Yahng Discovery Center
Profile submitted by Jon Saderholm
Vision and Goals
The Yahng Discovery Center is created with a vision of students, regardless of their identity, being able to pursue their innate curiosity about the natural world and their desire to nurture our communities both in and out of the classroom.
The Yahng Discovery Center is dedicated to promoting excellence and innovation in teaching, learning, and outreach in the STEM-H disciplines. Our mission is to increase the breadth and depth of the quantitative and scientific literacy, and the exploration of dimensions of health among our students, pre- and in-service educators, and the Appalachian region as a whole.
We set forward the following goals to pursue in service of our mission:
- Promote STEM-H teacher development from recruitment, through teacher preparation, to in-service professional development by collaborating with the Berea's Education Studies Programs and with regional school districts.
- Recruit and support students for all STEM-H majors – particularly from underrepresented groups.
- Collaborate with STEM-H faculty to implement evidence-based teaching & learning practices to strengthen gateway courses, increase student retention, and promote inclusive teaching practices.
- Create and maintain collaborative relationships with local, regional, and national partners in K-16 education, science, mathematics, and nursing.
- Provide informal education and public outreach opportunities to the local community.
- Develop and expand innovative, interdisciplinary STEM-H scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and discipline-based education research (DBER) projects.
- Pursue federal, state, and corporate funding opportunities to strengthen Berea College and community science and education programs.
The Yahng Discovery Center exists as an independent unit within the STEM academic division at Berea College. Both internal and external collaborations are pursued and welcomed. It is run by a single STEM Education faculty member. Currently, the director receives 1/3 FTE to coordinate the Center, but this support will expire because its source is an external grant. The YDC works in close collaboration with our planetarium, which is located adjacent to it in the new Margaret A. Cargill Natural Sciences & Health building. The Center also has a close relationship with Berea's "Partner's for Education" (PFE) organization which channels federal education funding into the region.
Berea is a work college, consequently students provide the bulk of the support for the Center. We are allocated two 10-hour per week student labor positions. We also benefit from two 10-hour per week student labor positions from our service-learning program. We had the support of three years of a VISTA intern which lapsed at the end of 2020. The Center does not have an official location in Berea's organization chart and receives no institutional support aside from the fund-raising support from Berea's Development office, technological support (e.g., website, email), and student labor allocations. That said, the director writes annual reports to the dean, provost, and development office.
Are there advantages of being structured this way?
The advantages for this are a simple chain of command and direct communication with stakeholders. The director will be in constant communication with the faculty who teach classes with historically high attrition rates. Feedback about how students are doing will be easily communicated. Programs that target particular groups of students can be assessed quickly both on an informal level and also through more rigorous approaches. With the SEC connected to other centers on campus, we anticipate being able to help a much more diverse set of students succeed.
Having stable student labor allocations enables us to plan regular in-reach and outreach projects. Having a well-established funding source from the PFE organization enables us to do effective, targeted outreach to regional K-12 public schools.
Are there particular challenges that result from this structure?
The lack of permanent support for the Center director and lack of full-time staff support severely limit our capacity to envision and enact long-term programming due the real possibility that there will be periods during which the director has no time allocated to the projects.
The YDC receives grants from foundations and local industry for particular in-reach and outreach activities. We also have a fee-for-service arrangement with regional K-12 schools through our partnership with Berea's Partners for Education (PFE) organization. In general, we have had sufficient project-related funding from external sources, which will provide 1/3 FTE through 2023. After that date there is no funding for the Center Director's course release or other non-student staff support.
How has this funding structure influenced the undergraduate STEM education programming the center offers?
The funding model completely dictates the services the Center offers. That said, both our Development office and the PFE are very responsive to our mission & vision and ideas created by the staff. That said, the director's course release is tied to soft money, limiting the longevity of potential projects.
What are the specific advantages of having a center funded in this way?
The enthusiastic support from our Development office and the PFE has enabled us to do significant work, both to support our own students and regional K-12 students.
What are the challenges?
The obvious challenge is that without guaranteed institutional support, we cannot plan for long-term or systemic projects due to the lack of official institutional identity.
Has this funding structure has changed over time?
The funding structure has been stable since the Center was created.
Description of Programming
We have had significant impact on the College community as a meeting place and as a source of STEM-related programming. For example, our "Celebration of Women in STEM" was tremendously successful and looks like it will become a annual event. We have also hosted many regional school groups for planetarium/YDC-created informal STEM learning experiences. We also hosted a STEM summer camp before the pandemic which will be an annual event every summer. We plan to support after-school STEM clubs for local K-12 students. We also plan to support teacher professional development and College faculty activity within the scholarship of teaching and learning.
Successes and Impacts
Our biggest success is our relationship with local school districts and organizations supporting children. Our programming is diverse including both in-reach and outreach activities. Since the Center's creation, we have had interactions 2500 times with K-12 students, 2500 times with Berea students, and 1200 times with other community members. We track participation rates for all constituents who are impacted disaggregated by group membership. We maintain digital archives of all events planned by Center staff and present annual reports to the College administration.
Evaluation and Assessment
How does your center demonstrate its value, both in terms of assessing its own programming and responding to external evaluation?
The Center has created a network of allies in the local community to coordinate areas of mission overlap and resources available. We involve the College administration in this process. We also have a very active relationship with the College's PFE organization, which provides direct service to the regional K-12 educational community. We submit annual reports to the College administration and Development office, and grant-specific reports to the Development office. To date, we have not had an external evaluation, but we do have plans to constitute an advisory board to which the Director will present semi-annual reports. The Center maintains an active social media and web presence.
Elements Contributing to Success
Berea College is an incredible organization that has a demonstrated commitment to its students, community, and region. Consequently, the Yahng Discovery Center benefits from the foundational campus culture of service the College has developed over the years. Since Berea is a federally designated labor college, we have guaranteed student labor allocations to support our work. The Center's prime location in our new science & health building puts our activities front and center for the whole community to witness. Furthermore, the profoundly supportive STEM/Health faculty welcomes our initiatives and actively participates in our programming.
Berea's Development office has continually made us aware of grant opportunities and has positively placed our ideas in front of multiple philanthropic organizations. Furthermore, since the Partners for Education organization is within the College's institutional structure, communication and financial transactions are trivial. The PFE staff are committed to their community and eager to facilitate access to our facility and the opportunities we prepare.