Five Educators Elected Leadership Fellows

New SENCER Leadership Fellows Explore Applications in Formal and Informal Settings

The five newly elected SENCER Leadership Fellows have been recognized for their dedication to improving education for students and to providing effective professional development opportunities for colleagues. The Fellows program recognizes members of the community interested in taking on more advanced involvement in more formal roles. Dr. Cory Forbes of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Dr. David Kumar of Florida Atlantic University, Dr. Nasrin Mirasaleh-Kohan of Texas Woman’s University, Dr. R. Drew Sieg of Young Harris College, and Dr. Joseph Staples of University of Southern Maine will apply their creativity to both formal and informal education settings. Projects include monitoring environmental conditions in a hemlock forest on campus, embedding civic engagement in physics classes and labs, implementing SENCER in programs that reach K-12 teachers, transforming a non-majors biology course to a STEM-STEAM course, and partnering with a local museum to give undergraduates the opportunity to develop lesson plans on current exhibits. For more information on the Fellows’ plans, please continue reading.

Fellow nominations and applications are reviewed twice annually by the National Fellowship Board. Application forms for the next round of reviews will be posted soon.


Dr. Cory Forbes

Associate Professor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Dr. Forbes is interested in contributing to SENCER in ways that align with his current leadership, teaching, and research responsibilities at University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), as well as to SENCER’s broader mission. Through the UNL Science Literacy Initiative, which Dr. Forbes leads, UNL is uniquely positioned to build upon and institutionalize SENCER principles in programs that span undergraduate and K-12 education. For example, their team has received and is pursuing external funding for a new undergraduate minor on Food, Energy, and Water in Society and faculty development programs focused on problem-based science and effective STEM instruction.  Dr. Forbes and his colleagues have the opportunity to institutionalize and broaden impact of SENCER principles on campus through synergistic activities, and leverage these activities to develop a statewide and regional presence.


Dr. David Kumar

Professor of Science Education, Florida Atlantic University

Dr. Kumar’s research and scholarly activities focus on improving science teaching and learning with technology, science literacy, and evaluation and policy. With findings from Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, he developed web-based Problem Based Learning units in nanotechnology involving learning science through informed consumer decision-making and analyzing health and societal issues of nanomaterial use in day-to- day products. Studies showed significant gains in conceptual understanding, attitude towards science and applying science to solve science related societal topics. Dr. Kumar also mentors undergraduate pre-service education majors to visit local classrooms promoting engaging counterintuitive science lessons. In partnership with the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science, he has developed a project where undergraduate science education students develop lesson plans based on current exhibits and present their lessons to members of the general public. As a Fellow, Dr. Kumar plans to promote civic science engagement through informal science education in local K-12 schools, integrate SENCER themes in pre-service teacher education, present seminars on SENCER for local parents and in-service teachers, and publish research papers in journals.


Dr. Nasrin Mirasaleh-Kohan

Chemistry and Biology, Texas Woman’s University

As a scientist and a faculty member, Dr. Nasrin Mirasaleh-Kohan focuses on developing social responsibility in students. As part of the SCI-Southwest team and now Co-Director for SCI-Southwest, she has introduced other campuses to SENCER via workshops and consultations. At Texas Woman’s University (TWU), Dr. Mirasaleh-Kohan is an advisor for the Kappa Epsilon Mu club, the American Chemical Society student affiliate organization. She has included activities in her physics classes to inspire students to connect to their world around them and has taught them about the role they play in their communities and overall in the world. She participated in the pilot study of Enduring Understandings using the SALG instrument in spring 2016.

As a Fellow, Dr. Mirasaleh-Kohan will continue to organize SCI-SW regional symposia at TWU, and will specifically market the meetings to faculty and institutions who have not yet been involved. She will also participate in house call visits to other institutions, during which she will present workshops on the benefits of SENCER courses to students’ learning, and how faculty can SENCERize a course.  She will also support new faculty at TWU and within the SCI-SW network to implement SENCER in their courses. She plans to expand SENCER activities in her physics classes and redesign physics laboratories.


Dr. R. Drew Sieg

Biology, Young Harris College

Dr. Sieg first became involved with SENCER while at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), where he was involved in the Experiential Learning program and received small grants to incorporate service-based models into honors biology courses. While there, he restructured three lower-division honors biology courses and built two additional upper division courses. Recently, Dr. Sieg has also presented a session on Active Learning at the SENCER Summer Institute, and initiated a workshop on ‘Creating the Student Centered Classroom.’ Dr. Sieg is a partner instructor in the “Small World Initiative,” an inquiry-based lab redesign for introductory biology focused on antibiotic discovery. For Small World, he serves on both the science and publication committees for this program. Last year, Dr. Sieg was one of two instructors to pilot the Small World model in a high school setting (through a dual-enrollment course at MTSU). Dr. Sieg is now assistant professor of biology at Young Harris College in Georgia, where one of his first goals is to transform the current biology courses for non-majors into a thematic STEM-STEAM course focused on surrounding Chattahoochee National Forest. Students will explore topics expected of a non-majors survey course, but will do so entirely through the lens of organisms that reside in the Chattahoochee. Dr. Sieg will create a highly fluid, active classroom with a field-based laboratory using problem-based learning to develop students’ critical thinking skills.


Dr. Joseph Staples

Environmental Science and Policy, University of Southern Maine

Dr. Staples has presented at multiple SENCER conferences and workshops on undergraduate research and civic engagement in ecology and environmental science.  The focus of his talks is student-based research and citizen science.  Although citizen science has a long established record in Maine and across the country, the recent availability of low cost automated and remote environmental sensors now allows for monitoring environmental conditions at the local scale.  These capabilities not only present new opportunities to better understand environmental cues and habitat conditions, they also foster active participation and awareness in students and among the citizenry.

Over the past two years, Dr. Staples has been working with students and faculty in Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Southern Maine and individuals from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) along with the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation and multiple universities, to install wireless environmental sensors in a roughly nine acre hemlock forest located on the Gorham campus. This forest site offers an extraordinary example of old hemlocks that have deposited needles for more than 100 years resulting in an open forest floor that offers a glimpse of what Maine forests may have looked like hundreds of years ago.  The forest is currently used by several classes in ESP, independent projects by ESP students, USM athletes, and nature lovers from campus and the local community. Using a combination of commercial and build-your-own sensors, Dr. Staples plans to continuously monitor and record environmental conditions at the site and teach others how to deploy sensors at their own sites.  The environmental and ecological data will be made available online so that it can be used for education and research by individuals at USM and elsewhere. The methods being developed in this work can used by a range educational institutions, NGOs, and citizen-science based projects.


All photographs provided courtesy of the Leadership Fellows.

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