Dominican professor receives National Science Foundation grant to improve STEM education

Dr. Diara Spain, an associate professor of biology and director of the Honors Program at Dominican University of California, is the recipient of a SENCER-National Science Foundation sub-grant to develop a new General Education science course for non-science majors enrolled in the Honors Program.

The class is tentatively titled – Aquatic Ecosystems: San Francisco Bay Area. There are four major goals: 1) to acquire a holistic view of aquatic ecosystems which would include water & soil quality and plant & animal diversity, 2) to understand how to gather and interpret data related to those four categories, 3) to comprehend how environmental issues like sustainability, natural disasters, and invasive species affect humans then develop and implement a civic project and 4) communicate results to the campus, local/regional/state community, and other stakeholders

The project plan is the result of work done during a four-day, residential summer institute that Dominican was invited to attend as part of a national initiative called Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER).  SENCER is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.  The Institute took place from July 29 through August 2 and was hosted by the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Joining Dr. Spain at the institute were Dr. Sibdas Ghosh, Professor and Chair of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Department at DU plus Dr. Elizabeth Truesdell, an assistant professor in education, and  DU student Sage Calloway.

By participating in the SENCER project, Dominican is contributing to a national reform effort that connects the improvement of undergraduate science education to some of the most vexing civic challenges our nation and our future graduates will face. Through the awarding of this grant, Dominican and Dr. Spain, who joined the DU faculty an assistant professor in 2002 and resides  in Terra Linda , are involved in a two-year concentrated effort to improve science education at her institution through the creation of the GE science course for non-science majors. The class is expected to be ready for the Fall 2011 semester.

 At the SENCER Summer Institute, teams and individual representatives envisioned and developed courses and programs that teach rigorous science, technology, engineering, and mathematics content through problems that require scientific knowledge and expertise.  Throughout the next two years Dominican will continue to network with other faculty and engage with innovative pedagogies, assessment, and undergraduate research.

SENCER is a national dissemination project designed to promote reform through faculty development, a focus on local systemic change, and improved assessment strategies.  The project is supported with a grant from the National Science Foundation and is designed to achieve three pressing goals: to improve science education, especially for students who may never major in a scientific field; to connect science education reform to more robust and relevant general education programs; and to stimulate informed civic engagement with scientific questions on the part of today’s students.