Sustaining Place, Language, and Culture Together


Our initiative involves a community engagement partnership guided by an understanding of decolonizing methodologies and an overarching goal to sustain the place, language, and culture of the Alaska Native village, Chevak. Furthermore, the Indigenous sovereignty and ownership of ancestral ways of knowing guided the design and implementation of this initiative. The Will of the Ancestors is an ongoing effort that involves a rural, community-based partnership of Elders, Indigenous inservice and preservice teachers, parents, and elementary students from a rural community located near the Arctic Circle and an education faculty from a major state university in Alaska. This synergistic approach includes the following components: teacher education, a collaborative Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) curriculum project, the creation of a local atlas of plants and animals important to subsistence, and language revitalization through a children’s book project and writing workshop.


The Native American Languages Act, Title I of Public Law 101-477 proclaims: “The status of the cultures and languages of Native Americans is unique and the United States has the responsibility to act together with Native Americans to ensure the survival of these unique cultures and languages.” Additionally, Congress made it the policy of the United States to “preserve, protect, and promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice, and develop Native American languages.” Adding to the discourse, in April of 2014, the President of the National Alliance to Save Native Languages provided testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives on the need to support programs that help meet the linguistically unique educational needs of Native students while also preserving, revitalizing, and using these students’ native languages (Testimony of Ryan Wilson 2014).

While the charge is clear, so are the reasons behind it. In their work, Angelina Castagno and Brian Brayboy (2008) point out that the rhetoric that recognizes the shortfalls of the K–12 educational system offered to Indigenous students in this country dates back almost fifty years. At 13.2 percent, the dropout rate for Indigenous students is among the highest of any ethnic group in the United States (Aud et al. 2011). The statistics regarding the academic achievement of Native populations, particularly Alaska Native students enrolled in K–12 classrooms, indicate a persistent gap in achievement (also referred to as the “opportunity gap”). Often these system inadequacies are aggravated by the high teacher turnover rate. According to the University of Alaska Center for Educational Policy and Research, the teacher turnover rate in rural areas has been reported to average 20 percent, with some rural districts reporting a teacher attrition rate as high as 54 percent. One of the factors contributing to this rate is the teachers’ lack of knowledge about the local culture and traditions (Hill and Hirshberg, 2013). Additionally, the amount of material available to these students in their native languages is abysmal. This is important given that the number of books in the child’s home and the frequency with which the child reads for fun are also related to higher test scores, as reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) (National Center for Educational Statistics 2013).

While there is no denying the discourse centered on the failures and inequities of the past, this project was initiated to provide a more thoughtful, action-driven, and synergistic approach. Our approach seeks to address the needs of K–20 students and their teachers, while preserving the Alaska Native cultures, languages, and subsistence ways of life. To do that, we have embarked on several projects, including the following components: a teacher education plan, a collaborative Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) curriculum project, the creation of a local atlas of plants and animals important to subsistence, and language revitalization through a children’s book project and writing workshop.

Theoretical Understandings of Our Work

The community engagement projects have their foundation in the possibility and hope that through authentic engagement, students and faculty can establish meaningful relationships and a genuine appreciation of the importance of language, culture, and place with members of an Alaska Native community. Thus, this project was approached and implemented using two theoretical lenses: (1) Sociocultural Theory applied to science education (Tobin 2013) as a means of improving practice through research that benefits the participants; and (2) Demmert and Towner’s (2003) “culturally based education” (CBE), which emphasizes the following elements: recognition and use of Native languages; pedagogy using traditional cultural characteristics; teaching strategies and curriculum congruent with traditional culture and traditional ways of knowing; strong Native community participation in education; and knowledge and use of the political mores of the community.

Setting the Context: Life in the Arctic Circle

For thousands of years the Arctic tundra and the nearby Bering Sea and its tributaries have provided shelter and endowed the inhabitants of this remote village with an environment that has supported rich cultural traditions rooted in ecologically responsive knowledge and subsistence living in rural Alaska. Ancestral knowledge dating back thousands of years has been shared through oral traditions of storytelling, songs, and dances. Subsistence gathering and hunting are carried out using principles of harmonious coexistence in one of the harshest environments on Earth. The careful gathering of eggs and berries, ice fishing in the winter, spring seal hunting, and summer fish camps have ensured the survival of the Cup’ik people for thousands of years.

The bicultural, bilingual community of Chevak, Alaska is faced with language retention issues and with the challenges associated with incorporating Western technology while still maintaining a strong cultural identity, culture, and language. The Elders, teachers, and preservice teachers who work in the Immersion program are fluent and literate in their native language and possess anecdotal and practical knowledge of subsistence activities and ways of knowing in science. On the other hand, many of the parents of school-age children do not participate in subsistence activities and/or struggle with the Cup’ik language.

Multiple Approaches to Language and Culture Revitalization

Our involvement with this community engagement project began in 2010 when the superintendent of the Alaska Native community of Chevak approached the College of Education faculty about the revolving door of teachers in his district. Every year, teachers from outside Alaska came to teach at the school and very few lasted more than a couple of years. In extreme cases they did not return after the winter break, leaving children without a certified classroom teacher for months at a time. The request the superintendent made was for our college to provide a quality preservice education program for the Alaska Native paraprofessionals at the school. These individuals have deep roots in the community. Many even have relatives who graduated from the school or children who are enrolled in the K–12 school. This request began a collaboration between the faculty at our college and community members from the village. The Alaska Native paraprofessional initiative inspired faculty members to continue and deepen their collaboration with Elders, teachers, parents, and students. Five years later, these community-engaged projects are all intricately connected and mutually informing. The design and implementation of each initiative emerged from thoughtful conversations between community members and faculty. The initiatives include: (1) Alaska Native teacher preparation project; (2) Traditional ways of knowing in the STEAM curriculum; (3) Local atlas of plants and animals; (4) Children’s book project; (5) Writers group. Although we describe them below as separate projects, they are, in fact, a part of an integrated approach that has emerged through our collaboration. The graphic representation below shows how each project is linked within the partnership, followed by a more detailed description.

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The Alaska Native Teacher Preparation Program

The Alaska Native teacher preparation initiative seeks to prepare teachers who are fluent speakers of Cup’ik and who can serve the cultural, academic, and linguistic needs of students in the K–6 Language Immersion Wing, as well as in the English Language Wing. As the president of the local school board stated,

The members of the cohort will teach in the immersion program. We want to produce homegrown teachers with the help of the university. We support this program and would like to see it expand in the years to come. The presence of the faculty in our village is really appreciated. The cohort is taking the Western-style approach and the cultural roots of our people and merging them side by side, in the way Elder Boyscout envisioned it. This program will benefit our people, our kids. It is a model that other villages can follow. (Jeff Acharian, School Board President, April 12, 2013)

This model is a cohort model, enrolling currently uncertified Alaska Native paraprofessionals, who are already working in the classroom, in the elementary education program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The cohort has ranged in number from twenty to seven, depending on the semester, starting in 2010. While the students take many of the classes via distance learning, which allows the students to continue to work at Chevak School, take care of their families, and practice subsistence, intensive courses have also been offered on site. These intensives are run over the course of one week and allow the cohort to experience an active learning environment while also cultivating relationships with a variety of university faculty, including those in the elementary education program, early childhood education program, and College of Arts and Sciences (for example science, philosophy, and anthropology faculty).

Although both faculty and cohort members generally prefer face-to-face classes, it is not economically feasible to fly instructors to the village for every class. In the beginning, more classes were offered on site, but as students have gained access to technology and the Internet, they have participated in more online courses. Intensive courses scheduled around subsistence are offered when possible (depending on faculty availability and funds).

During a session at the 2013 Alaska Native Studies Conference, a panel that featured members of the teacher preparation cohort, school board members, and university faculty shared their engagement with the project and its importance to the people in the community. The panel opened with the voice of cohort member Susie Friday-Tall, who shared the story of turning driftwood.

My mother shared the story of the driftwood with me; she heard it from my grandmother: The driftwood is alive and it deserves to be turned over. The pieces of driftwood talk. Each one says something different: I will be a harpoon, I will be a boat, I will be a walking stick. The driftwood will become something useful. We have to turn it, to make it useful. …My dream is to see our local people become teachers from kindergarten to 12. (Susie Friday-Tall, cohort member)

This story exemplifies the partnership that started five years ago, which seeks to provide a culturally sustaining teacher preparation program. The paraprofessionals who are part of the preservice teacher cohort have been working at the school for over a decade. One cohort member shared:

[With] the support I received from the teacher initiative I have been able to take college classes. This is a dream that I thought was so unattainable that it would die. Thanks to this initiative I will someday reach the goal to become a teacher for our Cup’ik children. (Cikigaq Joseph, cohort member, March 12, 2012)

Yet another young woman shared in a spirited voice what the program meant to her:

When we all reach our goals of becoming teachers it is going to be amazing. We know our students, we live among them; we eat the same food. I know that when we teach them they will soak up the information. Our children will excel. I am really thankful to this program. We are going to keep going and the students are going to fly; they are going to be good. (Julia Alberts, cohort member, April 12, 2013)

Finally, university faculty have also attested to the importance of this work and what they have received in return. As Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education Kathryn Ohle stated,

Going to Chevak to teach Family Community Partnerships was life changing. It forced me to really think about the contexts in which we work while also recognizing and embracing the values of the community of Chevak and not those necessarily characteristic of the university community. We talk about culturally responsive    pedagogies but I did not fully understand what that looked like until I was there, interacting with these paraprofessionals who will change what education looks like for the next generation. I am a better teacher and a better citizen because of my experience there. (Kathryn Ohle, university faculty, August 10, 2014)

With four students already receiving their associate’s degrees and many others closely following suit, this is an initiative that has provided and will continue to provide support to the community by helping them “grow their own.”

