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Carleton Receives $10 Million National Science Foundation Grant

August 10, 2011

Northfield, Minn.—Carleton College’s Science Education Resource Center (SERC) is the recipient of a $10 million, five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to create a national STEP Center that will prepare students who can leverage the geosciences to address societal challenges including natural hazards, resource issues, and environmental impacts. The center will conduct project InTeGrate: Interdisciplinary Teaching of Geoscience for a Sustainable Future.

The center is one of two funded this year through NSF's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP), with the other at Stanford University having an engineering focus. The STEP  Centers initiative aims to create a unique opportunity for faculty in a science discipline to address a national challenge or opportunity in undergraduate STEM education through a comprehensive and coordinated set of activities. The STEP Center at Carleton, focused on geoscience, will be headed by Carleton SERC director Cathy Manduca with major pieces of the collaborative project located at Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, Central Washington University, North Carolina State University, University of Texas El Paso, Columbia University, University of Akron (Ohio), University of Nebraska and the National Council for Science and the Environment. More than $3.5 million will support participation of faculty across the country in the collaborative development and testing of teaching materials and program models.

The first goal of the SERC InTeGrate STEP Center is to develop curricula that will dramatically increase geoscience literacy of all undergraduate students, including the large majority that do not major in the geosciences, those who are historically under-represented in the geosciences, and future K-12 teachers, such that they are better-positioned to make sustainable decisions in their lives and as part of the broader society. These materials will develop geoscience literacy in a broad array of students; emphasize the process of science; and build interdisciplinary problem-solving skills that connect Earth science with economic, societal and policy issues throughout the curriculum. Manduca said the second major goal is to increase the number of majors in the geosciences and associated fields by developing model programs to prepare a workforce that can address the challenges faced by modern civilization of living sustainably on the planet.

“We are very excited for this opportunity to work as a national community of geoscientists to bring geoscience into the heart of undergraduate education. The collaborative development and testing of curricula by teams of faculty from multiple institutions holds the promise of changing the way faculty go about developing courses,” Manduca said. “In five years, we hope that you will find geoscience taught across the curriculum in freshman seminars, in courses for physics, chemistry, economics and political science majors, and to future teachers. In geoscience majors and geoscience-rich interdisciplinary programs, you will find diverse students preparing to contribute to a wide range of societal issues.”

“The collaborative development and testing of courses and curricula by teams of faculty from multiple institutions holds the promise of developing a new paradigm that will influence the way faculty develop and improve student learning in the future,” she added.

“Where should we build? How will we meet our future needs for energy? Will we have enough water for our future population? These and other questions are being asked at a time where increased knowledge about how humans interact with our planet—and how our related choices influence a myriad of consequences in areas far removed from traditional STEM fields—has become a critical component of the long-term outlook for our nation. Manduca has assembled a stellar team of collaborators, has developed an outstanding track record upon which she is building, and is exceptionally well-positioned to make this investment a success by not only developing mechanisms to effectively inform a vast number of undergraduates about the broad range of interactions that must be considered when humans act within the framework of the Earth system, but also by attracting more students into the geosciences and other STEM fields,” said David Matty, geosciences program director for the EHR division of undergraduate education.

“When I consider this past year's headlines regarding the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, flooding in the Midwest and prolonged drought in the Southwest, growing dead zones in coastal and estuarine systems, and on-going debates about energy, and then think about how geological processes so profoundly affect our prosperity and security, I wonder to myself why our citizens are not being taught much more about Earth system science," Jill Karsten, NSF program director for education and diversity in the directorate for geosciences, said. “It is NSF’s hope that the new EHR-GEO STEP Center will help to both elevate the quality and effectiveness of geoscience instruction across our nation and catalyze an increased demand for that knowledge.”

SERC at Carleton College

The Science Education Resource Center (SERC), an office of Carleton College, works to improve education through projects that support educators. The office has special expertise in effective pedagogies, geoscience education, community organization, workshop leadership, digital libraries, website development and program and website evaluation.