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How I Got Here Part II: Building Communitypublished Aug 27, 2009
I was ready for a change in my academic life. And, I was on a mission. How could anything as important as living responsibly on Earth (through understanding Earth history, its components and processes) be so grossly underrepresented in STEM education and in society? I began to seek out kindred spirits with similar interests and concerns (Dex Perkins, John Brady), made presentations at national professional society meetings, organized theme sessions, and most importantly, began to become involved with NSF conferences and advisory boards. I recognized that the most direct route towards empowering Earth science education was through the various grant programs at NSF.Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE). This was the first time that an Earth scientist served in this position–Earth Science proposals were handled by (well-intentioned and hard-working) program officers typically from chemistry and physics. However, they were definitely outside the "Earth science culture" and it was very important that a bona fide Earth scientist have a seat at the NSF table. We had a "matrix management" system in which I had disciplinary responsibilities for all Earth Science proposals, and also programmatic responsibilities. My main focus was working in the Collaboratives for Excellence in Teacher Preparation program, but I also worked in multi-disciplinary programs in DUE, and also cross-NSF programs such as Ethics, Values and Society. This was an exciting year (including the infamous furlough when we were all laid off as "non-essential federal employees"). In addition to regular programmatic duties (processing proposals) we also sponsored a major convention focused on Women in Science, and we produced a major review of the state of undergraduate education (Shaping the Future, New Expectations for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology, NSF 96-139). One of the seminal ideas that came from this report was the need for a national electronic clearinghouse of instructional materials produced through the various sponsored programs in the NSF Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR), a vision that was communicated to the Earth Science community in Mogk and Zia (1997). During my year at NSF, I worked hard to recruit more proposals to the CCD and ILI (Instrumentation and Laboratory Improvement) programs, and to expand participation in the reviewer base; funding in the out-years is reflected by proposal pressure in the present, and it was extremely important to increase participation among Earth scientists in a variety of NSF programs. I also spent most of the year making regular rounds of the 8th floor at NSF headquarters among the sister division in EHR to make sure that Earth Sciences were broadly represented across the EHR Directorate, and to the 7th floor where the Directorate for the Geosciences reside. Perhaps the most important legacy of my stint as a Program Officer can be found in the bridges build between the GEO and EHR. At the end of my tenure, I worked closely with Mike Mayhew (Program Officer in GEO/EAR) to produce the report: Geoscience Education: A Recommended Strategy (NSF 97-171). I'm happy to report that we have maintained an Earth Scientist as a rotating Program Officer in DUE for the past 13 years, and strong collaborative efforts continue to be maintained between Program Officers in GEO and DUE.
One of the benefits of serving at NSF is that you enjoy the "power of the purse" and are in a position to support new initiatives. NSF had just completed the Calculus Reform and Chemistry Initiatives, and I asked what it would take to start a similar Earth Science initiative. The response was to demonstrate community "buy-in" via a series of workshops or conferences. I was convinced that the "stove-piping" of the (solid) Earth Science, Atmospheric Science, and Oceanography disciplines as organized in GEO contributed to a lack of visibility and political and economic clout so I commissioned AGU to run another workshop modeled after the earlier DUE report. The ensuing workshop and report, Shaping the Future of Undergraduate Earth Science Education, Innovation and Change Using an Earth System Approach made a strong case for common interests among the EAR/ATM/OCE disciplines, provided a new round of solid recommendations that are now widely adopted in the geoscience curriculum. Using a unified front across these disciplines we had more resources and people to help make the case about the centrality of the Earth Sciences in the STEM disciplines. The emerging research on the complex Earth system supported the case for curriculum reform that integrated across the Earth science disciplines, with a stronger emphasis on currency and relevance to issues of societal importance. This workshop was co-convened by Frank Ireton (AGU) and the Director of the Keck Geology Consortium, Cathy Manduca (a collaboration that has been going strong now for 13 years).
A community awareness about the need to actively promote geoscience education was beginning to grow, and more importantly, concrete actions were being taken. We (the Earth Sciences) got a major boost with the publication of the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) where the the Earth and Space Sciences were treated on par with physics, chemistry and biology (thanks to the hard work of colleagues such as John Snow and Bob Ridky, my successor at NSF). The community was also energized to more fully engage K-12 Earth science education through the publication of Revolution in Earth and Space Science Education (Barstow and Geary, 2002). The Geological Society of America has enjoyed steady growth over the past decade in its Geoscience Education Division and a Geoscience Education Committee was formed to advise GSA programs (I was chair of both ca. 1996-98). The National Association of Geoscience Teachers continues to show strong growth, and has provided a huge community service through the publication of the Journal of Geoscience Education. Participation in education sessions at national meetings of GSA and AGU has exploded from one or two marginalized sessions in the early 1990's to ~20 sessions per meeting in the past number of years.
The community base was mobilized, and was well-positioned to fully engage the challenges of teaching and learning about Earth science.
Continue to Part III
American Geophysical Union, 1997, Shaping the Future of Undergraduate Earth Science Education, Innovation and Change Using an Earth System Approach, F. Ireton, C. Manduca, D. Mogk (eds). http://serc.carleton.edu/shapingfuture/index.html
Barstow, D., and Geary, E., (eds) 2002, Revolution in Earth and Space Science Education, Blueprint for Change Report from a National Conference, http://www.EarthScienceEdRevolution.org
Mogk, D. W., and Zia, L. L., 1997, Addressing Opportunities and Challenges in Evaluation and dissemination through Creation of a National Library for Undergraduate Science Education, Geoscience Information Society, v. 27, 17-22.
National Research Council, 1996, National Science Education Standards, National Academy Press, Washington DC, 262 pp.
National Science Foundation, 1996, Shaping the Future, New Expectations for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology, (NSF 96-139)
National Science Foundation, 1997, Geoscience Education: A Recommended Stategy (NSF 97-171) http://www.nsf.gov/geo/adgeo/geoedu/97_171.jsp