. The People’s Curriculum for the Earth is a social studies curriculum that STEM educators in Washington State have begun to draw from to think about how to teach STEM within the context of a complex, unresolved societal issue and social phenomena.

The second major principle is addressing controversy and indoctrination. Talking about social issues in the STEM classroom seems out of bounds for many educators. However, it is important to understand that climate change is not a scientific controversy. While there may be some areas of the science and technology that emerge as undecided and lacking consensus, such as alternative energy, there is scientific consensus about the fact that climate change is human-caused. Therefore, the controversy is around social solutions, not climate science. If we accept that humans cause climate change, then we need to accept that humans must find solutions and that solutions often have economic, political, and social repercussions. These are the things that are controversial. If we don’t acknowledge and name the economic, political, and social controversies in our teaching, then students get confused about where the controversy actually lies. As part of bringing these controversies into our classrooms, we need to address issues of equity because those social and historical understandings of past inequities are built into the system due to our use of petroleum products. For example, the environmental justice impacts that have long been documented in Cancer Alley in Texas and Louisiana caused by the petrochemical industry are now being amplified by climate change.

A third principle is age-appropriate climate learning. We cannot talk to a 7-year-old about climate change in the same way we would talk to an adult. Some resources for finding age-appropriate climate learning include Talk Climate, the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN), and the STEM Teaching Tools developed at the University of Washington.

There is no universal curriculum resource for climate justice—instead learning needs to be contextualized for local places and social contexts in collaboration with community members and organizations. We often make assumptions about what a given community knows or is interested in, but instead of making these assumptions we need to engage in conversation with community members and organizations. This will help us center inquiry-based phenomena that they will be interested in investigating. Washington State’s ClimeTime initiative provides “Portraits of Projects” and other Open Educational Resources (OERs) where you can find examples of how climate justice learning is being designed in and with the community to be adaptive to local contexts. The ClimeTime Portraits and OERs provide examples of the challenges faced by educators when engaging with local issues and communities and how they addressed those challenges. It is important to think about local context when teaching about climate justice, such as focusing on a green transition and jobs or regenerative agriculture or sustainability forestry rather than social justice in some regions.

It is also important that educators are supported to understand and implement culturally responsive learning practices. While no universal culturally responsive climate justice curriculum exists, it is important to provide resources for professional learning, climate change education, and community conversations. Learning in Places is rooted in indigenous knowledge and environmental justice, and have very helpful resources for elementary and secondary educators. 

STEM Teaching Tools is funding teachers and community partners to write resources describing tips and resources for teaching about climate, how to work with community partners, and how to build supports with administrators and families. These resources are freely available online, to make sure that everyone has access to high-quality teaching materials (STEM Teaching Tools, 2022; Elmi et al., 2022). STEM Teaching Tools has pulled together Climate Learning Resources that are grounded in culturally-responsive and justice-centered pedagogies, including videos of seminars, into a single portal to make information easier to locate and use. 

CLEAN provides an incredible breadth of resources and examples to learn about climate science, including principles of climate science literacy. CLEAN is building resources to help facilitate age-appropriate instruction, teacher learning about climate change, and student learning about climate change concepts. Talking about climate justice, learning climate science, and working with local communities to lift ways they are engaging in climate change mitigation and adaptation are all critical aspects of localized justice-centered climate learning. 

There is an enormous amount of climate science to learn and professionals also need help in how to share climate information in ways that minimize emotional harm and empower learners. Talk Climate is a community organization that seeks to address this need. The Talk Climate community organization brings together educators, mental and medical health professionals, youth activists, artists, and climate scientists to create and share resources and publications on age appropriate ways for teachers, parents, and other professionals who work with young people, to share climate information with age and emotional development in mind.


Climate justice is justice for everyone on Earth. Finding a sustainable future where we are not at war with each other, where we have balance and equity, is our shared future. Justice is not something for someone else alone. It is our shared future. It is our students’ future. We need to raise their awareness about the risks and vulnerabilities they will face, and empower them with the knowledge and tools they will need to adapt to and mitigate the climate crisis and nurture climate justice.

About the Authors 

Sonya Remington Doucette is a sustainability leader at Bellevue College, where she is Chair of the Sustainability Curriculum Committee and the Sustainability Concentration Coordinator. She is the author of Sustainable World: Approaches to Analyzing and Resolving Wicked Problems (2017), which is used by institutions at the cutting edge of sustainability in higher education Prior to BC, she was a Senior Lecturer in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. She has also conducted sustainability education research at ASU. Two of her manuscripts were highly commended as Outstanding Papers in the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Annual Awards for Excellence. From 2008 -10, she was a post-doctoral teaching fellow in the Program on the Environment at the University of Washington. She began her academic sustainability career in 2007 when she became active in the Curriculum for the Bioregion (C4B) initiative at Evergreen State College. C4B seeks to infuse sustainability into all curricula, in all disciplines, at institutions of higher education in Washington State. 

Heather U. Price earned her Ph.D. in Analytical and Environmental Chemistry studying the long-range transport and photochemistry of air pollution. Her postdoctoral atmospheric chemistry research was conducted with the Program on Climate Change at University of Washington, incorporating the isotopes of hydrogen into a global chemical transport model of the atmosphere. She has developed a number of courses on climate change: for undergraduate students at UW, a summer program for high school students, continuing science education courses for elementary and 6-12 grade teachers. Her latest research and teaching focus is the development of short courses and workshops for faculty to help them incorporate climate justice with civic and/or community engagement into their existing STEM, arts, and humanities curriculum. She is also on the leadership team of the Seattle 500 Women Scientists organization and is co-founder of the climate resources community hub,

Deb L. Morrison works at the intersection of justice, climate science, and learning. She is a climate and anti-oppression activist, scientist, learning scientist, educator, mother, locally elected official, and many other things besides. Deb works in research-practice-policy partnerships from local community to international scales. She works to iteratively understand complex socio-ecological systems through design-based and action oriented research while at the same time seeking to improve human-environment relationships and sustainability. Dr. Morrison draws on an eclectic range of justice theory to inform her work in the world and to foster her continued journey for transformative liberation. She is a well-published author on diverse topics that intersect with climate justice learning and continues to foster collaborative writing partnerships across disciplines and communities that have historically been disconnected. Information about Dr. Morrison’s work can be found at

Irene Shaver is the newly appointed Program Manager of the Climate Solutions Program at the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges. The program focuses on climate solutions education across the curriculum, green workforce development, and making our colleges more sustainable. This program has several opportunities this year for community and technical colleges to deepen their work in sustainability and climate education that she will share. Shaver spent six years at Bellevue College working as a program manager for undergraduate research, and also was a high school teacher in Idaho, and worked at the Institute of Community Research in Connecticut as a program coordinator. She earned her doctorate in environmental science and sociology from the University of Idaho.


Much of this work was funded by an NSF IUSE grant (NSF DUE 2043535).