STEAM Curriculum

The STEAM Curriculum project began in 2013 when a UAA faculty member, Dr. Irasema Ortega, began discussions with community members, in particular inservice teachers, about the science curriculum within the Immersion Wing. Dr. Ortega saw the possibilities of connecting the existing curricula to the preservice teacher initiative through collaborative efforts to create curricula via methodology and other courses. Before that, the science curriculum implemented in the K–4 immersion school was not available in the form of written lessons. At best, it was written in an abridged format. Previous efforts had involved a project in which twelve paraprofessionals worked alongside inservice teachers to produce picture books about the animals and plants found in the village and the surrounding tundra. (See Figure 2.) This project extended the effort by integrating the books as well as oral stories, plays, photography, and other forms of artistic expression into the immersion curriculum.

In our cooperative effort, our team shared a common goal: to design a curriculum map and lessons that address the revitalization of the language, culture, and traditional ways of knowing in science in an integrative fashion. (See Figure 2.) We also sought to address two needs: (1) the need to cooperate with the educators and community members in the village, and; (2) the framing of a curricular approach that addresses the preservation of their language, culture, and ways of knowing in science. Thus, we adopted the model of Culturally Sustaining Schooling (CSS). Given the wealth of Indigenous knowledge and its role in preserving the cultural and linguistic traditions, this approach validated Cup’ik traditional knowledge of nature and technology and allowed for three intertwined elements: culture and tradition, personal stories, and the stories uncovered in knowledge construction and use.

During the initial phase of the curriculum project, we worked with K–3 teachers at Chevak School and a cultural advisor to create integrated STEAM curriculum that was culturally responsive. The curriculum units were developed in Cup’ik and English and included both Western and Cup’ik perspectives. The stakeholders spent the first three days in the teachers’ lounge listening to stories about traditions and local knowledge. For example,

Making a kayak takes a lot of time and skill. When I was a young man, I started making my own kayak. First, I had to measure four arm lengths to figure out how long the kayak had to be. I had to build it according to my height and weight and it could only be off by ten pounds; otherwise, it would sink in the cold water. I would go out and collect pieces of birch wood. That took a long time. We do not build kayaks like this one anymore. The other day I set the traditional tools for kayak-making right here, by my kayak, next to the modern tools. Then I brought my father and asked him which set of tools he would choose to build a kayak. He looked at me and replied: I would use the Western tools; that way it would take less time and I can have more time for seal hunting and fishing tools (James Ayuluk, summer of 2012).

In this story, the narrator clearly illustrated the idea of the two rivers of knowledge and the desire to engage Alaska Native students in traditional knowledge using modern materials and technology. It was also clear that traditional knowledge included well-defined elements of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. These are some of the elements that helped define the curriculum project and illustrate why it is important that the local ways of knowing be documented and shared. The curriculum that is documented is subsequently integrated into coursework for the preservice teacher cohort as well as for science methods courses at UAA.

Below is the curriculum map that was generated during this project.

Local Atlas of Plants and Animals

The atlas project was another initiative that focused on the revitalization of language, culture, and place through Indigenous ways of knowing in science. An example of the synergy and connections this initiative has fostered started in 2013 and ended in 2014. During this project, an elementary preservice teacher and Irasema Ortega, who is a science education faculty member, collaborated with Alaska Native Elders, parents, teachers, and students to design and prepare an atlas of plants and animals based on traditional knowledge of subsistence practices, which the community members would then own and disseminate as they wished. During this project, members of the community provided valuable information and guidance used in the preparation of the atlas. Pictures were collected from a local photographer and cultural consultant and from the State of Alaska Fish and Wildlife website. It culminated in a tablet-based atlas for the community members to use as they wished.

This project also resulted in a meaningful experience for both the preservice teacher and UAA faculty member, as it reinforced the importance of learning from the community and understanding the characteristics of shared cognition of ancestral Indigenous knowledge of place, culture, and language. Thus, the atlas of plants and animals exemplified a mutually beneficial civic engagement project and also demonstrated an alternative approach to engagement with an Indigenous community. Further, it is representative of the connections the partnership has fostered toward the common goal of linguistic and cultural revitalization.

Language Revitalization Through Children’s Books

This is a project that reflects the wisdom of Elder Cecilia Pingayak-Andrews. When one of the UAA faculty visited with her during the Atlas project, she was asked: what would it take to retain the language and culture? Her answer was clear and definitive. ” Children learn our language on their mother’s lap. But how are we going to keep the language alive if the parents themselves do not speak it?” (Cecilia Andrews, informal interview, July 2014).

With that wisdom in mind, a project was initiated with Unite for Literacy, an organization working towards creating an abundance of books through a free, digital library with books that celebrate the languages and cultures of all children while also cultivating a lifelong love of reading. This project hinged on the amazing talents of the paraprofessionals from Chevak School (another indication of the ways in which the various facets of this collaboration work together), who helped translate the books into Cup’ik and narrated them. There are now thirteen books that can be heard in Cup’ik, and by the end of the project in 2015, an additional thirty-seven books will be added. Plans are also in the making to “localize” the books by using pictures from the Alaska context and then to print them as hardcopy books, which will be shared through interested Head Start organizations. This will not only make them available to families without access to the Internet but will also show the community that both their language and culture are recognized in print. Positive support from the On-site Coordinator of the Chevak Head Start has already been expressed, who commented,

We are very excited for our Head Start program to be considered to receive our Cup’ik culture’s tools such as the books you are offering. They are going to be used by our entire staff, Elder Mentors, and volunteers. And it is a bonus that the local Chevak School’s paraprofessionals are the ones who help create them. It will help our entire staff to work together to add 1 to 2 of these books per week into our lesson plans, so our students will hear and see our Cup’igtaq language. (e-mail correspondence, February 25, 2015)

While this project is still in process, the hope is that by providing materials in the native language, both early literacy and language preservation will occur “on the mother’s lap.”

Language Revitalization through Writers Workshop

The final project that is currently underway seeks to promote language revitalization while also documenting the preservation of language and ancestral knowledge of how to coexist in harmony with the environment. This will be done through a writers group, where manuscripts will be developed and featured as participant-authored chapters in a book for Emerald Publications (working title, Language Revitalization and Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies in Teacher Education Programs), which is due to the publisher in January 2016. This project was initiated as a result of a UAA faculty member’s experiences with the cohort as an instructor in a class in which participants shared stories from their lives. It is a project that connects the preservice teachers with their cultural identities through stories, while also providing experiences in methodologies that can be used in classroom teaching. In addition, research focusing on the viability of writers groups as tools for sustaining linguistic and cultural identity will be conducted.

The stories of the participants are powerful, because although contact is for the most part detrimental to their identity as Alaska Natives, they have persisted in their goals. Their stories are examples of self-determination and agency, and they inform our present and future work. They are collective, they can be healing, and they will become powerful publications in every genre.


These projects, including a teacher education plan, a collaborative STEAM curriculum project, the creation of a local atlas of plants and animals important to subsistence, and a language revitalization initiative using a children’s book project and writing workshop, were initiated to address the needs of K–20 students and their teachers, while preserving the Alaska Native cultures, languages, and subsistence ways of life. As we continue to work collaboratively toward sustaining place, language, and culture, we find that the future of our partnership, and of future partnerships, resides in relationships, mutuality, and creativity. Together, we pursue projects that are transformative and sustaining. Such projects have no pre-existing frameworks. They are based on our strengths and on our relationships, and those will last a lifetime. The biggest threat to this and future partnerships is a lack of funding, but we remain hopeful (and we continue to seek funding).

While results of our ongoing efforts are forthcoming, our hope is that this synergistic approach might act as a framework for others working towards similar goals.

About the Authors

Flora Ayuluk is a teacher in the Cup’ik Immersion Wing at Chevak School in Chevak, Alaska. She is involved in many projects dedicated to language and culture revitalization, including the creation of a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM)-based science curriculum that emphasizes the subsistence lifestyle critical to the community.

James Ayuluk is the cultural specialist at Chevak School in Chevak, Alaska. He is involved in many projects at the school and in the community, including the creation of a tablet-based atlas that documents the plants and animals important to the subsistence lifestyle critical to the community.

Susie Friday-Tall is a preservice teacher and the administrative assistant at the Chevak School. She is a member of the Cup’ik Dreams cohort. She hopes to see a school where all the teachers are from Chevak and can teach children Cup’ik language and culture.

Cathy Coulter is an associate professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage who has been working with the Chevak community since 2010. She is the Co-Principal Investigator of the Language, Equity, and Academic Performance (LEAP) Project initiative and teaches courses in the elementary education program related to second-language acquisition and literacy. Dr. Coulter also possesses significant expertise in narrative methodologies.

Agatha John-Shields is an Indigenous assistant professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage who has worked with the Chevak cohort since 2011 as the Immersion program consultant and expert for the Chevak Project. She has co-taught LEAP Project courses with Irasema Ortega. She teaches and supervises intern principals and teaches multicultural courses for the preservice teacher program and for new teachers coming to Lower Kuskokwim School District in Western Alaska. Agatha also possesses significant expertise in Indigenous immersion education, culturally responsive pedagogy, language revitalization and maintenance efforts, and educational leadership.

Mary T. Matchian is a teacher at the Chevak Language Immersion School. She is also a member of the Cupi’k STEAM-based science curriculum that emphasizes the subsistence lifestyle critical to the community.

Kathryn Ohle is an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage who has been working with the Chevak community since 2014. She teaches courses in the early childhood program related to literacy, math, and science teaching methods. Dr. Ohle also has interests in education policy and the early childhood teacher preparation.

