published May 2, 2013

Northwest Node Engages New Faculty in Civic Engagement Efforts

Amanda Moodie, NCSCE

This article is the fourth installment in our series featuring updates on current activities from each of the seven nodes in the Science and Civic Engagement Western Network. SCEWestNet, funded by the W. M. Keck Foundation, is a two-year initiative to forge durable connections and robust curriculum development across 17 states of the West. Individual nodes are made up of at least three partner institutions and one lead institution in each of seven regions comprising the western United States. In this issue, we feature the Pacific Northwest. Dr. Peter (PJ) Alaimo, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Seattle University, serves as the nodal leader.

The Pacific Northwest node of SCEWestNet, which is organized by Professors PJ Alaimo, Lindsay Whitlow, Doug Latch and Stasinos Stavrianeas, has enjoyed a great deal of interest by science faculty from numerous institutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Nodal Leaders Alaimo (Associate Professor of Chemistry), Whitlow (Associate Professor of Biology) and Latch (Assistant Professor of Chemistry) are faculty members at Seattle University. Seattle University (SU), a private Jesuit Catholic university with nearly 8,000 students, is the largest independent university in the Northwestern United States. SU emphasizes service learning and is 'dedicated to educating the whole person, to professional formation, and to empowering leaders for a just and humane world.' Seventy-five percent of students are involved in community service each year.

Co-Leader Stavrianeas is a SENCER alum, contributor to eNews (see article here) and Professor of Exercise Science at Willamette University, located in Salem, Oregon. Willamette University is a private, liberal arts college with about 2,800 students. Willamette, the first university established in the Western United States, Willamette is a pioneer of sustainability. It was recently ranked number one, in a survey by the National Wildlife Federation, for their on-campus sustainability activities (please see here).

In March 2013, the Northwest Node convened to mix two groups of faculty, and catalyze cross-talk between them. One group is comprised of faculty members who have experience successfully incorporating issues of civic importance into college courses, and the second group includes faculty who are interested in doing so, yet lack the necessary experience. The meeting included 14 faculty members from 8 institutions including Gonzaga University, University Puget Sound, University of Washington-Tacoma, Western Washington University, Whitman College, Willamette University, Santa Clara University, and Seattle University.

Their breadth of ideas, experience and interest contributed significantly to the development of the node, as faculty who are new to SENCER learned about best practices and approaches, while exciting new ideas were discussed. Alaimo says, "Our goal was to fill a room with faculty members who are excited about the ideas behind SENCER, and to engage them in careful and thoughtful discussion that focused on getting new faculty over whatever hurdles inhibit their development as SENCER-engaged faculty members."

An emerging theme from this meeting was the group's interest in the environmental science of local natural surface waters, such as Puget Sound, Lake Washington and the Duwamish River. Interestingly, these faculty members expressed interest in SENCERizing a wide range of courses, such as general chemistry, environmental history, water quality modeling, limnology, ecology, nutrition, environmental chemistry and instrumental analysis. When they do, they will reach a broad swath of the student population.

As a result of the nodal meeting, three institutions, Western Washington University, Willamette University and Seattle University, plan to attend SSI 2013 at Santa Clara University and several groups of faculty are considering participating in SSI 2014 to further develop their ideas.