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Sustainability Education and Civic Engagement Through Integration of Undergraduate Research with Service Learning

Guang Jin, Department of Health Sciences, Illinois State University 
Thomas Bierma, Department of Health Sciences, Illinois State University 


Integrating service learning with undergraduate research, the student biodiesel project converted all waste vegetable oil (WVO) from campus dining centers into a sustainable biofuel used by campus vehicles, allowing half of the campus diesel energy needs to be met by a material (WVO) that was formerly a waste. Biodiesel reduced air pollution from campus diesel vehicles, including the emission of greenhouse gases. This project connected students to their community and increased students’ awareness of the social/economic aspects of environmental challenges in the world around them. Students felt a great sense of responsibility to make a real product that would make a difference in the real world. Students who participated in the research course became teaching assistants for another regular course in which biodiesel production was a component. This allowed biodiesel to be produced sustainably and provided additional students with hands-on bioenergy experience.  Specific challenges and suggestions for future practices are also reported. 


Sustainably harnessing biomass and converting it into usable fuels (bioenergy) is a critical part of combating climate change and addressing other environmental problems associated with fossil fuels. The success of bioenergy depends upon well-informed professionals, consumers, and citizens.  Universities play a unique role in addressing climate change and creating a sustainable society through demonstrating best practices, researching solutions to real-world problems, educating future communities and leaders, and promoting sustainability (Brundiers et al., 2010; Bacon et al., 2011; Barth et al., 2014; Ralph & Stubbs, 2014; Evans et al., 2015; Moura et al., 2021). 

Producing biodiesel fuel from campus waste fryer oil offers an outstanding opportunity for bioenergy education and civic engagement through community service.  Biodiesel is a clean-burning, renewable substitute for petroleum diesel that can be manufactured from new and used vegetable oils, animal fats, and waste restaurant grease. Using biodiesel as an alternative petroleum diesel reduces lifecycle carbon emissions (U.S. Department of Energy [US DOE], 2017) and the emission of harmful air pollutants such as asthma-causing soot (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [US EPA], 2018).  Waste fryer oil retains almost all its energy content even after it is discarded from cooking. Illinois State University (ISU) creates about 6000 gallons per year of waste vegetable oil (WVO) that the university must pay to dispose. If properly treated, this WVO can be used to make biodiesel.  Producing biodiesel fuel from campus waste fryer oil presents several advantages as a bioenergy and sustainability education topic (Christiansen, 2008; Jin & Bierma, 2013) because

  • It converts a waste into a valuable product.
  • It involves a feedstock that is very familiar to students (fryer oil).
  • The fuel can be utilized to operate campus vehicles.
  • It provides opportunities to educate the campus as well as local communities about bioenergy and sustainability.

In this paper, we present our experience of a campus biodiesel project where students who were enrolled in the undergraduate research course at ISU converted WVO from campus dining centers to biodiesel fuel used in university vehicles. Students who participated in the undergraduate research course were later recruited as paid teaching assistants for another regular course in which biodiesel production was a component. This allowed biodiesel to be produced continuously and provided additional students with hands-on bioenergy experience.  This project is unique in that it is completely student-driven, student-run and financially sustainable once the initial capital cost is in place, whereas other similar projects require full-time personnel, paid from a separate budget (Christiansen, 2008; Waickman, 2022).

Project Description and Outcomes

The student biodiesel project began a few years ago as an idea of environmental health (EH) students and faculty. The EH undergraduate curriculum has an elective research course with variable hours (1–3 credits).  After successfully completing this course, students should be able to:

  • use library and other tools to search for existing body of research relevant to a given research topic,
  • collect and analyze data using appropriate techniques,
  • apply problem-solving skills to constructively address research setbacks, and
  • communicate research to others in the field and to broader audiences through presentations.

We integrated this research course with service learning and civic engagement in mind by guiding students through producing biodiesel fuel from campus waste vegetable oil (WVO).  Learning activities included sampling and analyzing WVO from campus dining centers (Figure 1); producing and testing small-scale (1-gallon) batches of biodiesel; researching large-scale (50- gallon) biodiesel production technology; producing and testing large-scale batches of biodiesel (Figure 2); researching recovery technology of methanol and glycerin from biodiesel glycerin waste; designing and building a solar-powered methanol and glycerin recovery unit; and presenting research findings in classrooms as well as community outreach activities. 

Faculty worked closely with students throughout the undergraduate research course with a typical enrollment of 8–10 EH students each semester (about 60% females).  In addition, faculty had weekly classroom meetings with students to discuss literature and data interpretation and analysis and to brainstorm with students on problem-solving ideas when there were research setbacks; faculty also worked with students in the lab and field to troubleshoot process/equipment.  Students formed a close relationship with faculty in this course, evidenced by frequently dropping by during faculty office hours to discuss academic and career plans.    

After several semesters of efforts, biodiesel has been produced in 50-gallon batches and has received American Society of Testing Methods (ASTM) certification. Approximately 6,000 gallons of biodiesel have been produced per year and have been used in a variety of campus diesel vehicles.  

 Students in this undergraduate course also hosted tours and demonstrations for junior high and high schools in the community.  Signs on the truck, as well as in dining halls, have educated ISU students about the waste-to-fuel practice on campus. News media coverage educated the community about local bioenergy and sustainability practices (Figure 3). Biodiesel production has also become part of another regular course called Renewable Energy and Agriculture (AGR 225).  Students in the three STEM majors (about half females) typically take AGR 225 in their junior and senior years.  ISU students who participated in the undergraduate research course were recruited as paid teaching assistants for AGR 225 providing approximately 30–50 students per year with hands-on bioenergy experience while allowing continuous production of campus biodiesel fuel. 

Student Feedback

Student feedback was collected from standard college course evaluation with one open-ended question: “Write a short paragraph about your experience with the biodiesel project. How did this experience influence your connection to the community?” In addition, instructors’ observations of student comments during the biodiesel production process, classroom discussions, and education outreach activities are also presented as anecdotal evidence. 

In the standard college course evaluation, students were asked to rate in a Likert scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest score.  Over 90% students rated their progress on relevant course objectives as 4 or 5.  All students rated learning to apply knowledge and skills to benefit others or serve the public goods as 4 or 5. 

In addition, students felt a great sense of responsibility to make a real product (i.e. biodiesel fuel) that had to pass a fuel quality control test run by themselves … and when it didn’t, they had to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it! It was a lot of work, but students felt inspired to do it and it felt rewarding to help people in the wider community.  Students also feel that they are more aware of community needs and have a deeper understanding of the social and economic impact of environmental problems on a community.  Students felt strongly connected to the local community, because they took actions and were able to serve the local community.

Discussion and Suggestions for Future Practice

Integrating service learning with undergraduate research, the student biodiesel project allowed half of the campus diesel energy needs to be met by a material (WVO) that was formerly a waste (N. Stoff [Illinois State University Facilities Management], personal communication, July 31, 2018), an example of greater sustainability through resource-conserving technologies and practices. Biodiesel reduced air pollution from campus diesel vehicles, including the emission of greenhouse gases.  This project allowed students to learn basic laboratory and research skills and apply them in a campus sustainability challenge, connected students to their community, taught civic responsibility, and increased students’ awareness of the social/economic aspects of environmental challenges in the world around them. Students felt empowered by being trusted to work on a research project that is meaningful and important because it is real research and makes a difference in the real world.  Students developed a profound personal attachment to achieving positive change in both the environment and their communities.  These student outcomes were consistent with many studies that showed that service learning resulted in gains in academic engagement (Covitt, 2006; Mpofu, 2007), self-efficacy and interpersonal and problem-solving skills (Chen et al., 2018; Bielefeldt & Lima, 2019), civic responsibility and attitudes toward community service (Kahne & Sporte, 2008; Manning-Ouellette & Hemer, 2019).

