The SENCER Community Responds to COVID-19

Over twenty years ago the SENCER initiative was launched.  The idea was simple, to use complex public problems as a curricular frame to teach rigorous science content, thus improving both STEM learning AND civic understanding and capacity. While the approach was extended all STEM disciplines and a wide range of public/civic challenges, the original model for this approach emerged from a public health crisis—HIV-AIDS.  We are now living through another public health crisis, a pandemic greater than any the world has faced for over 100 years, and in the last 6 months the SENCER community of educators have responded rapidly and with great energy, bringing their experience and commitment to demonstrating the relevance of STEM teaching and learning to real-world problems.  Here we feature just some of the great work being done by SENCER educators to address this public health crisis

The Summer 2020 issue of SCIENCE EDUCATION AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL includes a special section on Teaching Through COVID. These reflections document experiences and lessons learned while teaching science and civic engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic. We received a very enthusiastic response to our call for submissions, and we are publishing 35 contributions to this special section.  Special thanks go to our editors, Matt Fisher and Trace Jordan, for their editorial skill in organizing this section, and to our managing editor Marcy Dubroff, for coordinating such a timely issue.

The 2020 SENCER SUMMER INSTITUTE, held online in August featured a range of sessions by faculty using COVID-19 in their courses and undergraduate research projects, many of which are captured on the NCSCE Youtube channel:

The full program, poster sessions, and PPT’s can be found here:


NCSCE Deputy Director, Davida Smyth was funded by the Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases Program in the Division of Environmental Biology for RAPID: Collaborative Research: Metapopulation Modeling to Develop Strategies to Reduce COVID-19 Transmission in Public Spaces

Amy Shachter, Director of SENCER Centers of Innovation and Regional Engagement, and NCSCE Sr. Research Fellow and SENCER co-PI Karen Oates were funded by the IUSE program of the Division of Undergraduate Education for RAPID: Online Educational Resources on the Science of Vaccines.  SENCER will be supporting this project in disseminating these resources nationally.

Join us in offering thanks and congratulations to all of these colleagues for their efforts in addressing the pandemic.  If you want to share your own news with the SENCER community, (awards, promotions, new initiatives or resources) please use this google form:

New Role for Bob Franco and GOTV Efforts for STEM Students:

SENCER Senior Fellow Bob Franco, of Kapiolani Community College, has been named Campus Compact Senior Fellow for Sustainability and Resilience.  He will be working to Support and expand the Community Colleges for Democracy (CC4D) Network and Deepen Compact’s efforts in support of sustainability and community resilience.  Join us in congratulating Bob on his new role.

Get out the Vote for STEM students!

College students in STEM vote at the lowest rates in the country, and STEM faculty need to know how to engage their students in nonpartisan voter engagement in ways that they feel comfortable, but that also uplift the voter turnout of our STEM students.

The Faculty Network for Student Voting Rights and the Scholars Strategy Network have scheduled a webinar for this week (Thurs, Oct 1, 3 pm EST) with Science Rising, specific to STEM faculty. The information & registration links are here


Send us your news! Submissions of News, Announcements, Events to share.

SENCER e-news wants to spread the word to the SENCER and NCSCE communities about your good work, accomplishments, new projects, events, and changes in your careers.  Here is a google docs form to use:


NCSCE Announces New Appointments and 2020 Bennett Award

At the “virtual” SENCER Summer Institute in August three new appointments to NCSCE leadership were announced. Davida S. Smyth, Associate Professor of Natural Sciences in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts at The New School, will assume the new position of Deputy Director, with special responsibility for professional development programs, pedagogy, and assessment in the SENCER initiative.   Davida brings a wealth of direct experience in mentoring students and faculty and designing “SENCERized” undergraduate research experiences, as well as deep knowledge of evidence-based practice in STEM education.

Amy Shachters longstanding role as the key organizer of the nine SENCER Centers of Innovation  has been formalized with her appointment as Director of SENCER Centers of Innovation and Regional Engagement.  Amy will also be the SENCER Visiting Research Scholar for the years 2020-2022 and will support research initiatives and grant development throughout the NCSCE network.

