Iowa State Joins Science Education Program

Iowa State University is part of a national effort to improve undergraduate science education by addressing complex civic challenges in society. A team of six faculty members and one graduate student is working on developing three courses that will focus on improving students’ environmental literacy. The team from Iowa State is one of 31 other university or college teams invited to be the newest members of Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER), a national project of the National Science Foundation. The SENCER project is a five-year effort to promote reform through faculty development, with a focus on local change and improved strategies for assessment. The project has three goals: to improve science education, especially for non-science majors; to connect science education to relevant general education programs; and to stimulate informed civic engagement on the part of students. Courses examine such topics as global warming, biological diversity, disease and society and the social implications of genetic experimentation. Iowa State’s team leader, Jan Thompson, associate professor of natural resource ecology and management, said the national SENCER efforts "are aligned very strongly with what we know about learning and teaching, and what is extremely effective and engaging to enhance college students’ learning, retention and participation in our democratic society." "This scholarly project supports Iowa State’s commitment to enhancing teaching and student learning and it also represents a successful cross-disciplinary effort to foster innovation on our campus," said Corly Brooke, director of Iowa State’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. The initial effort at Iowa State is a class project for biology students, who have been working in groups to identify different environmental problems on the ISU campus. They will evaluate the problems and propose feasible solutions and policy that would solve the problems. Student groups will present their findings in a poster session late this semester. Other members of the ISU team are: Barb Krumhardt, in the genetics, development and cell biology department; Jean Goodwin, English; Jim Pease, Steve Jungst and Lita Rule, natural resource ecology and management; and Sarah Franklin, a graduate teaching assistant in natural resource ecology and management. David Burns, director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement and leader of the SENCER initiative, said, "So many of our significant civic challenges require a knowledge of science and mathematics. We are pleased to partner with Iowa State in focusing the intelligence and capacity of students, faculty and academic leaders on some of the hardest problems of our time."