The student biodiesel project leveraged funding and support from several sources to establish biodiesel production on campus. Besides a gift from the Omron Foundation and a grant from ISU Student Sustainability Fund, space in the department of agriculture shop was provided for production without charge. A used pickup truck for WVO collection was donated by the university. Finally, ISU purchased our biodiesel at market price. This revenue paid for materials and supplies, student teaching assistants, and recapitalization of equipment, with the result that biodiesel production on campus was financially self-sustaining. 

Specific challenges encountered in this project included substantial initial capital investment, the requirement for campus-wide support in infrastructure and logistics, and the fact that financial self-sustainability of the project was subject to changes in the price of materials, product/ biodiesel as well as labor cost of student teaching assistants.  Despite the challenges, we believe this type of service-learning on university campuses presents great opportunities for sustainability education and civic engagement through community service.   

Our next steps will be seeking methods to make the process more labor efficient, recover more methanol, and find a way to generate more revenue from glycerin, for example by using it to make soap.  We will also seek donations of WVO from local small business to increase our biodiesel output to further serve the local community.  

Institutions with limited resources could implement an adapted form of the project such as Biodiesel on Wheels, where a flatbed trailer could be used to house all components required for making biodiesel. This setup requires much less space and fewer resources but could produce good-quality biodiesel from campus WVO, and it could be used as an excellent community education outreach tool.

About the Authors 

Guang Jin (Sc.D. in Environmental Health Sciences) is Professor of Environmental Health & Sustainability in the Department of Health Sciences at Illinois State University, with areas of expertise and experience in pollution prevention, biomass energy, and sustainability.  She is passionate about student engagement in STEM and about innovative pedagogies to enhance learning.


Thomas Bierma (Ph.D. in Public Health) is Emeritus Professor of Environmental Health & Sustainability in the Department of Health Sciences at Illinois State University, with research experience in sustainable business practices, bioenergy, waste management, and pedagogy for higher education.



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Mathematics Preparatory Workshops to Foster Student Success

Sandie Han, New York City College of Technology
Diana Samaroo, New York City College of Technology
Janet Liou-Mark, New York City College of Technology
Lauri Aguirre, New York City College of Technology


Mathematics preparatory workshops were offered to college students at a diverse urban undergraduate institution.  The goal was to prepare students for their mathematics course, by offering non-credit bearing and free preparatory workshops. The lack of adequate preparation for mathematics courses is a barrier for student engagement in future STEM courses. We believe that by providing preparatory workshops, we can improve not only the success but access for students in foundational mathematics courses. The workshops allowed students to engage with the course content in a rigorous and intensive manner prior to the start of the semester. Students who participated in the workshops are more likely to be better prepared when enrolled in the credit-bearing course.  


New York City College of Technology (City Tech), a designated Hispanic-Serving Institution in an urban metropolitan area, provides education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to a diverse student population. As of fall 2021, the student ethnicity/demographics at the college were 34.1% Hispanic students, 26.8% African American, 20.9% Asian, 11.4% White, 4.0% Nonresident alien, 2.2% two or more races, 0.4% American Indian or Alaskan Native and 0.2% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. As a primarily undergraduate institution, the college offers associate and bachelor’s degree programs.  Some associate degree programs serve as a pathway toward a bachelor’s degree with the advantage of enabling students to take prerequisite and developmental courses.   Often referred to as “two plus two” (two-year associate and two-year bachelor’s), this model enables students to start in an associate degree program while taking prerequisite and developmental courses and continue into the bachelor’s program. This model provides a path for students to enter a STEM program even if there are gaps in their mathematics and science coursework in high school.  

The college’s mission is to prepare students for applied and technical careers by providing access to opportunities which include interdisciplinary and ‘place-based learning’. Celebrating its 25th year as a Hispanic Serving Institution, the college fosters practices which promote equity for its diverse student population (City Tech, n.d). Furthermore, students are often engaged in high-impact practices, such as undergraduate research, which can focus on community-based or local issues, such as water quality (Galford, 2017; Samaroo, 2022) or integration of STEM into the elementary school curriculum (Samaroo, 2018), alongside other projects that include peer led team learning (Han, 2022).  

The mathematics department at our college offers more than two hundred sections of mathematics classes, with two-thirds of them considered gateway (see below) classes  to a student’s chosen degree path. These include quantitative reasoning, college algebra and trigonometry, precalculus, calculus 1 and calculus 2, and are taken by 4,000-5,000 students every semester. In STEM disciplines, this often results in a lengthy sequence of courses where one is a prerequisite to the next. Worse yet, these courses are often ranked among the most failed courses at the institution. Gateway mathematics courses with high failure rates is likely to deter students in their STEM pursuit, leading to high attrition and low graduation (Sithole, 2017).

(We define gateway mathematics courses as the foundational course students need to complete in their first year of studies for a specific degree program. These courses can also be a pre- or co-requisite to other major courses required fora degree. For example calculus is a prerequisite to certain engineering courses at our college. Calculus can also be considered a gateway course in the Applied Mathematics major, for example, as it is the first required course in a sequence of courses for that degree.)

The preparation of students for college courses is more problematic than ever due to the well-documented learning loss experienced by students in recent years (Gordon, 2021; Moscoviz, 2022).  One of the key areas of significant learning loss is in mathematics (NEA, 2022). The problem also points to increased inequity in access to quality education during the pandemic among underrepresented minorities and underserved populations (NEA, 2022). Examining the demographics found that minority students and students with financial needs tended to be those starting at developmental level or needing prerequisite content support (Attewell, 2006; Logue 2016).

Recognizing that mathematics is the foundation of any STEM program, and that student success and timely completion of prerequisite mathematics courses strongly impact their ability to complete the STEM major (Frost, 2017), we implemented at our institution low-stakes, high-impact preparatory workshops designed to help bridge the learning gaps. In literature review, we found only few articles reporting on “preparatory workshops”, “bootcamps” or “bridge programs”. Most reported that there is a strong need to prepare and support students especially in the first year of college (Alavi, 2020; Campbell, 2015; Frost, 2017; Jura, 2022; Reisel, 2014). Some bridge programs range from three to four weeks.  Clune et al. reported on the success of a mathematics bootcamp for graduate students (2022). Such programs, whether workshops or bootcamps, benefit students beyond the subject matter; they help provide study skills, critical thinking, college resource awareness, and they are important in the transition and the mental preparation for college (Alavi, 2020; Jura, 2022). The goal of this paper is to disseminate the work from our mathematics preparatory program for undergraduate students and to provide a model for practitioners.

Workshop Design 

The key goal for our preparatory workshop is to improve student success in mathematics courses. We identified those courses that are gateway in degree programs and designed a week-long workshop to provide a review of the prerequisite materials and an introduction to the course.  The typical design of the workshop is for four days at three hours a day for a total of 12.  For our college algebra and trigonometry with co-requisite, designed for students with greater needs for remediation and reviews, we offer a slightly longer workshop for five days at three hours a day for a total of 15 hours. The workshops are strategically scheduled right before the beginning of the semester (in summer, August and in winter, January), so students would be motivated and mentally ready on the first day of class.

