published September 12, 2012

"The Keck Connection": iScience and SCEWestNet

Stasinos Stavrianeas, Williamette College


Several years ago my colleague Mark Stewart and I developed the underlying framework for iScience, our model for a student-centered, interdisciplinary, integrated science curriculum. In our efforts to improve science education at Willamette, we examined several high-impact pedagogical practices in use nationally, became familiar with a variety of assessment techniques, and emerged with a much keener sense of how to improve faculty development on our campus. Our exploratory process yielded a generous three-year grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to forward iScience as a model for institutional reform, both at Willamette and other schools in the Pacific Northwest region. Two years ago we made contact with Amy Shachter and SENCER through SCI-West, now also a Keck-funded project. Mark represented Willamette at the 2011 Summer Institute in Indianapolis where he was introduced to the mission and vision of SENCER. In addition to validating our approach to science education reform, he came away with a much clearer understanding of the relevance of science education to civic engagement. His experience at Butler helped us shape the very latest iteration of iScience (see figure at right). This past summer it was my turn to visit the Summer Institute at Santa Clara University. As everyone who attended knows, this was a remarkable and invigorating experience. Importantly, it provided an excellent opportunity for me to visit with Amy and David and coordinate future steps to bring SENCER to the Pacific Northwest. Both Mark and I are particularly excited for the emerging collaboration with our colleagues from Seattle University who share our vision for new science curricula that prepare all students to be informed citizens regarding the role of science in a modern society. Ultimately, we have hopes of this collaboration emerge in the form of a Regional Center where our iScience resources and objectives can dovetail with those of SENCER.

Envisioning this partnership, we bring several years' experience working with faculty to implement modern pedagogical practices in classroom and laboratory settings. Our monthly iScience discussions and annual summer workshops attract colleagues from every science department, something previously unheard of at Willamette (and we suspect elsewhere). These exchanges reveal our commonalities and facilitate the development of a culture of cooperation and support for curricular innovation. As project leaders, Mark and I provide the framework and necessary resources to help colleagues reach goals they set for themselves. In addition, we become advocates and champions for one another as we move towards the collective goal of excellence in the classroom. As we move into the final year of our Keck effort we will continue reaching out to faculty from other institutions in our region, but now with an added emphasis on planting the seeds necessary for a SENCER Regional Center.

Importantly, the timing of our effort could not be better as Willamette and its peer institutions in the region – Lewis & Clark, Puget Sound, Reed, and Whitman – have just begun a four-year process of building the Mellon-funded Northwest 5 College consortium (NW5C), providing yet more opportunities for buildout of the iScience pedagogical framework. Needless to say, opportunities abound for broadening SENCER's footprint in the Pacific Northwest and Mark and I are delighted to be a part of the process.