Lillian Olson is a Cup’ik language teacher at the Chevak school. She is currently working on the creation of a Cup’ik dictionary. Lillian is involved in multiple language revitalization initiatives such as the Cup’ik classes for the parents of the Cup’ik immersion Head Start students.

Irasema Ortega is an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage who has been working with the Chevak community since 2013 as the Principal Investigator for the Chevak Project. She is the Co-Principal Investigator of the LEAP Project initiative and teaches courses in the elementary education program related to science education. Dr. Ortega also possesses significant expertise in place-based educational initiative and decolonizing methodologies.

Phillip Tulim is a kindergarten teacher in the Cup’ik Immersion Wing at Chevak School in Chevak, Alaska. He is involved in many projects dedicated to language and culture revitalization, including the creation of a STEAM-based science curriculum that emphasizes the subsistence lifestyle critical to the community.

Lisa Unin is a first grade teacher in the Cup’ik Immersion Wing at Chevak School in Chevak, Alaska. She is involved in many projects dedicated to language and culture revitalization, including the creation of a STEAM-based science curriculum that emphasizes the subsistence lifestyle critical to the community. Lisa is an artist who specializes in traditional parkas.


Aud, S., W. Hussar, G. Kena, K. Bianco, L. Frohlich, J. Kemp, and K. Tahan. 2011. The Condition of Education 2011. (NCES 2011-033). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

Barac, R., and E. Bialystok. 2012. “Bilingual Effects on Cognitive and Linguistic Development: Role of Language, Cultural Background, and Education.” Child Development 83 (2): 413–422.

Castagno, A.E., and B.M.J. Brayboy. 2008. ” Culturally Responsive Schooling for Indigenous Youth: A Review of the Literature.” Review of Educational Research 78 (4): 941–993.

Demmert, W.G., Jr. and J.C. Towner. 2003. A Review of the Research Literature on the Influences of Culturally Based Education on the Academic Performance of Native American Students. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. (accessed June 9, 2015).

Grande, S. 2008. “Red Pedagogy. The Un-methodology.” In Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, N.K. Denzin, Y.S. Lincoln, L.T. Smith, eds., 233–254. Los Angeles: Sage.

Hill, A., and D. Hirshberg. 2013. Alaska Teacher Turnover, Supply, and Demand: 2013 Highlights. Anchorage: University of Alaska, Center for Alaska Education Policy Research.

National Center for Educational Statistics. 2013. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2013 Reading Assessment. Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Native American Languages Act of 1992, Public Law 102–524. 1992. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. (accessed June 9, 2015).

Smith, L. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People. 2nd ed. London: Zed Books.

Testimony of Ryan Wilson (Oglala Lakota), President National Alliance To Save Native Languages, before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. April 7, 2014. (accessed June 9, 2015).

Tobin, K. 2013. “A Sociocultural Approach to Science Education.” Magis. Revista Internacional de Investigación en Educación 6 (12): 19–35.

Summer 2015: From the Guest Editor


I am honored to introduce the Summer 2015 issue of Science Education and Civic Engagement: An International Journal. This special issue will serve as a lasting tribute to Alan J. Friedman and his legacy of advancing science education, both in and out of the classroom. Alan’s work at and with different institutions, including the Lawrence Hall of Science, the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI), and the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE), often crossed disciplinary boundaries but always focused on the importance of making learning real and relevant.

In my opening remarks to the “Celebrating the Life and Work of Alan Friedman” memorial held at NYSCI on Saturday, June 14, 2014, I noted how I turned to Alan for his advice, guidance, wisdom, and expertise after I became President of that institution in 2008. He had retired from NYSCI in 2006, after a wonderful 22 years of service. In my mind, Alan was a larger-than-life legend. What I found when I met Alan was a humble man who exhibited a fundamental humanity in his approach to life and work. He did not realize how much his presence, his passion, and his vision for engaging the public in science would continue to influence what we do day in and day out at NYSCI and throughout the field.

The issue begins with personal memories from Alan’s colleagues and is followed by scholarly pieces on a range of informal science education projects and activities, involving engagement by students of all ages in issues of civic importance. Alan was the inspiration and founding director for SENCER-ISE (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities-Informal Science Education), an initiative of NCSCE to encourage learning across the sectors. This issue features three contributions by SENCER-ISE partners.

In the first section, Ellen Mappen, Sheila Grinell, Eric Siegel, Alan Gould, Wm. David Burns, and Priya Mohabir all speak to the multifaceted contributions Alan made to science education and to other fields. David Ucko bridges the gap between this section and the next by looking at how basic tenets of the SENCER framework align with those of informal science education. This section ends with a reprint of “In Memoriam,” which David Burns wrote on May 5, 2014 to share the sad news of Alan’s death with the SENCER community.

Two point of view articles open the next section. Martin H. Smith, Steven M. Worker, Andrea P. Ambrose, and Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty address the benefits that out-of-school science programming can have on the academic achievement of K–12 students. Michelle Kortenaar, Allison Sribarra, and Tamar Kushnir discuss a SENCER-ISE project that engages undergraduate students in developing tools for parents and other caregivers to encourage children’s scientific exploration.

The issue also features seven project reports, which show the diversity of work in informal science education and the many connections with institutions of higher education. Jennifer A. da Rosa, Sarah S. Durkin, Rachel Hetlyn, Mark Murray, and Angela Leimkuhler Moran focus on United States Naval Academy undergraduates who facilitate informal STEM education outreach events for K–12 students and teachers and on the impact of this civic engagement on the Naval Academy students. Jill Denner, Jacob Martinez, Heather Thiry, and Julie Adams describe an afterschool program that engages Latino elementary school students in computer science concepts. Amy R. Pearce, Karen L. Yanowitz, and Anne Grippo discuss how their local and campus communities launched a science festival in a rural area. Flora Ayuluk, James Ayuluk, Susie Friday-Tall, Mary Matchian, Phillip Tulim, Lillian Olson, Lisa Unin, Agatha John Shields, Cathy Coulter, Kathryn Ohle, and Irasema Ortega write about their community engagement partnership that has an overarching goal of sustaining the place, language, and culture of an Alaskan Native village. Robert E. Pyatt introduces the concepts behind his informal science outreach workshops called “Weird Science,” and discusses some of the challenges he has encountered in his work. Kathryn Stofer explores the existence of agriculture-related content in science centers and the potential support around research efforts for global sustainable agricultural production that also could encourage public involvement and action on the issue. Nellie Tsipoura and Jay Farrell Kelly describe their SENCER-ISE project, in which community college students and citizen scientists work together in a forest conservation effort.

Finally, two research papers provide the results of connections between informal science education and higher education institutions. Linda Fuselier writes about an intergenerational program focusing on the restoration of forest health ecosystems that involves a general education environmental science course, an outdoor education center, and elder participants in a SENCER-ISE project. Jenifer Perazzo, Carl Pennypacker, David Stronck, Kristin Bass, Jesus Heredia, Rainbow Lobo, and Gabriel Ben-Shalom provide results from Afterschool Science and Math Integration (ASAMI), a project that integrates middle school common core mathematics concepts and the Next Generation Science Standards to engage English Language Learners.

I join David Burns in thanking all the contributors to this issue; the articles they have written show the diversity of the field that we know as informal science education and the value of working across sectors to enhance learning, not just by students and the public who visit science centers or view science media but also by educators. This was Alan’s goal and his legacy.

– Margaret Honey, Ph.D

President and CEO, New York Hall of Science

Guest Editor

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SENCER Synergies with Informal Learning


SENCER offers a model for integrating aspects of formal and informal learning. This article explores their intersection in the SENCER context, emphasizing the common learner focus and role of relevance in stimulating interest. The SENCER-ISE project further strengthens connections through Higher Education-Informal Science Education partnerships that can bring complementary expertise as well as greater access to the community through public settings and audiences. Applying the lessons learned from the planned evaluation studies will be critical to identifying effective practices and achieving impact at increased scale.


This article explores connections between SENCER and informal science education (ISE), expanding on a talk that Alan Friedman invited me to present at the Fourth Annual Science Symposium co-sponsored by SENCER, the National Center for Science & Civic Engagement, and Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Liberal Arts and Society (Ucko 2009). At that time, I served as deputy director of NSF’s Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings and had known Friedman for many years, since we both had spent most of our careers in the science center field. I had been impressed by similarities between the SENCER approach to aspects of informal learning (and was the “fellow at the National Science Foundation” [Burns 2011a, 2] who helped make a connection). Friedman was instrumental in organizing the subsequent SENCER-ISE invitational conference, which in March of 2011 brought together representatives from both communities to discuss potential synergies. Funding was provided by NSF, and Friedman helped to obtain a Noyce Foundation grant for the conference and then for an initial 10 Higher Education-ISE partnerships. I currently serve as an external advisor, along with Marsha Semmel, on the SENCER-ISE project built upon his legacy.

Informal learning can be defined in a variety of ways (Ucko and Ellenbogen 2008, 241). In general, it is “free-choice,” self-directed, and socially mediated. Table 1 lists various attributes of informal learning in contrast with those of formal learning, to identify key differences. Although context dependent and realized to varying degrees, the extremes are represented here in order to accentuate distinctions. This caveat applies both to the “informal” and to the “formal” descriptors, particularly as they relate (or not) to varying modes of higher education.