Figure 1: Samples of Workshop Materials

The workshops are low stakes in the sense they do not bear any credits or grades, and are completely voluntary and open to all students.  At our institution, the workshops are funded by First Year Programs and are offered free of cost to students. Recruitment for the workshops is through college email announcement, recommendations by the instructors or departments, or through First Year Programs and other support services.  There is a required registration process for the workshop which allows us to identify the students and follow their progress in the semester.

In designing the workshops, we considered the following aspects:

Content support. Each workshop is specifically designed to prepare students for a particular course. A corresponding workbook is created for each workshop to provide the content materials which include prerequisite review as well as introductory topics that students may see again in the course. The workshop instructors are recruited from among the mathematics faculty, typically those with experience teaching the course.

High-impact pedagogies. High-impact active learning pedagogies are incorporated into the workshop and the workbook design, such as exploratory learning, collaborative learning, hands-on problem-solving, real-world applications, and the use of visualization for the demonstration of concepts (Abate, 2022; Presmeg, 2006).  

Peer-support system. The peer-led team learning (PLTL) is an important component of the support system where peer leaders recruited from among the upper-class students in various STEM majors to support and facilitate either one-on-one learning or group discussions in the workshops (Liou-Mark, 2015). Another importance of the PLTL program is the “role modeling” impact by the peer leaders whom we made strong efforts to recruit from women and underrepresented minorities. 

Equitable and inclusive access. The workshop design considers academic, financial, and emotional support in providing equitable and inclusive access, adopting high impact strategies to support women and underrepresented minority students. The pedagogical strategies mentioned above, as well as tuition-free workshops, the open-access resources, the PLTL support, and the use of visualization in the workbook design are all aiming to increase learning opportunities and reduce challenges.  

Developed over the years, we have expanded our workshops to support six mathematics courses. Other than Quantitative Reasoning, which is considered the gateway mathematics for non-STEM majors, the other five courses are part of the STEM sequence required by engineering, mathematics, computer science, and some sciences such as computational physics and applied chemistry. Students who begin their mathematics with college algebra (based on college placement exams), often face a lengthy mathematics sequence. The college algebra course is the most enrolled course in the mathematics department. We present below a brief description of each course and its corresponding workshop:

Quantitative Reasoning is a course designed for non-STEM majors who need a review of equations, problem-solving and basic probability, and statistics. The workshop incorporates real-world data such as COVID-19 or Census data which are relevant to students and their communities.

College Algebra and Trigonometry with Corequisite is a course with additional hours of corequisite support designed for students who can benefit from additional algebra review. For many STEM majors, this is the first of their STEM mathematics sequence. The workshop starts with a review of elementary and intermediate algebra topics with emphasis on addressing common mistakes and pitfalls.

College Algebra and Trigonometry, same as (2) above, is the first of STEM mathematics sequence. The workshop puts greater emphasis on introduction to trigonometry because students tend to have difficulties with trigonometric concepts.

Precalculus. The workshop focuses on the studies of functions and their characteristics using graphs and visualization tools such as Desmos.  

Calculus I. The workshop incorporates numerous graphs and visualizations to demonstrate the related concepts. The workshop provides “just in time” review of algebra. 

Calculus II. The workshop focuses on both concepts and techniques, as well as provides “just in time” review of algebra and trigonometry needed in integration.

The freely accessible corresponding workbooks focus on concept understanding through visualization, hands-on problem solving, and real-world applications. The design of the curriculum offers targeted lessons that anticipate the immediate needs of the student providing relevant review materials with new content. This not only helps review a topic but also applies it right away in problem-solving. Below, we share some sample workbook materials. 

Effectiveness of the Workshops

Presented in this section is a summary of findings from the workshops offered in summer 2019, summer 2020, and summer 2021. The workshops were in person in summer 2019 and online in summer 2020 and 2021. Of the total 464 participants in the workshops, 417 registered for the corresponding courses in the Fall semester immediately after the workshops, while the remaining 47 students either did not take math in the immediate semester or took a course different from the workshop in which they participated. These 47 students were included in the demographic data but excluded from the grade distribution data.

Figure 2. Demographics of Workshop Participants During Summers 2019, 2020, 2021 (N=464)
  1. The demographic data of the workshop participants from summer 2019, 2020, and 2021 shows that 56% were female, and 73% were African American, Hispanic, or other (Native American, Pacific Islander, two or more races).  These numbers are significant compared with the institution’s enrollment data which consists of 46% women and 67.7% African American, Hispanic, and other (Figure 2). Given that registration for the workshop is voluntary and self-selected, the high participation rate among women and underrepresented minority groups, particularly Hispanic and African American women and men, suggests the preparatory workshops respond to the needs of women and underrepresented minority students for learning support.
  2. The grade distribution comparison indicates that students who participated in the workshop generally had a higher percentage of A, B and C grades and a lower percentage of failure (F grade) in the corresponding course as compared to students who did not participate in the workshops (see Figure 3). Overall, 56% of the workshop participants earned a grade of A, B, or C in the corresponding course in the immediate semester after the workshop.
  3. While we had hoped workshop participants would show a lower withdrawal rate (W grade), a possible explanation for the higher withdrawal rate observed in Fall 2020 may be due to the special allowance for Credit (CR) and No Credit (NC) grades during the pandemic semesters. The college data grouped NC with F, rather than W grade, which may have resulted in skewed F and W grade distribution.  
  4. Using Chi square test to see if there is a significant difference in the grade distribution pattern of the workshop participants compared to the non-participants, we found no significant difference in the Fall 2019 and Fall 2020 data; but there is significant difference in the Fall 2021 data.
  5. In desegregated comparison, students who participated in the workshops for College Algebra and Trigonometry (including both the extended course with corequisite and the regular course without the corequisite) showed a higher percentage in earning A, B, C grades and a lower percentage of earning F and W grades.  See Figure 4, which also provides a pre-pandemic (Fall 2019) and post-pandemic (Fall 2021) comparison for the same course.  The post-pandemic data shows an exceedingly high withdrawal rate (32%) among students who did not participate in the workshops.
  6. The participation rate of the workshop among registered students in the course has increased from 1.7% in Fall 2019 to 2.6% in Fall 2020 and to 4.0% in Fall 2021.  This seems to indicate that more students feel the need for course review and learning support. We think changing the workshop to the online format in 2020 and 2021 may have contributed to the increased participation.  Students have also indicated that they preferred online workshops.  
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is SamarooFig3-1024x517.jpg
Figure 3: Grade Distribution Comparison of Workshop Participants versus Non-Participants in the corresponding courses during the Fall Semesters. (City Tech Office of Assessment, Institutional Research and Effectiveness (AIRE).

Figure 4: Grade Distribution Comparison of Workshop Participants versus Non-Participants in College Algebra and Trigonmetry (with or without corequisite) (Fall 2019 and Fall 2021). (City Tech Office of Assessment, Institutional Research and Effectiveness (AIRE).

At the conclusion of the winter 2022 preparatory workshops, students were asked for (voluntary) feedback.  Of the 55  students who responded, a significant majority agreed or strongly agreed that the workshop was helpful. Overwhelmingly, students strongly agreed that the instruction was helpful, an indication that students connected with the instructor despite this being a short one-week program.  

We also asked the workshop instructors to gauge their student response or receptiveness towards the workbook; they reported positive responses and that the visual activities and graphs from the workbooks were very helpful. Regarding student engagement, instructors reported that students were actively engaged. One instructor commented,  “Best online workshop that I’ve taught.” 


