Center for Learning, Education and Research in the Sciences
The Center for Learning, Education and Research in the Sciences (CLEAR) is an interdepartmental resource for faculty and students dedicated to expanding on this tradition of leadership in science education at Oberlin College.
Profile submitted by Marcelo Vinces
Vision and Goals
The Center for Learning, Education, and Research in the Sciences aims to further strengthen the college's contribution to educating future leaders in STEM (science technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The college recognizes the growing importance of STEM fields in every aspect of contemporary life and remains strong in its belief that a liberal arts education is critical to the success of STEM leaders. To this aim, the center is dedicated to working with existing campus offices and departments–particularly the Center for Teaching Innovation and Excellence, the Office of Undergraduate Research, Student Academic Services, the Oberlin Center for Technologically Enhanced Teaching, the Office of Communications, all of the natural sciences departments and programs, the Bonner Center for Service and Learning, and the Offices of the Deans and the President–in order to:
- Enhance the quantitative and scientific problem-solving skills of undergraduate STEM majors through faculty curricular development, workshops, and student peer-led activities;
- Foster interdisciplinary connections and transformative learning approaches in biochemistry, biology, chemistry, computer science, geology, mathematics, neuroscience, physics, and psychology, at all levels of the curriculum;
- Facilitate recruitment and training of students as peer-mentors, tutors, and workshop leaders;
- Provide resources for students and faculty who are learning, teaching, or studying in the STEM fields;
- Strengthen and expand on Oberlin's tradition of leadership in science education;
- Catalyze greater interactions between the science departments and all the departments and programs across the campus of Oberlin College;
- Support enhanced summer programming for all science research students;
- Raise the profile and provide recognition for research conducted by Oberlin students and faculty in the sciences.
CLEAR is an independent unit with the College of Arts & Sciences. It is run by an administrative staff person. Staff constitutes 1 full time director, a part time administrative assistant, and two faculty program directors (the Center is funded by a grant from HHMI).
Are there advantages of being structured this way?
This structure gives the center much autonomy.
Are there particular challenges that result from this structure?
Connecting with departments is a challenge, but easily met with the correct approach.
The center was established with a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). This grant has ended and the College has picked up funding the center.
How has this funding structure influenced the undergraduate STEM education programming the center offers?
Funding from HHMI limited support to departments and majors within the natural sciences. We would like, for example, to support other quantitative fields, such as economics.
What are the specific advantages of having a center funded in this way?
HHMI support lends the center great prestige and visibility, and also gives much leeway in how the grant is administered.
What are the challenges?
Sustainability is a challenge we have spent much time addressing.
Has this funding structure has changed over time?
Our grant has recently ended.
Description of Programming
Programming is 75% undergraduate student centered, 25% faculty centered, with some overlap and increasingly interactions with members of the surrounding community. Among students, the primary audience has been students in science and math courses, and with faculty those in STEM departments, but increasingly we interface with the broader campus, including our art museum and Conservatory of Music.
Successes and Impacts
Broadly, the biggest success has been facilitating greater and deeper connections between the natural sciences division, its faculty, staff and students, with the campus at large. We have done many cross-divisional and inter-office and -departmental events and programming. We document these on our website and annual newsletter.
Evaluation and Assessment
How does your center demonstrate its value, both in terms of assessing its own programming and responding to external evaluation?
Everything we do is assessed and reported to our funders, HHMI. This has been a benefit of support from external funders.
Elements Contributing to Success
Several elements have contributed to our success. One was the buy-in from faculty from the start, the work of the principal investigators of the grant that established the center. Another has been the work of the director, who has stressed collaboration and partnerships across campus reaching far beyond the physical science center building.