TABLE 1. Contrasting Attributes of Formal and Informal Learning

Formal Learning Informal Learning
Compulsory; required Voluntary; “free choice”
Content focus Learner focus
School-based Ubiquitous; museums, media, etc.
Children & youth All ages, lifelong
Set times Any time
Extended time periods Episodic; often brief
Large peer group setting Individual, family, or small group
Regular assessment No tests or grades
Teacher-directed Self-directed
Cognitive emphasis Affective emphasis
Extrinsic motivation Intrinsic motivation
Transmission model Contructivist; personal meaning-making
Lecture-based Experimental; hands-on; interactive
Favored learning style Flexible learning styles
Serious Enjoyable; engaging; fun
Goal-focused Exploratory; open-ended
Curriculum-based; “push” Interest-driven; “pull”
Constrained by curriculum Unlimited; open-ended; flexible
Predetermined content or focus Any content or focus
Disciplinary content Interdisciplinary; transdisciplinary
May appear irrelevant Personally relevant


Connections with Informal Learning

In reviewing outcomes of the SENCER-ISE conference, Friedman and Mappen note that the emphasis on civic engagement provided the “glue” that brought the two communities together (2011, 33). That focus takes advantage of certain strengths of informal learning, several of which they identified, based on an abridged table from the 2009 presentation and the “strands” of the Learning Science in Informal Environments report (NRC 2009). The discussion that follows extends that analysis through comparison with key features of SENCER. (It cannot capture all points of intersection with informal learning, however, since it is likely that the diversity of SENCER courses and settings create additional connections beyond those identified here.)

Interest’ is a driving force in the SENCER ideals” (Burns 2011b, 9).

Because informal learning is generally voluntary and self-directed, it is motivated by personal interest. The SENCER approach offers a similar means to stimulate student interest and engagement by making connections to “matters that are real, relevant and of vital interest to citizens in a democracy” (Burns 2012, 7). A number of the SENCER-ISE partnerships, for example, involve students in citizen-science activities in which they gather and analyze data related to local, national, or international issues.

They [SENCER courses] are essentially interdisciplinary, so they are more like the world itself than a typical undergraduate curriculum” (Burns 2011b, 8; see

In general, informal learning experiences are similarly interdisciplinary, since they tend to emphasize real applications and issues rather than particular disciplinary content. Even “Exploratorium-type” science exhibits may involve multiple disciplines, because they are phenomenon based. (For example, the Heat Camera, which reveals the infrared radiation emitted by a visitor’s body, demonstrates aspects of both physics and biology.) Like SENCER activities, they are typically “authentic experiences” (Burns 2011b, 8).

SENCER courses and projects that have been designed with students helping all the way just tend to be better. They are more likely to capture something that truly matters to and interests students…. Students can make vital and valuable intellectual contributions to course content and design, development, and refinement” (Burns 2012, 9).

This aspect of SENCER emphasizes its focus on the learner and the value of involving the target audience in the planning and implementation of the educational activities. That same focus is central to developing informal learning experiences that successfully engage their target audiences and achieve the intended impacts.

It helps to tie assessment to pedagogy (including reflection on course activities like service learning, research, etc); assess frequently and at intervals short enough to enable you to make ‘repairs’ and mid-course corrections…” (Burns 2012, 10).

Although informal learning is not assessed as in formal education, evaluation plays a related role. Front-end evaluation seeks to determine audience background and interests to guide the planning of the informal learning experiences. Formative evaluation, through such activities as testing prototypes or a pilot program, obtains feedback at early stages of development when changes are relatively easy to make. Summative evaluation seeks to determine the outcomes and learner impacts of the experiences, whether intended or not. The results can help to improve future development and to address institutional or funder needs. Remedial evaluation is sometimes carried out after completion to make improvements in ongoing programs or exhibits.


SENCER offers a model for synergistically integrating aspects of formal and informal learning to take advantage of the strengths that each offers. The formal course component, for example, brings greater depth than may be possible in informal settings, along with more extended periods of time for the learning activities. In the SENCER-ISE project, formal-informal connections are further enhanced through the active participation of ISE-related organizations that partner with faculty members at a college or university (Table 2).

TABLE 2. SENCER-ISE Partner Organizations

Higher Education Partner ISE Partner
Antioch College Glen Helen Outdoor Education Center
Brooklyn College – CUNY Gateway National Recreation Area
Cornell University Sciencenter
Fordham University Wildlife Conservation Society
Hamilton, Hope, and Oberlin Colleges Green Science Policy Institute
New Mexico EPSCoR New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science
Paul Smith’s College The Wild Center
Raritan Valley Community College New Jersey Audubon Society
St. Mary’s College of California Lindsay Wildlife Museum
University of Connecticut Connecticut Science Center

In addition to bringing expertise in communicating with the public, partners can also provide a setting and access to an audience and larger community.

Typical higher-education-based ISE relationships focus on communicating aspects of current research to the public through museum programs or exhibits, citizen science, science festivals, science cafés, and other informal learning experiences. Examples range from outreach efforts by individual scientists to national initiatives such as the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network. Because most of the SENCER-ISE partnerships add a course component, they also create the opportunity to transform undergraduate instruction by strengthening the learner focus through the means previously described. Movement between the different settings and cultures of the formal and informal partners may further enhance student learning through the process of boundary crossing (Akkerman and Bakker 2011). For example, carrying out research that traverses both Cornell’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab and the real-world Sciencenter can provide students with a perspective not possible within either domain alone.

In addition, these partnerships offer valuable professional development to the participating faculty and ISE participants, as well as introducing new college student and public audiences to ISE institutions (Friedman and Mappen 2012, 137–139). Perhaps most importantly, they can impact the community in meaningful ways through the activities carried out by students. For example, the Antioch College/Glen Helen project will help reforest a public nature preserve, while the Paul Smith’s College/Wild Center will address regional climate change issues by targeting gatekeepers.

Each partnership will carry out its own evaluation to assess the process and outcomes. In addition, a summative evaluation conducted for the project overall will focus on lessons learned from the collaboration between formal and informal partners. Longer-term success will be determined in part by the extent of institutionalization of programs and relationships that lead to sustainability. Findings from these and other studies will be critical to identifying effective practices and steps necessary to increase the scale of this initial undertaking and to amplify its benefits. Addressing SENCER, Wm. David Burns has suggested that “creating and sustaining a community of practice is entirely within our capacity and is necessary to achieving larger scale reforms” (2012, 8). Such a community would benefit greatly from including informal-learning practitioners and researchers among its members. Alan Friedman would have been the first to participate.

About the Author

In addition to consulting at Museums + more; David Ucko co-chairs a National Research Council study on communicating chemistry in informal settings and serves on the Visitor Studies Association board. Previously, he was deputy director for the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings and head of Informal Science Education at NSF, founding president of Kansas City’s Science City at Union Station, deputy director of the California Museum of Science & Industry, vice president of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, and a chemistry professor at Antioch College and City University of New York. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry from M.I.T. and his B.A. from Columbia College.


Akkerman, S.F., and A. Bakker. 2011. “Boundary Crossing and Boundary Objects.” Review of Educational Research 81 (2): 132–69.

Burns, W.D. 2011a. “The SENCER Context.” In Proceedings of Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities-Informal Science Education Conference. Jersey City, NJ: Liberty Science Center, March 6–8, 1–3. (accessed April 13, 2015).

———. 2011b. “‘But You Needed Me’: Reflections on the Premises, Purposes, Lessons Learned, and Ethos of SENCER, Part 1.” Science Education & Civic Engagement 3 (2): 5–12.

———. 2012. “‘But You Needed Me’: Reflections on the Premises, Purposes, Lessons Learned, and Ethos of SENCER, Part 2.” Science Education & Civic Engagement 4 (1): 6–13.

Friedman, A.J., and E. Mappen. 2011. “SENCER-ISE: Establishing Connections Between Formal and Informal Science Educators to Advance STEM Learning through Civic Engagement.” Science Education & Civic Engagement 3 (2): 31–37.

———. 2012. “Formal/Informal Science Learning through Civic Engagement: Both Sides of the Education Equation.” In Science Education and Civic Engagement: The Next Level, 1121:133–43. ACS Symposium Series 1121. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society.

National Research Council (U.S.). 2009. Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits. Committee on Learning Science in Informal Environments. P. Bell, B. Lewenstein, A.W. Shouse, and M. Feder, eds. Board on Science Education, Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

Ucko, D.A. 2009. “Informal Learning & Synergies with Formal Education: NSF Perspective.” Presented at the Fourth Annual Science Symposium, Preparing Undergraduates of Tomorrow: How Informal Science Education Experiences Can Improve College Readiness, Franklin & Marshall College, Center for Liberal Arts and Society, Lancaster, PA, October 17. (accessed April 13, 2015).

Ucko, D.A., and K.M. Ellenbogen. 2008. “Impact of Technology on Informal Science Learning.” In The Impact of the Laboratory and Technology on Learning and Teaching Science K-16, D.W. Sunal, E.L. Wright, and C. Sundberg, eds. Research in Science Education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 239–266.


Including Civic Engagement as a Component of Scientific Literacy

Martin H. Smith,
UC Davis
Steven M. Worker,
UC Davis
Andrea P. Ambrose,
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Development Services
Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty,
UC Cooperative Extension

Youth Scientific Literacy and Nonformal Education Programs

Science is a driving force of twenty-first-century society. As a consequence, related public policy issues (e.g., stem cell research, global warming, food safety and security, water quality and distribution) require informed choices made by a population that is scientifically literate (Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy 2007; Hobson 2008). However, scientific literacy among the adult population in the United States is considered low (Miller 2006), and data from standardized assessments of K–12 youth in recent years have shown poor achievement in science at all three grade levels tested—fourth, eighth, and twelfth (e.g., Fleischman et al. 2010; Gonzales et al. 2008; National Center for Education Statistics 2011).

While improvements in school-based science education represent one way to address the low levels of academic achievement in science among K–12 youth (Smith and Trexler 2006), a growing body of literature suggests that nonformal science programs can help attend to the issue, in part because they emphasize three cross-cutting characteristics of learning: people-, place-, and culture-centeredness (Bell et al. 2009; Fenichel and Schweingruber 2010; Kisiel 2006; Kress et al. 2008; National Research Council [NRC] 2009). Specifically, research findings have shown that out-of-school time (OST) science programming can increase youths’ science content knowledge and process skills; additionally, such programs can have positive effects on youths’ confidence and interest in science (National Research Council 2009; Stake and Mares 2005).

