Educators Certificate: STEM in the Public Interest

Eliza J. Reilly, Exec. Director, National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE), Davida S. Smyth, Assoc. Prof. The New School, Deputy Director NCSCE, Jay Labov, (ret) National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine


Program title: Educators Certificate: STEM in the Public Interest

Program Description: Our team aims to create a certification for STEM educators that applies the ideals and strategies of SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities) and adds practical professional development in pedagogy, science communication, and community collaboration. SENCER courses and programs use civic problems and big interdisciplinary public challenges (e.g. infectious disease, climate change, etc) with student-centered pedagogy to teach rigorous foundational knowledge while building civic awareness. Because SENCER courses take a problem-based, systems approach to learning, they inevitably engage the humanistic and social science knowledge, as well as meta-knowledge and skills, that learners need to be scientifically informed civic agents in their communities. The certificate program will help instructors teach STEM content "through" pressing social and civic problems of direct relevance to local communities by providing: course/program design guides, student-centered pedagogical training, grounding in principles of effective science communication and informal science learning, and the development of collaborative opportunities with community-based STEM educators. While the primary audience is all STEM educators, the certificate is aimed at Non-Tenure Track (NTT) and adjunct faculty who may lack access to institutional professional development and training (PD). The goal is to provide STEM educators with transferable pedagogical skills for teaching in a wide variety of contexts, as well as tools for achieving broader impact in their educational practices by applying their skills and knowledge to immediate community needs, and in both formal and informal venues throughout the STEM learning ecosystem.

Goals of the Program

The goal is to provide professional development for a sector of formal educators who have been increasingly excluded from PD opportunities at the institutions they work in, or who find themselves with severely limited career prospects in higher education, a trend that has accelerated during the COVID-19 crisis (See Article in CHE about the impact of COVID on the academic workforce). The certificate will offer STEM educators, particularly NTT faculty and adjuncts, recent PhDs who are in the job market, and the anticipated population of early retired faculty, with guidance, mentoring, and tools for achieving broader civic and social impact in their educational practice by applying their skills and knowledge throughout the STEM learning ecosystem and in the service of the immediate needs of their communities. The SENCER community is composed of Higher Ed, K12, and informal educators and has active collaborations with most of the key STEM reform initiatives in both formal and informal learning. An advisory and assessment group of national experts in curriculum design, student-centered learning, inclusive teaching, science communication, and community learning, will oversee the development of both the curriculum and assessments and evaluative rubrics for the certificate. We anticipate that our certificate will be of value to anyone wishing to expand their knowledge of engaged, student-centered, and relevant STEM education that serves the needs of learners and their communities. Certificate holders will have the capacity to leverage their skills and assets as educators in a variety of new and novel contexts.


We are investigating the platform that we will use to deploy our certificate. We are planning to apply for funding that would enable us to offer our certificate during the developmental, pilot years free of charge. Experts in pedagogy from within SENCER will be recruited to help develop the modules and we will supplement with materials in additional areas such as the changing educational landscape and how to integrate policy and legislation by inviting nationally recognized experts from outside of SENCER to contribute as well. While the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement will offer the certificate, we will partner with our SENCER affiliated institutions to recruit a pilot cohort who are actively teaching STEM courses. Our certificate will be offered in a hybrid format, utilizing asynchronous modules along with synchronous mentoring and guidance modeled upon existing mentoring networks such as the NSF Funded PALM network, QUBES/Bioquest Faculty Mentoring Networks, or the Faculty Guild. Our steering committee and evaluation team will assess our project regularly throughout the pilot period and we will determine the efficacy of our implementation at several points by working with our partner SENCER institutions and leveraging their faculty assessment protocols.

The SENCER, Science Education, and Our Commitment to Anti-Racism

We are committed to ensuring that our certificate will be founded upon a framework that celebrates diversity, supports inclusion and equity, and by doing so, ensures that our community recognizes what is most relevant, urgent, and motivating to our students and their communities. We do so by

  • Putting equity and social justice is at the center of our educational and advocacy work and attending closely to our own blind-spots and biases in choosing the framing, language, and strategies we use;
  • Listening to our colleagues who are Black, and those who work with communities of color, to make sure that our work is truly meeting their needs and supporting the success of underrepresented students;
  • Amplifying the voices of Black educators in our network;
  • Examining the role of racism and implicit bias in the institutions and practices of science and technology, by asking tough questions. Whose work is acknowledged? What questions can be asked and who can ask them? Who benefits, and who is excluded, from the gains produced by scientific research?