Student access to the preparatory workshops described in this paper seems to show an increase in student success in mathematics courses. Students who participate in preparatory workshops are more likely to be better prepared and show better results when taking the credit bearing course. In addition, these students are taking responsibility for their own learning since participation in the non-credit bearing workshops is completely voluntary. The preparatory workshop offered at our college focuses on bridging learning gaps in mathematics, however, this should not be exclusive to mathematics.  Preparatory workshops in other first-year courses can be just as beneficial, especially those in STEM requiring foundational knowledge, such as chemistry, biology, or writing. 

We share this work because it is low stakes with measurable impact and can be easily replicated for colleges who seek to address equity in student learning. We summarize additional benefits here for those who consider designing and implementing a preparatory workshop:

  • A preparatory workshop may be offered in targeted discipline support based on needs.
  • A preparatory workshop is easy to develop and flexible in length. The workshops may range from a few hours of review to a more extensive course prep.
  • A preparatory workshop not only helps students review for a course, but it also helps prepare students with college readiness skills and mental state. 
  • The cost-benefit analysis shows a preparatory workshop before the semester is an efficient way to support students on a limited budget.
  • Since there is no requirement for grades, the curriculum can be more creative and customized to students’ skill level. 

We believe that students respond favorably to the workshop because they view the instructors as helping instead of judging and are more likely to bond and enjoy the experience of learning. 

In conclusion, we found that the one-week mathematics preparatory workshops just prior to the start of the semester were helpful in building motivation, increasing learning success, and providing equitable and inclusive support for students, in particular women and underrepresented minorities.  Although we could not fully determine whether the post-pandemic workshops had more impact than the pre-pandemic workshops, we believe the need for learning support is stronger than ever, and the workshop is an effective way of providing a valuable foundation.


First Year Programs is thanked for sharing the compiled data. We thank the instructors for their participation in the workshops.  The authors also acknowledge the editors for their feedback.

About the Authors 

Sandie Han is a Professor of Mathematics at New York City College of Technology. She has extensive experience in program design and administration, including serving 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 Instructions in 2013. She is passionate about increasing student engagement and participation in STEM, particularly to empower women and underrepresented minorities.  She started the CUNY Celebrates Women in Computing conference and is currently the 2022 – 23 faculty leadership fellow in CUNY Office of Undergraduate Studies, Academic Programs and Policy serving in the role of Assistant Dean for Academic Technology & Pedagogy.

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 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.

Janet Liou-Mark was a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at NYC College of Technology. Her research interests included peer-led team learning, mentoring, interdisciplinary learning, and enhancing diversity in STEM. Dr. Liou-Mark received thirteen awards for her excellence in education, which included the 2011 CUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mathematics Instruction and the Mathematical Association of America Metropolitan New York Section 2014 Award for Distinguished Teaching of Mathematics.  Dr. Liou-Mark was co-principal investigator on several National Science Foundation grants, as well as Department of Education Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program grant. 

Lauri Aguirre is the Director of First Year Programs (FYP) at New York City College of Technology. In this role, she has administered and designed programs for new students, focusing on their acclimatization of basic academic skills, college preparedness and student success. Programming has included the First Year Summer Program immersion courses and workshops in English and mathematics, First Year Learning Communities, City Tech 101: A Student Success Workshop, the FYP Peer Mentoring program, and the student handbook, The Companion for the First Year at City Tech.


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Evaluating Knowledge Transfer after a Science Cafe: A Qualitative Approach for Rural Settings


Science Cafés are informal community gatherings that aim to facilitate the engagement of scientific researchers with the general public.  These events have been implemented worldwide in rural and urban settings.  This article evaluates two Science Café series, held in rural Iowa communities.  Evaluation of Science Cafés typically consists of participant surveys to measure satisfaction with the presenter, interest in the topic, or solicit topic suggestions for future events.  This paper presents results from a qualitative evaluation that aimed to better understand how the information presented at Science Cafés was shared with others in the community following the event.  Results suggest that participants share information in both formal and informal settings following a Science Café, especially those who self-identify as “champions” of an issue. This research suggests that future evaluations examine rural social networks to better understand the broader community impact of these events.


Science Cafés are informal community gatherings that aim to facilitate the engagement of scientific researchers with the general public.  These events have been implemented worldwide in rural and urban settings. The University of Iowa’s Environmental Health Sciences Research Center (EHSRC) has hosted Science Cafés since 2013, mostly in rural communities in Iowa.  Evaluation of Science Cafés typically consists of participant surveys to measure satisfaction with the presenter and interest in the topic or to solicit topic suggestions for future events.  This paper presents results from a qualitative evaluation that aimed to better understand how the information presented at Science Cafés was shared with others in the community following the event.  


Science Cafés are casual events designed to engage members of the public with science and scientists. These interactive gatherings can be in a coffee house, bar, library, or community space. They typically involve a presentation by one or more speakers with a scientific research background, followed by a group discussion and questions (NOVA Education, 2020). The bi-directional communication, in which audience members discuss the topic and pose questions, allows researchers to learn about public perceptions, concerns, and curiosity for their area of expertise. The community benefits from participation as they learn about science in their everyday lives and see the value of research and STEM (S. Ahmed, DeFino, Connors, Kissack, & Franco, 2014; S. M. Ahmed et al., 2017). Science Café events should emphasize “participation” over “popularization,” to better “demythologize science communication, bringing it out of the cathedra and into everyday life” (Bagnoli & Pacini, 2011). Science Café events are held across the globe and many are now recorded and posted online so that they are broadly accessible to the general public. 

The first Science Café was held in 1997 at a wine bar in Leeds, England and was modeled after the the French Cafés Philosophiques, forums held in cafés to discuss philosophical issues (Nielsen, Balling, Hope, & Nakamura, 2015). This format of gathering in a public space to socialize and discuss science has been adopted all over the world in a somewhat grassroots fashion (NOVA Education, 2020). A Science Café is one model of scientific communication with the public that encourages public participation and exploration of emerging issues in medicine, science, technology, the environment, and globalization. The global nature of the Science Café movement is “part of a wider participatory trend” that aims to engage the public with the processes of science (Nielsen et al., 2015, p. 15).  However, events are also “adapted to local contexts” to shape and define forms of interactions and dialogue between scientists and their immediate constituencies (Nielsen et al., 2015, p. 3).

Evaluation is a standard component of Science Café events, consisting primarily of participant satisfaction surveys (Einbinder, 2013).  Researchers have found that the events are effective at encouraging the discussion of scientific issues among members of the public (Navid & Einsiedel, 2012), including among youth (Hall, Foutz, & Mayhew, 2013; Mayhew & Hall, 2012).  The Clinical and Translational Science Institute of SE Wisconsin also evaluated the impact of attendees’ understanding of health and scientific information using a Likert scale assessment of participants’ reported level of confidence across a five-item instrument. They found that attending a Café increased participants’ confidence in health and scientific literacy (S. Ahmed et al., 2014).  In addition, Science Cafés are seen as a mechanism to improve the ability of scientists to communicate with the public by providing an opportunity to practice explaining scientific concepts to a general audience (Goldina & Weeks, 2014).  This is particularly important for those scientists who may see public engagement as “troublesome or time-consuming” (Mizumachi, Matsuda, Kano, Kawakami, & Kato, 2011).  One key challenge of evaluating Science Cafés, or other “dialogue events” aimed at increasing public engagement with science, is understanding the extent to which they increase individual participants’ knowledge about scientific concepts (Lehr et al., 2007). Furthermore, Science Café events may hold greater value as interactions that broadly improve relationships between scientists and society through accessible engagement, rather than serving merely as a mechanism to teach specific ideas, such as in formal scientific lectures or courses (Dijkstra, 2017).