The 4-H Youth Development Program and Youth Scientific Literacy

The 4-H Youth Development Program is a national nonformal education organization for individuals aged 5–19. Programmatically, 4-H focuses on advancing positive youth development through hands-on educational opportunities that include civic engagement. Complementing its century-long history of offering science projects and programs ranging from geology and minerals to soil conservation, forestry to wildlife and fisheries, and computer science to animal and veterinary science (United States Department of Agriculture 2003), National 4-H established the 4-H Science Mission Mandate in an effort to expand and strengthen 4-H science education efforts through state-based 4-H programs (Schmiesing 2008). The California 4-H Program responded to the National 4-H Science Mission Mandate by commencing a statewide 4-H Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) Initiative (University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources 2008). This effort focuses on science programming, educator professional development, and evaluation in California 4-H SET, with an emphasis on scientific literacy as it relates to key statewide needs in the areas of natural resources, agriculture, and nutrition (Regents of the University of California 2009).

Defining Scientific Literacy to Advance 4-H Science Programming

To develop a framework, researchers and program staff began by asking the question: What does it mean to be scientifically literate within the context of California 4-H? However, despite a plethora of existing definitions of scientific literacy (Roberts 2007), there was no consensus about the meaning that allowed us to answer this question. This is a critical first step: a definition for the construct of scientific literacy is necessary to develop and advance science programming (Roberts 2007). Thus, our efforts to advance science programming in California 4-H began by framing a definition of scientific literacy (Smith et al. 2015).

A review of the literature revealed that most existing definitions of scientific literacy are not contextualized; rather, they focus on a broad array of science concepts and processes considered important to scientists (Falk et al. 2007; Laugksch 2000; Roberts 2007) but ignore “the social aspects of science and the needs of citizenship” (Lang et al. 2006, 179). In contrast, when viewing science learning as being contextualized, referred to as a “focus-on-situations” approach, programming places an emphasis on authentic science-related issues that individuals may encounter (Roberts 2007). Because of the contextualized nature of 4-H, we concentrated on developing a definition of scientific literacy that would accommodate relevant science programming across multiple contexts and include civic engagement, a hallmark of the 4-H experience (Brennan et al. 2007; Hairston 2004). By considering the construct of scientific literacy from this perspective, the definition developed for the California 4-H Program includes four anchor points: science content, scientific reasoning skills, interest and attitude, and contribution through applied participation. The four anchor points are described further as follows:

  • Anchor Point I: Science Content. Content knowledge is an important component of any definition of scientific literacy (NRC 2007; NRC 2009; Roberts 2007). A “focus-on-situations” approach places the emphasis on science-related content relevant to the citizens of California (e.g., water resource management, sustainable food systems, sustainable natural ecosystems, food safety and security, management of endemic and invasive pests and diseases, energy security and green technologies, and nutrition education and childhood obesity) that have been identified as germane to the state’s citizens (Regents of the University of California 2009).
  • Anchor Point II: Scientific Reasoning Skills. The advancement of scientific reasoning skills encourages learners to become more proficient in the practices of science by asking questions, developing and using models, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, constructing explanations, engaging in argumentation from evidence, and obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information (NRC, 2012). Referred to by Colvill and Pattie as the “‘building blocks’ of scientific literacy” (2002, 20), scientific reasoning skills provide learners with the necessary abilities to participate in scientific investigations, challenge conclusions, and question understanding.
  • Anchor Point III: Interest and Attitudes. Enhancing interest in and attitudes toward science can influence individuals in a variety of ways: it can stimulate their interest in science careers, help guide their responses to science-related situations in their everyday lives, and enhance their motivation to become involved in science-related issues in meaningful ways as citizens (Bybee and McCrae 2011). This is especially germane to audiences that have had limited educational opportunities in science, including women and ethnic minorities (Else-Quest et al. 2013; Scott and Martin 2012).
  • Anchor Point IV: Contribution through Applied Participation. The application of knowledge and skills in authentic contexts helps individuals gain a deeper understanding of scientific concepts and develop their abilities to think critically (Jones 2012). Furthermore, Anchor Point IV is particularly relevant to 4-H youth and the development of citizenship and life skills through civic engagement opportunities. Specifically, youth apply new knowledge and skills in ways that help address authentic community needs they have identified as important (e.g., Smith 2010).


Twenty-first-century society requires a scientifically literate citizenry (Hobson 2008; Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy 2007). Scientific literacy among youth populations is low (e.g., National Center for Education Statistics 2011), and nonformal science programs can help attend to this issue (e.g., Fenichel and Schweingruber 2010). However, to accomplish this, a definition of scientific literacy is needed (Roberts 2007). In California 4-H, we developed a definition of scientific literacy that includes the engagement of youth in science-related issues at the community level. Involving youth in service opportunities results in contributions to the community and advances the youths’ development (Brennan et al. 2007). Furthermore, by engaging youth fully in community-based change efforts they learn to function effectively in society (Nitzberg 2005).

Organizationally, California 4-H science programming is grounded in constructivist-based pedagogical strategies. Specifically, learning opportunities utilize guided inquiry-based instruction embedded in a five-step experiential learning cycle that places an emphasis on the authentic application of new knowledge and skills—the point where civic engagement intersects with 4-H science programming. To date, however, California 4-H has lacked a coherent framework to guide the key elements of science programming—the development of new curricula, the adaptation of existing curricula, educator professional development, and assessment efforts—in a manner that, by design, includes civic engagement.

The definition of scientific literacy that was developed will provide a programmatic structure for all elements of science programming in California 4-H; it will also afford a consistent, systematic strategy that will allow for the comparison of 4-H science programs within and across contexts (e.g., 4-H clubs, camps, afterschool programs), the evaluation of pedagogies, and assessments of targeted learner outcomes (Roberts 2007). Furthermore, the definition of scientific literacy in California 4-H intentionally includes the social aspects of science by engaging youth directly in relevant community issues. Such civic engagement is a key component of 4-H programming; in a larger context, however, it is essential to helping develop an informed public that is faced ever more frequently with decisions on science-related public policy issues.

About the Authors

Andrea Ambrose, who serves as the acting director of the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Development Services, has thirty years of professional experience in the out-of-school education field including more than twenty years as an art and science museum educator, program developer, and fundraiser for organizations in Colorado, California, and West Virginia. She has taught standards-based science and art workshops for K–12 students, conducted professional development programs for K–12 educators, worked with and managed youth and adult volunteers, and secured significant funding from corporations, foundations, and public agencies for programmatic and capital projects. Her efforts to elevate the quality of out-of-school time programs for young people continue as she works to facilitate strong programmatic and funding partnerships on behalf of the University of California 4-H program and the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. She holds a B.A. in Studio Art and Art Education from Colorado State University and an M.A. in Art History from the University of Oregon.

Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty works as a county-based faculty member for the University of California Cooperative Extension and serves the geographic region of Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito Counties with youth development programming in nonformal science. 

Her scope of work is focused on developing multidisciplinary and integrated approaches to addressing California’s and the nation’s decline in youth science performance and achievement. This is accomplished by conducting applied research, education and programs with nonformal educators utilizing effective professional development models, curricula, and deliveries, to engage youth in self-directed learning and discovery.

Schmitt-McQuitty graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point in 1987 with a B.S. degree in Elementary Education with an emphasis in Outdoor Education, and obtained her M.S. degree in Outdoor Education in 1991 from Northern Illinois University.

The overarching goal of Martin H. Smith‘s work is to develop, evaluate, and publish effective, research-based science curricula and educator professional development models for school-based and nonformal education programs. Specifically, he focuses on educational materials and strategies that emphasize constructivism, reflective practice, and situated learning. His current work focuses on applied research related to youth scientific literacy in the areas of bio-security and water science education. He is also engaged in efforts to develop a theoretical basis for science education programming within California’s 4-H Youth Development Program, with an emphasis on defining scientific literacy, defining curriculum, and implementation fidelity. In his tenure at UC-Davis he has supervised twenty graduate fellows from science disciplines in education outreach work through the School of Education, has served on committees for graduate students (M.S. and Ph.D.), and has mentored over 450 undergraduate students involved in a wide variety of research, development, and extension efforts.

Steven Worker coordinates the California 4-H Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) Initiative, an effort to strengthen youth science education in the 4-H Youth Development Program. Worker is a Ph.D. candidate at the UC Davis School of Education and is engaged in a qualitative case study of the co-construction of design-based learning environments by youth and adult volunteers in out-of-school time.


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In Memoriam: Alan J. Friedman

Wm. David Burns,
National Center for Science and Civic Engagement

The Alan Friedman who telephoned to ask to be excused from working on the SENCER-ISE project for a while so that he could focus on his medical condition was the same Alan Friedman who called on numerous other occasions to say he had a glimmer of an idea or a fully imagined project in mind that would help move the work we are doing from being “nice to necessary.”

Two weeks ago, Alan reported that he had received a “very bad diagnosis” but that he had consulted with people he trusted. He expressed confidence in the people at Sloan Kettering and had hopes for a plan of attack that sounded equally audacious and arduous.

Though there was a thin curtain of sadness and apprehension in his voice, Alan’s general tone and style differed little in our last call from the many other conversations we had had about other ambitious, arduous, and audacious plans.

“I think we have an opportunity,” he would say. And then he would go on to describe an idea he had to encourage formal and informal educators to work for the common good, to strive for what some have called a “perpetual dream” to improve the human condition by enlarging what we all can come to know.

