August 15, 2011

New Program Addresses Need To Integrate Geoscience Across Academic Disciplines

NSF award supports geoscience literacy of undergraduate students

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced on Aug. 11 a $10 million grant for a new center to improve geoscience education and integrate the geosciences across other academic disciplines.

With the support from the five-year grant, "Interdisciplinary Teaching of Geoscience for a Sustainable Future," or InTeGrate, will develop teaching materials and model programs for use in undergraduate education.

InTeGrate activities specifically target the large majority of undergraduates who do not elect to take geoscience courses, with the goal of improving overall geoscience literacy and increasing the number and diversity of graduates who will utilize this literacy to address societal issues ranging from water resource management to hazardous waste disposal.

The center is one of two STEP Centers funded this year through NSF's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Talent Expansion Program, or STEP. The InTeGrate center is co-funded through NSF's Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) and the Directorate for Geosciences (GEO).

The STEP Centers initiative provides a unique opportunity for a group of faculty to address a national challenge or opportunity in undergraduate STEM education through a comprehensive and coordinated set of activities. An engineering-focused STEP Center will be based out of Stanford University and co-funded by EHR and the directorate for Engineering.

"When I consider this past year's top news stories--for instance, the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, floods in the Midwest, 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," stated Jill Karsten, program director for education and diversity in GEO at NSF. "It is NSF's hope that InTeGrate will help elevate the quality and effectiveness of geoscience instruction across our nation and catalyze an increased demand for that knowledge."

Cathy Manduca, director of the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College and executive director of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, will lead the InTeGrate project. InTeGrate will be based at Carleton College in Minnesota, and will involve a partnership of 12 universities and scientific organizations.

"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," said David Matty, geosciences program director in EHR at NSF.

Other partners in the InTeGrate project are: North Carolina State University, Stanford University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of New Orleans, Central Washington University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Texas at El Paso, Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, the University of Akron, Pasadena City College, the Incorporated Research Institutions of Seismology, and the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors of the National Council for Science and the Environment.

Program leaders anticipate that the  center will have far-reaching effects even beyond the original project partners, and estimate that 1400 faculty, 59 geoscience departments and half a million undergraduate students will be influenced by this center's activity over the lifetime of the project.

Manduca commented, "Our hope is that, in five years, you will find geoscience content and topics integrated into courses for physics, chemistry, economics and political science majors, into teacher education curricula, and into other general education areas that we are just starting to think about. We would like a broad cross-section of undergraduates to understand and appreciate the societal importance of the Earth System, and to find geoscience majors and geoscience-rich interdisciplinary programs, filled with diverse students preparing to contribute to a wide range of societal issues as a result of this project.


Image Caption: Cathy Manduca, director of the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College in Minnesota, is the lead primary investigator of InTeGrate (Interdisciplinary Teaching of Geoscience for a Sustainable Future). InTeGrate will develop teaching materials and model programs to improve geoscience education and integrate the geosciences across other academic disciplines. Credit: Carleton College


On the Net: