published October 3, 2013

Here for Good: Ensuring Relevance and Sustainability for NCSCE

By Danielle Kraus Tarka

Through support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCSCE has been engaged in strategic planning over the past year. I am pleased to be able to provide this brief update on our efforts to the readership of e-news.

Our Goal: Our planning effort is designed to chart the best course for ensuring that the benefits, services and programs of the national center and all of our initiatives, including SENCER, continue for our community of practice and remain available to newcomers. We are doing this work with the conviction that effective strategic planning will also enable us to identify needs, imagine and create strategies to meet them, and organize to support new initiatives and our growing community of practice. Through this multi-faceted process, we plan to secure NCSCE's place in continuing to add value to STEM education reform, faculty development, and the ever-expanding knowledge base of successful approaches to improved learning and engagement.

Our Team: A guiding team consisting of Dave Ferguson, David Burns, and Danielle Kraus Tarka selected Jonathan Bucki of the Dendros Group to facilitate and support the planning processes. A planning team of NCSCE and SENCER some 14 senior leaders was chartered to develop the plan and will be working together to oversee its implementation.

Our Work So Far: Over past several months, Jonathan Bucki has conducted interviews with SENCER Leadership Fellows, Senior Fellows, and Senior Scholars, SCI regional directors, SCEWestNet leaders, funders and other NCSCE allies. The results from these interviews will be used throughout the planning process to inform our programmatic and organizational strategies.

In addition to interviews mentioned above, three work sessions were hosted at SSI 2013 to invite participant input on global and local trends, and reflections upon questions about who our future students and educators will be, and what future educational institutions will be like. Additionally, the planning team took the opportunity to spend a day together just before SSI 2013 reflecting and developing a vision and emerging strategies.

Our Planning Framework: We are deeply appreciative of the many people who continue to give of their time and energy to help advance our shared work. Below is a summary of emerging strategies identified though our interviewing process, special sessions and planning meetings. The four strategies mentioned below offer a planning framework and will serve as the basis for the immediate next phases of our planning processes:

(1) Advancing NCSCE: SENCER and the National Center have been generously supported by the NSF for many years. Other NCSCE initiatives – SENCER-ISE, SCEWestNet, GLISTEN, and the new Engaging Mathematics project– have also benefited from federal support, as well as grants from private foundations.

The NSF has been discussing and exploring ways to support large, successful communities such as ours for some time. We invite you to read remarks by David Burns related to this topic from his invited talk at the 2013 NSF Principal Investigators' meeting (click here). Also, last year, NSF funded a three-year study at the University of Southern California to examine four long-standing and successful undergraduate STEM reform networks to learn how such networks can be most effectively designed and operated (learn more). SENCER was selected as one the networks, and knowledge gained from research on our efforts by Dr. Adrianna Kezar, Dr. Sean Gehrke, and Dr. Jaime Lester will be extremely valuable over the next several years as we continue our strategic planning discussions.

With a focus on meeting the growing needs of our community, expanding resources and subgrants, and anticipating future areas of growth, comes the need to discuss how to diversify and create new streams of revenue, in addition to NSF and other federal grant support. Accommodating the growth will necessarily require additional internal capacity for fund development, disseminating resources, and other means of best supporting innovative work in education.

Our Planning Team also saw the need to share the great work done in our community as this period of significant reform in education unfolds across the nation. What can we do to make high quality contributions to this national discussion? How can the thinking (and the portfolio of results) developed in our projects influence reform? These are just two of the questions we are considering.

(2) Improving Program Effectiveness: The National Center prides itself on the quality of its work while continually seeking self-improvement. As we hone our regional strategies and as the complexity of our endeavor increases, we will work to prevent the "silo-ization" of our programs, promoting integration across the different initiatives of NCSCE. We intend for this integration to create the conditions to share insight, learning, scholarship, and to continue to catalyze the work of STEM education reform. We will continue to connect the right people and good ideas.

(3) Seizing Opportunities: The strength of our network is built on our partnerships. We recognize the interdependent nature of the work of changing how science is taught. We have always worked hard to broaden not only the number of participants in our programs, but also the perspectives, expertise, backgrounds, and interests of participants. As a significant number of our collaborating faculty and academic leaders look towards retirement, we are aware of the need to provide for leadership succession across the network. It is because of strong relationships and strong leadership that we have been able to connect SENCER ideals across many different institutions. We will continue to strengthen and leverage partnerships, stressing the need to venture into new kinds of relationships with new kinds of partners. We have been fortunate to incorporate leadership from students, community-based leaders, representatives of government agencies, non-profits, and informal education venues; and look forward to continuing to grow the diversity of our community.

(4) Strengthening Organizational Structure and Processes: With our past successes come mixed blessings of additional stress and scrutiny. The highly entrepreneurial way in which we have operated for years is being stretched (in the most positive sense!) by the demands of the size, number, and diversity of our emerging stakeholders. Given our proven track record and our priority in supporting our community, we believe we have the capacity to embrace these challenges and forge paths to address growing needs with success, support, and continued personal contact with you.

With Jonathan's assistance, we have been assessing our current NCSCE team's capacity and working to mature our organization to continue to provide high quality, high value support. We are also excited to be working with a team of talented faculty and students from Worchester Polytechnic Institute this fall who are helping us explore operational models for the future. Students will be on-site at our DC office from the end of October until mid-December, and we look forward to what kind of options the bright, imaginative group will present by the end of their tenure in DC!

Your Part in This Important Work: As part of our planning efforts, we continue to request your feedback and contributions to our discussions. We hope you take some time to participate in the brief surveys and other feedback options that will be made available. Furthermore and above all, thank you for your continued participation and support; this endeavor simply cannot be the work of a core few, but needs to be the work of a vast and vibrant group.

We will keep you posted as we work to ensure our relevance and value into the future.