Our last conversation happened on the same day we had previously been scheduled to have lunch. We were to meet at the Century, where of course no business is conducted, so we just planned to talk about the future. Instead, we had that phone call.

On the call with Ellen Mappen and me, Alan spoke with his usual calmness, his usual clarity, in his usual cadence, and with that same curiously wonderful musicality that inhabited each one of his sentences. (Without knowing for sure its source, I have always attributed that sonority to the benefits that come to someone who is as comfortable speaking in French as in English.) He even mustered some humor.

Sensing our shock and our fear, I suspect, Alan took great pains to assure us that getting back to work on our mutual project was a high priority for him. As always, Alan exhibited more concern for our feelings and needs than he expected us to pay to his.

He said he would call us as his health permitted. He asked us to carry on and to share word of his call with only those who needed to know. We were to await further word from him before telling others.

Late last week, when “news” started to come out that Alan was gravely ill, I entertained the comforting illusion that this could have been an extremely bad example of something starting in facts—facts I knew to be true—and descending into rumor. I prayed for an e-mail from Alan bearing the subject line: “News of my demise has been greatly exaggerated.”

As the numbers of people close to Alan began to contact one another to share thoughts, tributes, and memories, my hopes grew fainter. We now have word that Alan died yesterday (May 4, 2014).

There will be times and occasions for proper memorials befitting a man of as many parts as Alan possessed and whose career spans so much intellectual space and so many phases in the history and development of informal education.

We will each have our opportunities to add our own meager contributions to what I am sure will be a panoptic body of tributes—a museum of its own, you could say.

For today, however, I only want to let you know that when we spoke that last time, just two weeks ago, I did get to tell Alan that I loved him. Indeed, Ellen was able to say the same and to let him know that Hailey and all in our community who had the great good fortune of working with him closely did so as well. We told him how much it means to us to work with him and we said we would miss him during his temporary absence from our work. We promised him that we would carry on in his absence. So now, in the face of this profound loss, we will keep that promise.

I need time to collect my thoughts, but something I don’t need time to think about is my first impression of Alan, an impression that has only grown in intensity in the several years we have worked together.

I remember the day and place I met him. Eliza Reilly had invited us to a SENCER regional meeting she had organized at Franklin & Marshall College. I did a talk, as did Alan.

I had become entranced with something called “informal science education” and had had a chat with some folks at NSF about an idea I had that they, and I am speaking of Al DeSena here in particular, had been particularly encouraging about.   I liked my idea (as I tend to), but I was aware just how little I knew about the world of informal science education.

It so happened that Alan, Ellen, and I got seated next to one another at the tables at lunch. Listening to Alan’s ideas, responding to his gentle inquiries, and hearing myself reframe my thoughts in response to his, I had an overwhelming sense that an adult had finally entered our conversation!

Though I now know he was only a few years older than I am and though I am blessed to have wonderful colleagues, Alan seemed to me then as he does now to be uncommonly sage, a truly wise man.

I know I am not alone in having that sense of Alan: Alan as the adult, the wise man, the friend, the understanding and patient parent figure, the man willing to lend his luster to your unpolished idea, the man rigorous and demanding of high quality first in himself and then in others, but relaxed and comfortable in manifold and diverse social situations, and, above all, the man who was a quiet, tireless, and amazingly effective worker in the causes that had the extra benefit to be ones that he shared.

The last thing Alan would want is for our memories of him and his legacy to become enshrined or, worse yet, encased, in some old-fashioned specimen display. If ever there were an occasion for a living museum, it is the celebration of Alan’s life, his work, and his place in our lives.   We will need to become the “living exhibit” of Alan’s work.

It is hard taking this in. For many of you, getting to know Alan recently—as recently as it was for me, too—seemed to be more the beginning of what we expected would be a long time of working together, not the premature and abrupt end that confronts us today.

Consolation eludes me.

Perhaps because of its title, but more for what it says to me about the human condition, as well as our need to take time to observe death and mourn, and still to keep going, I think now, not of science, but another way of knowing that was dear to Alan. I recall the words of W.H. Auden:

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.


I know you will join me in extending our sympathy to Alan’s wife, Mickey, and to the remarkable family of Alan’s many friends and admirers of which we at the National Center, the SENCER-ISE project, and the SENCER community constitute another small part.

– Wm. David Burns

Originally published May 5, 2014


The Legacy of a Museum Legend

Priya Mohabir,
New York Hall of Science

At the core of Alan’s vision for the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) was the commitment to providing the opportunity for high school and college students to develop their interests in science by sharing the experience of discovery with others. For nearly 30 years, the brilliance of that vision has been proven through the many programs Alan created and inspired, most notably the Science Career Ladder (SCL).

Established in 1986, the SCL program began as a series of graduated opportunities that enabled young people to interact with the public by helping visitors to engage with the science behind the exhibits and demonstrations. Combining youth development and youth employment, the SCL provides high school and college students with a meaningful work experience that offers growth through continuous training and peer mentoring.

The creation of the Science Career Ladder captures many of the qualities that made Alan so invaluable to the informal science field. Alan came to the New York Hall of Science when it was effectively derelict. The building was closed to the public and he often recounted how the first time he visited after taking the job there were puddles on the floor. He and his deputy Sheila Grinell had a knack for finding excellent colleagues, and they quickly pulled together a small committed team, including Dr. Peggy Cole and Dr. Marcia Rudy (who is still at NYSCI.) As the first exhibitions came together, Alan realized the need for a corps of floor staff who could greet the public, help to maintain the exhibitions, and generally enliven the visitor experience. The Exploratorium, a science center in San Francisco founded by Frank Oppenheimer, had created a program for Explainers, and that model was the core of a very smart and opportunistic synthesis that Alan and Dr. Cole created. They recruited students from nearby Queens College with interests ranging from theater to physics, and gave them sufficient training to become Explainers, thereby fulfilling an operational need.

At the same time, they recognized a broader need for expert science teachers. They started to shape the Explainer program into the Science Teacher Career Ladder (as it was originally called) and secured significant funding on the hypothesis that this kind of apprenticeship would encourage more young people to become science educators (before the term STEM was born). This hypothesis turned out to have significant value in encouraging STEM participation, and an early survey documented that over 60 percent of the early Science Career Ladder cohort went on to careers in STEM fields, the majority of those in STEM teaching.

This, in turn, helped to shape the invaluable Wallace Foundation supported Youth Alive program, which disseminated and strengthened youth programs at science centers and children’s museums. While Youth Alive was designed to foster youth development across many domains, the Science Career Ladder continued, and continues to this day, serving the dual purpose of enlivening a visit to NYSCI and fostering STEM careers among its diverse community of participants.

The SCL has become not only a highly recognized program that other institutions have modeled, but also an integral part of NYSCI. The Explainers are the diverse face of our museum, supporting the exploration of science with a range of skills and activities. The SCL’s mission is to encourage young men and women from across New York City to pursue STEM careers. Students participating in the SCL demonstrate enhanced science content knowledge, confidence in oral presentations, and strong problem-solving skills, and they show significant growth in communication abilities, interpersonal skills, and leadership.

In its current form the SCL reaches between 120 and 160 young people a year, with about 85 percent coming from a minority background. As the SCL has evolved, so have the programmatic supports that are offered to participants to expand their skill sets, better preparing them for their next academic and career steps. From career development workshops to opportunities to connect with STEM professionals, the program exposes its participants to a wide range of options that are there for them to pursue.

To honor Alan’s contributions to NYSCI and the field at large, NYSCI has established the Alan J. Friedman Center for the Development of Young Scientists through a generous founding grant from the Noyce Foundation. The Friedman Center will encompass the Science Career Ladder program and will create opportunities for high school and college students across New York City to explore their prospects in science, technology, engineering, and math fields. The goals of the Friedman Center are to develop NYSCI as a place where youth and community organizations can learn about STEM opportunities, with multiple pathways for engaging youth in the STEM career pipeline. As it develops, the Friedman Center will make strategic investments to develop, pilot, and roll out new events and opportunities that broaden our reach to youth in New York City. Alan’s memory will continue to be honored and his legacy will live on.

About the Author

Priya Mohabir has been with the New York Hall of Science for the last 15 years, starting as an Explainer herself. In her various roles in Education and the Explainer teams, Priya has led numerous projects developing and leading professional development for diverse audiences. As the new Director of the Alan J. Friedman Center for the Development of Young Scientists, Priya will lead the Science Career Ladder as well as the Science Career Ladder Institute. Working with the Explainer leadership team she will continue to develop new and interesting opportunities for the Explainers and Residents. We expect to add additional programs to cultivate the interests and careers of young scientists in ways we can now only imagine.


Personal Note:

As an alumna of the Science Career Ladder (SCL) program, the I have had invaluable support all along the way. From the motivation to challenge myself to the network of colleagues with whom I share this experience, the SCL has supported my professional growth and has introduced me to some great friends.


My Boss, My Mentor, My Friend – A Brief Memory

Alan Gould

Alan Friedman was my boss (from 1974-1986), my mentor, and my friend ever since. He was also my ideal example of a true gentleman. Evidence of this came almost every time he would say something. When he was being honored at the 40th Gala Anniversary of the Lawrence Hall of Science, I was struck by how he spoke in his opening words not of himself, but of all the other people who he felt had made important contributions to our collective work.

The first planetarium show I learned to present at the Lawrence Hall of Science was “Stonehenge,” and that creation of his still stands among the best audience participation shows I know of. He was so creative and responsive to new ideas. When I came to him with feedback from my audiences, who wanted to see and hear more about the constellations, he went right to work on a new idea that became one of our most successful and replicated shows: “Constellations Tonight.” I always use that one as an iconic example of audience participation. Instead of the presenter pointing out constellations and spewing out facts and stories, we start by simply handing out star maps to all the audience members and teaching them how to use them.