Learning Outcomes

  • Learning Outcomes for Module 1 -The Educational Theory and Evidence Behind Teaching STEM Through Public Problems/Civic Questions Required Readings for Module 1.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 15kB Oct19 20)
    Having completed Module 1 participants will be able to:
    • Explain in their own words, several key educational theories as they relate to the "ecosystem" of STEM learning.
    • Describe current cultural, political, and economic changes that have impacted higher education in the 21st century.
    • Describe several of the transformative movements, organizations, and "levers for change" that have emerged to improve learning and analyze/evaluate their long-term impact.
    • Define student-centered pedagogy and identify elements of active learning in example scenarios and materials
    • Using evidence, defend the value of inter and trans-disciplinary approaches in a variety of contexts.
    • Demonstrate an understanding of the issues associated with inclusion, diversity, and cultural competence in STEM education.
  • Learning Outcomes for Module 2 -Course or Unit Design Process (Based on workshops already piloted and existing models )Description of Module 2 »
    Having completed Module 2 participants will be able to:
    • Learner-centered design: Ensure that the tenets of inclusion, diversity, and equity were at the core of content development and pedagogical strategies. This will include an understanding of what issues are most relevant and motivating to students and their communities.
    • Use the backward design approach to develop any teaching material or curriculum
      • Combine backward design and the SENCER ideals by starting with a problem and designing the curriculum around the problem.
      • Identify ways to engage the learner with the problem at the core of the learning experience
    • Actively integrate different knowledge/skills domains and ways of thinking into their curricular materials.
    • Leverage assets at their institution or community that will enhance, broaden, and anchor the learning experience and demonstrate its relevance to "real life."
    • Identify student-centered, active assessment strategies, and approaches that would measure the efficacy of the learning process.
    • Once a draft is completed, use decolonizing strategies and a culturally sensitive framework to evaluate the syllabus and learning materials to ensure the tenets of inclusion, diversity, and equity are intrinsic to the learning experience.
  • Learning Outcomes for Module 3 Practicum for Public Interest STEM: Identify institutional or community partners, create a "product" that extends the design principles of Module 2 (audience-centered culturally appropriate strategies and communication, integration of the knowledge domains, and community-grounded communication).  NCSCE will use the network of experienced informal educators (participants in our SENCER-Informal Science Education SENCER-ISE  projects) to guide certificate students through the creation of a SENCER educational product or project aimed at community members in informal educational settings. Readings for Module 3. READINGS FOR MODULE 3 STEM In the Public Interest Certificate.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 13kB Oct24 20)
    Having completed Module 3 participants will be able to:
    • Know their audience (Principles of equitable partnerships and collaborations)
    • Search and identify potential partners and resources with which to work or collaborate
    • Co-create a product (module, presentation, intervention)
    • Disseminate the product into the community
    • Evaluate the effectiveness of the team and communication strategies. (We will draw on our community's experts in developing community partnerships, as well as the leaders of our projects using indigenous knowledge to develop STEM learning opportunities in underserved and indigenous communities).
  • Learning Outcomes for Module 4 Educational Leadership Skills that can be applied in both formal and informal settings: Change agency, identification of personal values and goals, career trajectories beyond TT.  Readings for Module 4: READINGS FOR MODULE 4 STEM in the Public Interest.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 13kB Oct24 20)
    Having completed Module 4 participants will be able to:
    • Identify their professional and personal assets and how to leverage and deploy these assets in a variety of contexts in higher education and in the wider STEM learning ecosystem.
    • Tackle areas of weakness, recognize opportunities for growth and professional improvement, as well as misalignment between personal goals and professional practice.
    • Reflect on personal values and aspirations, and how they are manifested in educational practice.

Assessing Program Outcomes

  1. As modules will be administered using an online modality, we will integrate questions and quizzes both during and after each module. These questions will need to be answered correctly before the participants will be able to move on to the next module.
  2. As most of the modules will involve developing and using novel approaches to pedagogy and teaching, our formative assessment will involve the development of a reflective ePortfolios that also features exhibits of assignments and materials developed during the modules. The ePortfolio will serve as the formative assessment for all 4 modules of the certificate. SENCER has many examples of ePortfolios being used by students and faculty alike.  (Monica Devanas, Director of SENCER Mid-Atlantic is a national expert in e-Portfolios for faculty development)
  3. A rubric will be developed (based upon the AAC&U VALUE rubrics) that will assess the integration of the SENCER ideals and philosophy throughout the participant's ePortfolio.
  4. We will assist the participants in generating a pre- and post-teaching philosophy statement - this will be a capstone assignment for Modules 1 and 2, and will be revisited in Module 4 as part of the development of values-based academic leadership skills.
  5. Assessment strategies for Module 3 will be drawn from our experts in developing and assessing equitable and effective community learning partnerships (SENCER-Informal Science) and from our Indigenous knowledge project where community members, students, and faculty co-design community-based STEM learning experiences that are culturally relevant and respectful.
  6. Some measure of civic and scientific literacy assessment - concept inventory-type assessment measure. This will address if the participants themselves have transformed their own understanding of science learning as a lifelong endeavor with critical implications for civic life. Module 4 will also use an ePortfolio to document a self-assessment of educational leadership experience, values, and philosophy in the context of current disruption and change in the learning ecosystem.

Demonstrative Program Element

Our program element is Module 2, which is the origin and core strategy of the SENCER approach.  While it is framed as a "course" design for an undergraduate learning context, it has been adapted for K-12 (using NGSS criteria) and for informal learning experiences.  The key strategy is backward design starting with the civic or social problem (rather than the disciplinary knowledge goals).  SENCER has run curriculum design workshops using this strategy for over 20 years and has a library of examples and resources using different civic challenges (public health, environment, etc) different learning contexts, and a range of disciplines. Description of Module 2 »