Public Health in Rural Settings

In the US, rural communities disproportionately suffer from a number of adverse health outcomes, including higher rates of obesity and earlier mortality, as well as higher rates of smoking and lower physical activity than their urban counterparts (Garcia et al., 2017; Matthews et al., 2017). Further, recruiting and retaining health care personnel is difficult in rural areas (Asghari et al., 2019; Lafortune & Gustafson, 2019; Thill, Pettersen, & Erickson, 2019) In addition to addressing structural and geographic disparities in rural areas, the social context must also be considered when delivering effective public health interventions in these settings (Gilbert, Laroche, Wallace, Parker, & Curry, 2018).   Factors including demographic shifts due to immigration (Nelson & Marston, 2020), poverty (Thurlow, Dorosh, & Davis, 2019), and the necessary engagement of rural residents with extractive industries, such as agriculture or mining (Kulcsar, Selfa, & Bain, 2016), also contribute to health disparities and require interventions that take into account the social and cultural components unique to rural communities. 

There has long been an understanding that social networks may be associated with mortality risk (Berkman, 1986) and spread of disease (Bates, Trostle, Cevallos, Hubbard, & Eisenberg, 2007), but they may also provide a framework for behavioral interventions (Eng, 1993; Yun, Kang, Lim, Oh, & Son, 2010). In addition, social transmission of knowledge has been documented in relation to ethnobotanical knowledge (Lozada, Ladio, & Weigandt, 2006; Yates & Ramírez-Sosa, 2004) and agricultural practices and innovations (Flachs, 2017; Stone, 2004).  Despite this, evaluations of public health or science-related events do not regularly assess the potential for knowledge dissemination by participants following the event’s occurrence.  Our evaluation aimed to understand the potential for knowledge transmiss


To evaluate the UE program, we employed a simple pre-post-intervention task. As previously stated, on the first day of the program we asked each student to draw a picture that reflected what they thought about when hearing the term “nature.” We created inventories according to items represented (Sanford, Staples, &. Snowman, 2017; Flowers, Carroll, Green, & Larson, 2015). We repeated this task on the last day of the program before the students were dismissed. Because of unforeseen time constraints (see Limitations, below), we provided students with just five minutes to complete the post-program drawings. We chose to employ this evaluation method after speaking with a school liaison, who expressed concern about the ability of these children to express their opinions in written form. This type of evaluation has been successfully employed with children through eighth grade (Sanford et al., 2017).

Using an emergent thematic coding analysis, researchers analyzed each drawing and developed codes to compare pre-program drawings to post-program drawings in order to determine whether the intervention changed perceptions of what “nature” means to the students. Because of the small sample size (n = 20), each researcher coded all drawings, and the group worked together to reach full agreement. To determine statistical significance, we used a chi-square analysis.

Research Setting

At the University of Iowa, the NIEHS-funded Core Center, the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center (EHSRC), and the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science (ICTS) have been organizing Science Cafés since 2013 in various small Iowa towns, most consistently focusing on two communities.  Community One, a town of 4,435 residents with a small liberal arts college, and Community Two, a slightly larger town, with 10,420 residents and an alternative business school. Both communities also have a robust agricultural economy that includes produce, livestock, and grain farmers.  The Science Café events involve one presenter, usually a researcher or faculty member from the University of Iowa, and the coordinating staff from the EHSRC.  The researcher delivers a presentation about 20–30 minutes in length, followed by questions from the audience and discussion.  There are no Powerpoint or other slide shows; however, in some cases the presenter may put together a handout that includes two or three slides or graphics with main points from the presentation.  Because the events are meant to allow considerable time for discussion and questions from the audience, there are no formal learning objectives or knowledge tests for participants. Most presentations reflect the environmental health focus of the EHSRC.  However, the standard evaluation questionnaire distributed after each event solicits suggestions for additional topics from the participants; these topics are then prioritized for future events.  Participant suggestions have led to presentations on topics such as wolf habitat in the Midwest, obesity, and healthy sleep habits.

The Science Café location in Community One is a local coffee shop in the center of town, while in Community Two it is the public library. Both of these venues have strong relationships with the EHSRC and support the events by posting flyers for upcoming Cafés. The library in Community Two includes the events on their programming calendar, sends out announcements via Listserv, and sometimes sends press releases to the local paper. The EHSRC regularly advertises in the local paper of Community One. The age of the attendees varies from college students to elder retirees, with retirees being the largest group of consistent participants. There is a core group of about eight participants in each community who attend all of the Cafés, while other attendees vary based on the topic. 

This paper presents a novel evaluation of the EHSRC Science Cafés by examining the extent to which participants share what they learned with others. Rather than simply assessing how satisfied or interested participants were in the topic, or assessing individual knowledge, this evaluation seeks to better understand how information travels through communities and social networks, recognizing the importance of social networks as described above, and the implications for broader scientific literacy and environmental health literacy. Given the rural context of the EHSRC Science Cafés, this paper reflects on the implications of knowledge sharing in the rural landscape. 


In the spring of 2019, the EHSRC Community Engagement Core (CEC) staff added several questions to the standard written evaluation that is administered after each Science Café.  In addition to asking participants about how far they traveled for the Science Café, how they learned about the event, examples of what they learned during the Café, and to rate their level of satisfaction with the content, participants were asked, “Do you plan to share this information with friends, family, or others?  If so, how will you share?”  The evaluation also asked if we could follow up with a phone interview in the future.  These additional questions were posed at all six Science Café events in spring 2019. The project description was submitted to the University of Iowa’s Institutional Review Board, where it was deemed not to fit the criteria for human subjects’ research. This work was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, P30 ES005605.

A 13-question instrument was designed for use via Computer Assisted Telephone Interview (CATI) system.  Science Café participants who had indicated their willingness to be interviewed provided their phone numbers on the evaluations and were contacted within two weeks of the Science Café event.  The interview reminded participants of their response to the original question, “Do you plan to share this information with friends, family, or others? If so, how will you share?” and asked whether they had in fact shared information from the Science Café and with whom and how they shared it.  In addition, participants were asked to describe any other instances when they shared information from any Science Café and who in their communities they felt would most benefit from attending Science Café events.

Interviews were conducted by trained interviewers at the Iowa Social Science Research Center on the campus of the University of Iowa.  The CATI system allows for interviews to be transcribed as they are conducted. Following the interviews, written transcriptions were provided to the research team for analysis.  

The interview transcripts were coded using both deductive and inductive approaches.  The research team read the transcripts and developed an initial set of deductive codes based on the categories of people with whom information was shared:  friends/family, social group, professional contacts.  A second round of inductive coding generated novel codes from the data and illuminated concepts specific to the population and conditions under which information was shared (e.g. agricultural occupations or cancer survivor) (Legard, Keegan, & Ward, 2003).   