I’m proud and honored to be part of the team at the Hall that carries on the legacy of audience participation planetarium shows that Alan pioneered in the Participatory Oriented Planetarium (POP) workshops and the Planetarium Educator’s Workshop Guide, which evolved into Planetarium Activities for Successful Shows (PASS; now at To this day we encourage other digital planetariums to include live audience participation in their repertoire of shows, and not to rely simply on recorded programs.

When Alan was President of the International Planetarium Society (1985-1986) I heard him say in a speech that the uniqueness of a planetarium experience comes in no small part from the feeling of community the audience can get by all being together and sharing the experience under the dome. And I’ll never forget one of the many things he taught me that comes up again and again. He said that when presenting a planetarium show and deciding what to include, we should always leave the audience wanting more, rather than trying to squeeze every idea and related fact into the show.  Getting them excited is more important than cramming their brains with stuff they’ll forget anyway. I have found this wisdom to be applicable far beyond planetarium shows, including another expression related to this same idea: that students are not just empty vessels into which teachers should pour their knowledge.

I’m so lucky to have known Alan!

About the Author

Alan Gould was Director of the Lawrence Hall of Science Planetarium (UC Berkeley) from 1998-2009. He has over 36 years of experience developing and presenting hands-on science activities and 22 years of experience organizing and leading teacher education workshops. He was also Co-Investigator for Education and Public Outreach for the NASA Kepler mission (2000-2015), Co-Directs the Hands-On Universe project, and is co-author of Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) teacher guides. Currently he works on the Full Option Science System (FOSS) middle school course revision team and directs the Global Systems Science high school curriculum project at Lawrence Hall of Science


Tribute to Alan J. Friedman

Eric Siegel,
New York Hall of Science

Dr. Alan Friedman was a brilliant science educator with whom I worked closely for about a decade. Early in our collaboration, he described how the best ideas are found at the intersection of science with the arts and humanities. Throughout his career, Alan explored that intersection, and he was always excited by projects at the New York Hall of Science and elsewhere that drew from the best of the sciences, the arts, and the humanities. In his lifelong exploration of this juncture, he presaged more recent efforts to integrate science with the arts under the banner of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math). This short article will explore some of Alan’s published work in which he very systematically examined the mutual influence among science, art, and the humanities. I will also connect his engagement with the arts and the humanities to his museum work.

Early in Alan’s career, he demonstrated a predilection for creating his own path and framework for understanding the impact of science on society. After a successful career as an experimental physicist—he used to describe with relish how he loved putting together experimental apparatus from the kinds of random equipment he found around the lab—he received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities Basic Research Program. This represented a radical turn away from the career path of his research peers who were pursuing academic positions, post-doc fellowships in physics, and National Science Foundation grants.

The fellowship supported a collaboration with literary critic Carol C. Donley that resulted in a book published in 1985 called Einstein as Myth and Muse (Cambridge University Press). Donley and Friedman wrote about how “Einstein’s exciting ideas established him as a muse from science, inspiring and supporting interpretation in the arts…. With the explosions of the atomic bomb of 1945… Einstein suddenly came to represent a contemporary version of the Prometheus myth, bringing atomic fire to a civilization unprepared to handle its immense powers.” Einstein, they write, is a uniquely central character in the twentieth-century imagination, as he “did not merely move with the flow of cultural history, but cut a new channel across the conventional separations of science and the humanities” (Preface, ix–x). This invites speculation that Alan was inspired by Einstein not only in his scientific endeavors, but also in his desire to “cut a new channel across the conventional separations of science and the humanities.”

In the ensuing several years, Alan devoted his energies to the building of programs, audiences, and entire museums, first at the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, then at Cité des Sciences in Paris, and finally at the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI). His signature programs, such as the Science Career Ladder at the NYSCI were notable for how they put human and social concerns at the heart of the STEM learning enterprise. The first permanent exhibition at the NYSCI was called Seeing the Light and was created by the Exploratorium, a science museum in San Francisco that has been the locus of art and science collaboration since the 1960s. Much of that exhibition was created by artists, so from NYSCI’s inception, art was at the core of the visitors’ experience. Alan also invited collaborations with artists and artists groups such as Art & Science Collaborations, Inc. (ASCI), resulting in a series of commissions, competitions, and installations.

The integration of art into the visitor experience at science centers had a specific focus at NYSCI. Alan’s vision, central to NYSCI’s mission, was always to make science accessible to diverse learners from different backgrounds. As Dr. Anne Balsamo wrote in her introduction to a catalog of NYSCI-commissioned artwork: “Located as it is in the nation’s—and the world’s—most ethnically diverse county, [NYSCI] is focused on addressing the diverse learning styles manifested by different visitors…Just as there are people who learn best from a linear and explicit display of scientific phenomena, there are others who draw important insights by contemplating the beauty and suggestiveness of a piece like Shawn Lani’s Icy Bodies” (Intersections: Art and Science at the NY Hall of Science 2006).

In 1997, Alan wrote a kind of credo about his belief in the mutuality of science and art, and why they are both critical for addressing his principal commitment to public education in science. Published originally in 1997 in the journal American Art (11 [3]: 2–7), the article begins with a deep and subtle reading of a pre-Hubble photograph of a cluster of galaxies. To the uninformed eye, particularly one jaded by the dramatic colorized images from the Hubble telescope, the picture has no particular drama. It is a series of small spirals, slashes, and dots of light in a reddish monochrome. Alan systematically uncovers the thrilling nature of discovery embodied in the image. Revealing that there are “trillions of suns” in the image, he systematically walks the reader through the distances involved, which are so great that they are not measured in kilometers, but in light years. The images we are seeing originated several hundred million years ago, and it has taken light all that time to reach us.

He then deftly connects the image to a profoundly contemporary phenomenon, the plasticity of space and time. He writes,

Einsteinian space-time tells us, among other things, that this particular arrangement of these galaxies in space and time cannot be thought of as a simple universal image. This photograph is valid from our own place in time and in space, but as seen from other locations in the universe, or even from within the Hercules Cluster itself, these galaxies would never have had this particular arrangement. Infinitely many valid descriptions of the cluster are possible, all different but all related precisely to each other by the equations of Einstein’s relativity theory. 

Simultaneity is one of the most profound casualties of the new Einsteinian view of the universe. Simultaneous events are strictly a local phenomenon, not a universal one. There can be no single snapshot of this cluster of galaxies which is uniquely “correct,” because there is no such thing as a “moment in time” for the universe as a whole. We can continue to think of our own time and our own planet as having moments, but we must learn that thinking about the whole universe requires different, less familiar organizing principles and metaphors (2–3).

Alan is clearly thrilled by the implications of this shift in perspective and wants all of us, young and old, to share that thrill. And this impetus leads him to a surprising turn. “Like most science educators I have thought long and hard about what is wrong with science education in this country. I have concluded that the solution is not just more good science teachers and good science curriculum, but also more and better arts education [my emphasis]. That is because what it takes to be astonished and moved by this photograph is not simply learning the names and numbers that go with the image, but understanding how those facts are part of the larger story of our history, cultural accomplishments, and aspirations” [my emphasis].

Because Alan was such a lucid and precise explainer, there is no way to summarize this seminal article that is shorter than the article itself. Suffice it to say that the essay draws deeply from poets, novelists, playwrights, and composers past and present to demonstrate the power of the arts not only as a way of understanding science, but as a critical perspective for understanding and constructing reality and a life full of interest and engagement. While he was passionate about the value of the scientific world view, “looking around at my colleagues…I would have a hard time proving that scientists are happier, have more stable marriages, vote more intelligently, or are more effective participants in their broader communities than are people with similarly deep professional commitments to the arts or the humanities.”

In 2000, a major essay on the life and work of Remedios Varo written by Alan appeared in a catalog raisonné of the work of this mid-century Mexican artist, who was closely aligned with the surrealist movement in Europe and Mexico. In this essay, he notes that the contemporary rediscovery of her work has taken place among both the science- and art-interested public. Through a close reading of her paintings, Alan carries through his theme of the explanatory power of imagination and the mutual inspiration offered between the arts and the sciences. Varo came of age during the great scientific revolutions of the twentieth century, and Alan’s research demonstrates that she read widely among the classic popular science writers of the time such as Fred Hoyle, a particular favorite of both Varo and Alan.

Through this reading, Varo connected the formation of the universe, all its elements, and human beings. Life is built on the elements created during the cataclysms of the early universe. Alan acknowledges that, on the surface, Varo’s paintings appear to be influenced by more imaginative worldviews, such as the world of alchemy and magic, but his ability to read the paintings empathetically with the eyes of a scientist and a humanist reveals the deep interweaving of scientific understanding. Alan is an excellent art critic in the Varo catalog, revealing new science-informed richness in the paintings while honoring the centrality of imagination, of beauty, and of the complexity of Varo’s worldview. The final paragraph of the essay is resonant and revealing: “The world doesn’t have to make sense; but scientists bet their careers that it does. That is their ultimate act of faith. It sometimes makes scientists feel lonely, particularly in cultures where ‘bad luck’ is a more common explanation than a painstakingly crafted, if only partially successful, model. But scientists believe that the universe is ultimately understandable. I think Remedios Varo shared that faith with us.”

A few times a month, I would drop into Alan’s office next to mine and ask him to explain some bewildering aspect of contemporary science that I had encountered in my reading— the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal; “Spooky Action at a Distance” (quantum entanglement); the multiverse; string theory; the twentieth century’s panoply of counter-intuitive theories that are only distantly comprehensible for laypeople. Alan would patiently walk me through a vastly simplified explanation with no hint of condescension and a sense that there was nothing he’d rather be doing. I was edified and changed by these discussions and I know thousands of others had similar experiences over Alan’s lifetime. The breadth of his understanding was reflected in his engagement with the arts and humanities, and his ability to bridge between C.P. Snow’s famous “two cultures” is one his great legacies.