After decades of serving as supporter and advisor to the SENCER project, Jay Labov will join NCSCE as Director of Partnerships.  His long career at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and his personal leadership of many STEM improvement initiatives and research projects, has given him incomparable and systemic insight into every aspect of science education and the key levers of change and improvement.  For his contributions to science education Jay received NCSCE’s highest honor, the 2020 Wm. E. Bennett Award.

All three of these individuals have long associations with both SENCER and NCSCE, and have served as Senior Leadership Fellows.  We are grateful that NCSCE can draw on their deep knowledge and expertise, as well as their proven commitment to empowering students and faculty as informed and science-capable civic and community leaders.

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SECEIJ Call for Submissions: Teaching Through COVID-19

A call for submissions to the Summer 2020 issue of

Science Education and Civic Engagement: An International Journal

Teaching Through COVID


The COVID-19 pandemic has created a simultaneous crisis in health, society, and education. The SENCER community—with its focus on scientific understanding, civic engagement, and innovative pedagogy—is uniquely equipped to respond to our current challenges. The SENCER project arose in response to another infectious disease, HIV/AIDS, with the realization that our approach to teaching science needed to change when knowledge mattered so much.

For this reason, we are inviting you to submit a reflection of your experiences of Teaching through COVID.  Continue reading

SENCER Models that Address Infectious Diseases and Epidemics

The COVID-19 pandemic is an example of the complex global civic challenge that SENCER approaches were developed to address. The foundational idea was that by using a real-world problem as a context for teaching the STEM disciplinary content, students’ learning would be more durable, meaningful, and transferable to their actual lives as civic agents in their communities. The very first SENCER Model was a transformed biology course for non-majors, Biomedical Issues of HIV-AIDS, taught by Dr. Monica Devanas at Rutgers University.

Since 2001, many SENCER Models have used real cases of infectious disease as the context for teaching basic biology, chemistry, and mathematics while also demonstrating the range of other domains of knowledge that must be invoked to better understand a complex phenomenon like human health.  Below is a list of Model courses in various disciplines that address a range of examples, including HIV-AIDs, Ebola, Influenza, Malaria, Tuberculosis, etc.

We hope you will revisit some of these courses for ideas, examples, and strategies that use case studies of disease spread and transmission your teaching as we all work together to better understand how to address this global crisis.

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Free, Open-Source Biology Career Series

According to National Geographic, species are alarmingly going extinct 1,000 times faster than previously recorded due to humans. With such a detrimental situation upon us, we must encourage individuals to pursue careers in wildlife biology in order to try to reduce the number of species that are quickly disappearing from our planet.

Our team at wants to equip individuals who are set on pursuing a career in wildlife with the tools to help them succeed and create a career that will be life-long and fulfilling. We curated a Biology Career Series dedicated to both students and professionals that delves into programs, curriculum, and career outlook. Take a look below.

Become a Wildlife Biologist:

Program Guide:

Earning a Bachelor’s Degree:

Texas Women’s University Holds 5th Annual SENCER Southwest Regional Symposium


The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the SENCER Center for Innovation Southwest (SCI-SW) hosted the fifth annual SENCER Regional Symposium at Texas Woman’s University on January 31, 2020. This year’s focus (Citizen Science: The Impact on our Communities by Plastics in our Environment) was unique since it was our first symposium directed to a complex, capacious issue rather than science education per se as in previous SCI-SW symposia. The day started with a poster session in the morning. Of the 100 total registered, 63 were from TWU and 39 were from other institutions. Interestingly, we had 34 TWU students who had registered for the symposium.

Throughout the day, our speakers presented information, innovation and ideas about the use of plastics in our daily lives, the impact that plastics and their degradation products have on our environment and our health, and what we can and cannot do about this critical, civic issue. Further, with the help of Dr. Cathy Middlecamp and her students, we put together the TWU Zero Impact Team of TWU undergraduate students to help plan this event as a Zero Waste event.

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