Science Café Attendance

In spring 2019, attendance at the Science Cafés ranged from eight to 31 participants (see Table 1).  Travel to the events ranged from less than one mile up to 35 miles (one attendee in Community One) with most attendees traveling one mile or less to attend. This suggests the audience for Science Cafés is mostly local residents.  In both communities, the highest proportion of attendees report that they are “retired” or “semi-retired”: 38% (n= 12) in Community One and 32% (n= 14) in Community Two.  Other occupations identified include farmer, educator, student, medical professional, and self-employed person.

Results from Written Evaluations

Over the course of three Science Cafés in Community One, we received 32 evaluations from a total of 66 participants.  In Community Two, we received 44 evaluations from 73 participants.  In this paper, we have combined all evaluation results to present the results across both communities.  

In response to the question “Do you plan to share this information with friends, family or others?” 56 respondents indicated “yes,” nine indicated “no,” and 11 did not respond to the question.  The majority of respondents (33) who said “yes,” indicated that they would do so through conversations with family or friends.  Others also indicated social media (two), email (six), and by sharing “notes” (five).  Four indicated they would share through a community group or organization (see Figure 1).  

The written evaluation also included a question asking for examples of something the participants learned.  Among the responses to this open-ended question were some very specific items, such as “how to count pollen + p2.5-p10 measurements + pollen fragments” following a presentation on air pollution, to more general statements or perceptions of the content.  Following a presentation on Iowa agriculture, one participant wrote, “I loved being reminded that conventional ag and diversified small ag are a venn [sic] diagram and have things in common” and another wrote, “intersection of local and global ag in formal and informal ways.” After a presentation on air quality, someone responded: “I learned about air control.” 

Results from Interviews

Over the course of the spring 2019 Science Café events, 26 indicated on their evaluation form that they were willing to be interviewed. Of those, we were able to contact and interview 18 individuals, ten women and eight men.  Given the relatively narrow focus of the interview guide, this number should be sufficient to reach saturation, the point at which no new themes emerge from the data (Guest, Bunce, & Johnson, 2006).

Consistent with the responses in the initial evaluations, most participants shared information in conversations with family or friends:

  • I have a friend that I get together with once a week and we chat. We were at lunch and I talked about how Iowa is one of the worst states for cancer. We are also the best research state for cancer, I was kind of bragging on us. (Participant #4)
  • I talked about it by word of mouth to a ton of people (Participant #8)
  • The bottom line for the lecture after going through many ideas is that the future is solar, and I had a friend who asked me about it and I told him that. (Participant #17)
  • I have a friend in Cedar Rapids that I have shared the information with (Participant #15)

Others indicated that they shared information strategically with family or friends who might be particularly interested in it or benefit from it.  In some cases, the information was directed at someone who lacked knowledge about the topic: “It was a casual conversation with a friend we were talking about. She’s new to being in a rural area which brought up the different types of agriculture with which she wasn’t familiar with and I was able to share” (Participant #10). 

Conversely, information was shared with people who had very specific knowledge of the topic, such as in the case of a cancer survivor or someone remediating mold in a home:

  • I shared some points with my mother who is a cancer survivor (Participant #13)
  • We were cleaning a house because it was dusty and the new occupants, one of them, has a dust allergy, and I said I was just at the Science Café on air quality and the question was “What is one thing we can do ourselves on air quality?” and the teacher said basement mold and the person I was talking to said the moldy basement was a bigger issue than the dust and I was able to confirm what they said with the advice of an expert. (Participant #26)

Others noted that the topic was relevant to their professional life and so they discussed it with colleagues in a professional capacity.  In this context, student status is considered a professional setting:

  • I brought it up in class and told them what it was about. (Participant #8)
  • Since I’m a farmer I’ll sometimes relate something that came out of there to someone else in the same profession. (Participant #11)
  • Friends who are water quality testers like me, we all agreed that we need to be referencing data and all of us generally agreed that this ups the game of water quality of Iowa and is the proof that we need to show that we have to turn things around. (Participant #16)
  • Finally, a couple of respondents referenced formal social or community groups that they shared information with:  
  • [with] the breakfast club…I told it to my husband, my friends at the book club, and several other people. (Participant #5)
  • I work with the local Sierra Club so it was an interesting background to have. (Participant #21)

In some cases, respondents referenced their own reputations or positions within the community, indicating that the Science Café information provided additional weight or legitimacy to areas of concern that they have been known to discuss:

  • Informally as always. They’re used to me talking about local ag at this point. (Participant #14)
  • It was about agriculture and I am a farmer so it is my life. (Participant #9)
  • I talk about it in my community and how we can implement it in our community. I also talk about compost and trash a lot so I might be a little excited about it. (Participant #14)

Most respondents indicated that they shared information verbally or through casual conversations.  A few, however, noted that they shared information via written notes, video, or online mechanisms:

  • I take notes and I give the whole thing to my husband and my friends. (Participant #5)
  • Well that is odd that you called because just an hour ago I was talking to someone about it. The fellow had a graphic on the information. It turns out the 5,000 pigs put out the sewage amount of 20,000 people. I’m going to take the map that he showed and make it a poster size and put it around town so that people see it because they need to. (Participant #20)
  • A friend put a video that I made up on a forum. I didn’t spread it but she did. (Participant #20)


These results shed light on the diversity of social settings and groups that individuals in small rural communities may encounter and engage with.  One challenge of conducting community outreach or participatory research in rural communities is that low populations make it difficult to generate impactful numbers of participants or attendees at events.  However, responses indicated a wide number of settings, both formal and informal, in which information was shared.  These included book clubs, breakfast clubs, the local Sierra Club chapter, and with family members, fellow students, and colleagues.  In some cases, participants sought out individuals who they knew would be interested in the information (e.g., a parent who is a cancer survivor). In other cases, interview respondents indicated that they were asked about the event, or the topic came up, and they had information to share.  

Notably, the content gleaned from Science Café events provided legitimacy and evidence for several participants in their interactions, particularly in formal settings such as the workplace or a community organization.  For example, content from a water quality event generated a longer discussion among community water testers about the importance of good data and evidence in water quality discussions.  In other contexts, such as cancer-related research, the Science Café material provided information about resources in Iowa, allowing the participant to “brag” about research productivity in the state.  Knowledge sharing among social networks can be an important conduit for information transmission, particularly in rural areas (Burch, 2007; Mtega et al., 2013).  Even relatively small events like these Science Cafés can enhance knowledge in formal settings, broadening the initial reach of the event and informing professional networks as well as informal social groups.

In addition, several participants indicated that they are known for being interested in a topic, as evidenced by comments such as “I talk about composting and trash a lot” and “They’re used to me talking about local ag” as well as “I am a farmer, so it’s my life.” The literature related to program development in sustainable food systems suggests that many new endeavors are initiated by “champions” who engage with the community and promote their cause (Bagdonis, Hinrichs, & Schafft, 2008).  Likewise, other evaluation strategies have examined the qualities of people who support initiatives in quality improvement (Demes et al., 2020). Recognizing that these highly engaged “champions” may participate in other events, gleaning information and resources to pass along in other settings, is a potentially new way to think about how content from a Science Café event might reach additional community members.  Future evaluations in these communities could include social network analysis or mapping to better understand the social and professional channels through which information may be distributed (Wasserman & Faust, 1994).