About the Author

Eric Siegel is Director and Chief Content Officer at the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI), where he leads the program, exhibition development, research, and science functions.  Eric has been in senior roles in art and science museums for more than 30 years and has published extensively in the museum field.  He has taught on the graduate faculty of the New York University Museum Studies program and Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) and as invited lecturer throughout the country.  He has served as President of the National Association for Museum Exhibition; Board Member of Solar One, an urban environmental organization in NYC; and Chairman of the Museums Council of New York City.


Remembering Alan Friedman

Sheila Grinell

I last took a long walk with Alan on February 3, 2014, along the corniche in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, where we had gone to teach 18 Saudis how to run science centers. This workshop would be our last joint gig, after 40 years of parallel careers and many shared projects. We had half a day before the workshop was to start, and so we strolled beside the Persian Gulf and chatted.

Not then but in earlier conversations, Alan had told me about SENCER-ISE, and how gratified he was by its progress. He had worked hard to bring together people with differing institutional perspectives, and he was optimistic about the future. No Pollyanna, he knew both sides would have to bend. He said—not in so many words but this is the gist of it—that the universities would have to deal with real people as opposed to an amorphous “general public,” and that the science centers would have to up their content game. But there was so much to be gained. He envisioned many more cross-sector projects, and, if he were still with us, he would have inspired collaborations to help them flourish. Everyone at SENCER-ISE knows Alan had the desire, the imagination, and the political acumen to make it happen.

SENCER-ISE was not the first time Alan worked across sectors or disciplines. As an undergraduate he had contemplated majoring in English, but even after physics won out, he continued to relish literature and art. Early in his career, he wrote about connections between science and literature. Later he experimented with theater in the science center: at the New York Hall of Science he commissioned and produced a one-act play dramatizing disagreement between two scientists about quantum mechanics. And for more than 40 years, he delighted in his wife’s career as a columnist and mystery writer. Alan was a connoisseur; he could talk eloquently about so many things—and he would go on and on, unless you stopped him. Which brings me back to our conversation beside the sea.

I asked Alan why he hadn’t brought one of his beloved radio-controlled helicopters to Saudi Arabia—for years he flew them at all sorts of meetings to illustrate points and for fun, because fun is a terrific teacher. He explained that since he had had to bring two sets of light sources and adapters for a demonstration—our students would be segregated by gender in adjoining rooms—there was no room in his luggage. I asked how large his ‘copter collection had become. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of what followed:

  • The best piece in his small collection of scientific instruments was a sixteenth-century, orrery-like device that maps the motions of Jupiter. His wife, Mickey, had spotted the curiosity and they took it home, later to discover its meaning and rarity. (Alan respected the work of all scientists, even ancient ones. He wanted everyone to appreciate science as he did, and he believed that, given the right tools, everyone could.)
  • Speaking of Mickey, she had just finished re-issuing seven mystery titles in e-book form. Alan said the moral of the story was “be sure to get electronic rights for anything you publish, and guard your name.” It seems there was another (male) Mickey Friedman who wrote mysteries, which screwed things up for a while. (Ever the raconteur, Alan made a frustrating escapade in electronic publishing sound downright funny.)
  • Speaking of family, Alan asked, “How’s Michael now that he’s a married man?” He had last seen my son at age eight, but he always seemed to know Michael’s actual age and stage of life. Other colleagues might ask after my “little boy,” but Alan would keep track. He was my friend as well as my colleague, so he cared about what I cared about.
  • Speaking of kids, Alan worried that the New York mayor’s single-minded pursuit of extended kindergarten was siphoning support from other important endeavors, like the cultural organizations Alan had worked so hard to defend. (Some years ago, he led the fight against retaliation by the former mayor’s office against the Brooklyn Museum for exhibiting scatological art—and won.)
  • Speaking of cities, Al Khobar appeared to be a refuge for the wealthy. The mansions were barricaded behind tall fences with elegantly crafted gates. As we walked, Alan photographed gate after gate, stopping to admire one particular gate bearing two lovebirds perched on a branch, in silhouette, in iron work against white opaque glass. It was lovely. Alan had an eye, as well as the urge to document. (In fact, his image collection—many thousands of slides and jpegs of the science museums he visited over the decades—will be catalogued by the Association of Science-Technology Centers and made available to all in late summer 2015.)

Every so often a passing car would honk at the two of us as we crossed a street. We wondered if we had failed to observe an Arabic sign. Or maybe the fact that I was wearing jeans, although my head was covered, was provoking a wolf-whistle. But I didn’t worry. Walking with Alan Friedman, I felt safe. He was a man—and a thinker, teacher, leader, and mentor—in whom everyone could have confidence.


About the Author

Now retired, Sheila Grinell enjoyed a forty-year career as a leader of science centers. In 1969, fresh out of graduate school, she joined Frank Oppenheimer to create The Exploratorium, a seminal science center widely emulated around the world, serving as Co-director for Exhibits and Programs. Later, she helped restart the New York Hall of Science, serving as Associate Director. From 1993 to 2004 she served as founding President and CEO of the Arizona Science Center, leading the effort to create a new, vibrant institution for greater Phoenix.

For the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), Sheila created a week-long professional development program for people starting science centers offered 1988-1996. While consulting for a wide range of agencies that included corporations, professional associations, museums, and public television producers, she wrote the leading book on science centers. She was elected a Fellow of both ASTC and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in recognition of her innovative work.

Remembering Alan J. Friedman

Ellen F. Mappen,
National Center for Science and Civic Engagement

I am honored but saddened to write a brief introduction to this section that includes remembrances from a number of Alan J. Friedman’s colleagues. Alan was the inspiration behind the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement’s SENCER-ISE initiative, a project to encourage cross-sector partnerships between informal science and higher education institutions, and was also its founding project director.

Wm. David Burns, in his introduction to this special issue of Science Education & Civic Engagement: An International Journal on informal science education, notes that he “saw Alan as a humanist and scientist.” Certainly the selections that follow from Alan’s colleagues bear witness to the multifaceted nature of his interests, experiences, ideas, and lasting contributions to the field of education, science, and literature and to the impact he had on the lives of the many colleagues who knew him. Alan’s interests were wide ranging and included not just a desire to communicate science to the general public, students, and teachers but also to examine cultural influences on science and technology.

In an interview published in these pages in the Summer 2011 issue, Alan described how he came to the field of informal science education. He was a solid-state physicist by training and in 1973 held a visiting professorship at the University of California, Berkeley. He mentioned how he had wandered into the Lawrence Hall of Science, one of the pioneering public science-technology centers. This experience changed his life and he ended up spending twelve years at that institution, primarily as the Director of Astronomy and Physics, with a short leave to serve as the Conseiller Scientifique et Muséologique at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in Paris from 1982–1984. In 1984, he became director of the New York Hall of Science, a position he held until he retired in 2006. At NYSCI, he revitalized the moribund institution. A description of what he found in 1984 (“zero attendance the year before he arrived”) compared with what NYSCI had become by 2006 when he retired can be found on the NYSCI website: 447,000 visitors with over 90 full-time staff and 150 high school and college students who served as Explainers in the Science Career Ladder program, one of Alan’s lasting initiatives. In his retirement years, Alan was a Museum Development and Science Communication Consultant and a cherished scholar at the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement.

To open this section, Sheila Grinell shares her memories of Alan’s last trip abroad, to Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, and of her long working relationship with him. In relating her conversation with Alan that took place before their meetings started, she mentions his goal of using SENCER-ISE to bring together educators who have different “institutional perspectives” and also gives us a “Reader’s Digest” version of what they discussed. From Eric Siegel, we learn about how Alan always explored the “intersection of science with the arts and humanities” and wanted to understand “the impact of science on society,” and we learn much about Alan’s intellectual interests and pursuits that ranged well beyond directing a major science center. Alan Gould’s brief remembrance highlights how much he learned from Alan Friedman about planetarium presentations and how best to engage audiences in this exciting experience. Priya Mohabir focuses on Alan’s contribution to the education of high school and college students and his vision to empower them as science communicators while they themselves learned science. David Ucko’s “SENCER Synergies with Informal Learning” gives us an overview of how David Burns and I came to collaborate with Alan in our efforts to work across different educational sectors. David Ucko also provides us with an understanding of the differences between formal and informal learning and his thoughts about SENCER as “a model for synergistically integrating aspects” of these different modes of education. We end this section with a reissuing of “In Memoriam,” David Burns’ memorial tribute that he wrote on May 5, 2014, the day after Alan’s untimely death.

We have lost Alan Friedman and greatly miss his wisdom and friendship. But as Alphonse DeSena, our Program Director in the Division of Research and Learning at the National Science Foundation (NSF), wrote recently,

Over several decades of service to education and science, Alan Friedman’s ideas, actions, and accomplishments were many, insightful, and significant.   His contributions in varying capacities to NSF’s mission and programs were frequent, critical, and game changing.  We at NSF and in the informal science education field cherished him as a colleague, as (in my case) a mentor, and as a friend. His legacy will continue for years to come.


About the Author

Ellen F. Mappen is a senior scholar and current director of the SENCER-ISE initiative at the National Center for Science & Civic Engagement. She was the founder and long-time director of the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science, and Engineering at Rutgers University and was the director of Healthcare Services at the New Brunswick Health Sciences Technology High School. In these positions, she has worked to provide opportunities that encourage women and students of color to enter STEM fields. She served as SENCER coordinator for SENCER-ISE. She holds a Ph.D. in history from Rutgers University.