While most participants shared information verbally by reporting that they described the content of the Science Café to others, some developed additional materials or used other media.  One participant stated that they took written notes, which they shared, and another described developing posters and videos for distribution. This was an unexpected product and suggests there may be additional opportunities to engage with Science Café participants to co-develop products or materials related to the events’ content.  Providing content in a way that participants can reproduce and share, such as an electronic version of the standard handout or graphics, could further encourage participants to develop follow-up materials after the event.

In this small study, respondents’ diverse reports of what they learned, in conjunction with the wide array of approaches to sharing information, suggest that Science Cafés may serve as more than simply sites where the public learns about scientific concepts. Among participants in this study, some were inspired or reminded about the intersections between systems (such as conventional and alternative agriculture), some became excited about, and advocates for, cutting-edge cancer research in their communities, or they used the content to champion projects in local organizations.  When viewed from this perspective, Science Cafés have a great deal of potential to improve the relationships between scientists and society. This study contributes a new approach for evaluating Science Café events.  Future research could link pre-determined learning objectives with an evaluation of how those objectives are communicated more broadly.


This study suggests that evaluating small events in rural communities can benefit from learning not only who attends and their levels of satisfaction, but also how they may recount and communicate the information they learn with their social and professional networks.  Recognizing that participants may be leaders in local groups, champions for causes, or may glean information that is particularly relevant for a friend or family member can help organizers develop programming that can be tailored to and/or shared in a variety of media.  In addition, being attentive to those who are motivated to develop additional outputs, such as posters or video, can help organizers expand the reach of what is otherwise a relatively small event.  Understanding how science may be communicated via social networks can assist in developing programs with the potential to have a broad community impact, beyond the setting of one individual event.

About the Authors

Jacqueline Curnick is the Program Coordinator of the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center Community Engagement Core at the University of Iowa. She holds a Master of Sustainable Development Practice with a focus in environmental communication. 


Brandi Janssen is a Clinical Associate Professor of Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Iowa. She directs Iowa’s center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH) and the Community Engagement Core for the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center (EHSRC).


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Appendix A

Science Café Evaluation Questions

1. Name

2. Profession

3. Email

4. Are you already on the mailing list? 

5. Are you willing to be contacted via phone for a brief interview? If so, please list phone number.

6. How did you learn about the event? 

  • Email from school/professor
  • Flyer
  • Newspaper
  • Email list from EHSRC
  • Other (please describe)

7. Please rate the following as excellent, good, fair, or poor: 

  • Presentation
  • Group discussion

8. Examples of something you learned: 

9. Do you plan to share this information with friends, family, or others? If so, how will you share?

10. Are there any topics you would like to learn about in a future Science Café?

11. Do you have any suggestions for how we can improve the Science Café?

Appendix B

Phone Interview Questions

Hello, may I speak with (first name, last name)? This is __ calling from the University of Iowa, and you are being contacted because you had previously indicated at a recent Science Café event that you were willing to be interviewed. 

On the evaluation form at the most recent Science Café you attended, we asked you:   Do you plan to share this information with friends, family, or others? If so, how will you share?

You responded:  SOME FORM OF YES 

1. Why did you indicate you would share information? For example, it was interesting, relevant, important, you had someone in mind, etc. 

2. Did you discuss the information you learned at the Science Café in person, by email, or by telephone with anyone? Answer options: Yes, No, I don’t know/remember, Refused (If no, go to question 6)

3. How many people?

4. Can you describe that interaction or discussion?

5. What was the outcome of the interaction? For example, did the person indicate interest, say they learned something new, disagree or take issue with the information?

6. (If answered no to question 2) Why have you not talked about the Science Café with anyone? For example, you didn’t think of it, it wasn’t important information, you are not comfortable sharing, etc. 

7. (If answered no to question 2) Do you think you’ll talk about it in the future?

FOR ALL: Now I’d like to ask you about the Science Cafés in general.

8. About how many Science Café events have you attended?

9. Have you ever talked about past Science Café content with friends, coworkers, or family members following the event? Answer options: Yes, No, I don’t know/remember, Refused (If no, go to question 12) 

10. Can you tell me about or describe a conversation you’ve had with friends, coworkers, or family members about a Science Café? 

11. Do you think the information you shared was new to the person or people you spoke with?

12. (If answered no to question 9) Why have you not talked about the Science Café with anyone? For example, you didn’t think of it, it wasn’t important information, you are not comfortable sharing, etc. 

13. Who in your community would most benefit from the information shared during Science Café events?

On the evaluation form at the most recent Science Café you attended, we asked you:   Do you plan to share this information with friends, family, or others? If so, how will you share?

You responded:  SOME FORM OF NO

1. Why did you indicate you would not share the information? For example, not interesting, relevant, important, no one to share with, etc. 

2. Did you discuss the information you learned at the Science Café with anyone? Answer options: Yes, No, I don’t know/remember, Refused (If no, go to question 8)

3. How many people?

4. Can you describe that interaction/discussion?

5. Did you communicate about the Science Café by email  or telephone with anyone?

6. Can you describe that interaction?

7. What was the outcome of the interaction? Did the person indicate interest, say they learned something new, disagree or take issue with the information? (Go to question 9)

8. (If answered no to question 2) Why have you not talked about the Science Café? For example, didn’t think of it, wasn’t important information, not comfortable sharing. 

9. Do you think you’ll talk about it in the future?

FOR ALL: Now I’d like to ask you about the Science Cafés in general.

10. About how many Science Café events have you attended?

11. Have you ever talked about past Science Café content with friends, coworkers, or family members following the event? (If no, go to question 14) 

12.  Can you tell me about or describe a conversation you’ve had with friends, coworkers, or family members about a Science Café?

13. Do you think the information you shared was new to the person or people you spoke with? (Go to question 15) 

14. (If answered no to question 11) Why have you not talked about the Science Café? For example, didn’t think of it, wasn’t important information, not comfortable sharing. 

15. Who in your community would most benefit from the information shared during Science Café events?

For those who responded:  UNSURE OR BLANK

Intro language—they are being called because they indicated at a recent Science Café event that they were willing to be interviewed.

You recently attended a Science Café presentation, 

1. Did you discuss the information you learned at the science cafe with anyone? (If no, go to question 7) 

2. How many people?

3. Can you describe that interaction/discussion?

4. Did you communicate about the Science Café by email or telephone with anyone?

5. Can you describe that interaction?

6. What was the outcome of the interaction? Did the person indicate interest, say they learned something new, disagree or take issue with the information? (Go to question 8) 

7. (If answered no to question 1) Why have you not talked about the Science Café? For example, didn’t think of it, wasn’t important information, not comfortable sharing. 

8. Do you think you’ll talk about it in the future?

FOR ALL: Now I’d like to ask you about the Science Cafés in general.

9. About how many Science Café events have you attended?

10. Have you ever talked about past Science Café content with friends, coworkers, or family members following the event? (If no, go to question 13) 

11.  Can you tell me about/describe a conversation you’ve had with friends, coworkers, or family members about a Science Café? 

12. Do you think the information you shared was new to the person or people you spoke with? (Go to question 14) 

13. (If answered no to question 10) Why have you not talked about the Science Café? For example, didn’t think of it, wasn’t important information, not comfortable sharing. 

14. Who in your community would most benefit from the information shared during Science Café events?


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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.