SENCER Community Comes Together for the 2018 Summer Institute

On August 2-5, 2018, 130 members of the SENCER Community came together for the 18th SENCER Summer Institute. The meeting was hosted by Santa Clara University, site of the first SSI, and many subsequent Institutes since 2001. The theme for the meeting was “Civic Engagement and the STEM Learning Ecosystem,” an acknowledgement of the many sites of STEM learning with which members of the SENCER community engage.

The meeting was launched with pre-Institute events, including a workshop on Case Studies in Academic Leadership by Success 4 Higher Education and a convening of the participants in the NCSCE Keck funded initiative “Transcending Barriers to Success: Connecting Indigenous Knowledge to Science.”  Amy Shachter of Santa Clara University then gave the opening plenary address, which explored SENCER’s “community of transformation” in the context of emerging theories of change, and how innovations spread from “early adopters” to mainstream acceptance. She urged the SSI participants to locate their personal and organizational efforts to advance SENCER strategies in that continuum, and identified pathways for becoming a more effective agent of change.  After Amy’s presentation, NCSCE Executive Director Eliza Reilly outlined some the NCSCE’s aims for this year’s Institute program, including increasing the focus on academic and curricular leadership for engaged learning, leveraging collaborations with community-based and informal educators, and deepening our understanding of, and commitment to, diversity and inclusion. The first day concluded with a dinner recognizing outstanding contributions to the NCSCE Community. The 2018 William E. Bennett award winners were Matthew Fisher, of St Vincent College, and Texas Woman’s University as reported in the last e-news.

Trace Jordan leads a concurrent session on fake news

Friday’s plenary address was delivered by Omar Quintero of the University of Richmond. His presentation, Perspectives on Inclusive Teaching, offered both a teaching philosophy and practical approaches that engaged and empowered all students, including underserved minorities.  Key to creating a culture of inclusion is knowing who your students are, both as students and as individuals, with their unique interests, backgrounds, and experiences. Beyond asking for short bios at the beginning of the semester, one can incentivize attendance at office hours or participation in out-of-class discussions by adding them as graded elements. The syllabus offers another opportunity for engaging and including students, by leaving some areas open for negotiation and discussion at the start of the class.  Treating a syllabus more authentically as a “contract,” where both parties interests and needs are reflected, has the advantage of focusing student’s attention on the details of scheduling, the rationale for assignments, and course outcomes, but also provides an opportunity for “co-creation” between faculty and students.

As with prior Summer Institutes the program offered participants a chance to showcase their work and learn from their colleagues in presentation sessions, concurrent sessions, poster sessions and workshops. Notable was a set of three linked sessions that were developed collaboratively by NCSCE and the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT).  “Thinking Like Leaders: A Systems Approach to Improving Introductory Level Courses,” was intended to give faculty an opportunity to do a “deep dive” into the challenge posed by traditional introductory science courses that segregate prospective majors from non-majors, are rarely well integrated within a coherent general education program, and are poorly aligned with the broader intellectual goals of STEM learning, including the recruitment of majors.  Organized by Jay Labov of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and Jacki Reeves-Pepin of NABT, this session connected SENCER leaders and Institute participants with invited discussants George Boggs, emeritus director of the American Association of Community Colleges, Gordon Uno, University of Oklahoma, and Bruce Alberts, former president of the National Academies of Science, for a challenging and systems-informed discussion of both the problems and the prospects for improvement of introductory STEM courses.

On Friday evening, participants networked at a reception and shared their impressive and wide-ranging work in a poster session.  A highlight of the reception was an impromptu and encouraging address by Bruce Alberts, who expressed his appreciation for SENCER’s dedicated community of innovators.

Tim Ritchie, President and CEO of the Tech Museum of Innovation addresses participants at the 2018 SENCER Summer Institute

After a Saturday morning session block, all institute participants were invited to the award winning Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose for a field trip and plenary address by its President and CEO Tim Ritchie. Tim drew on his experience with several non-profits and museums to share lessons in how social enterprises can explain and justify their value to the communities they serve. The key question that drives the Tech’s mission: “How will the world be different, in positive ways, because The Tech exists?” is one we could all ask ourselves and our institutions. The afternoon concluded with a block of time for participants to explore the Tech Museum and the downtown San Jose area.

The final SSI 2018 plenary was delivered by Bennett Award winner, SENCER Leadership Fellow, and professor of Chemistry at St. Vincent College, Matthew Fisher. His presentation, “Making Community Property of Teaching, Learning, and the Cries of the World” movingly recounted the profound ways in which participation in academic communities, particularly SENCER, and as a Carnegie Scholar, has impacted his career and his personal mission as an educator.  Matt drew on his long involvement the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) to emphasize the importance of understanding our teaching as both a scholarly and spiritual activity that must respond to and address “the cries of the world.”

The final day of SSI 2018 was rounded out by additional session blocks, with topics such as science and engineering for social good, working ethically with community partners, and integrating STEM and the humanities. In an interactive final session participants noted that the current political and policy climate was shining a new light on the “capacious and unsolved civic questions” that SENCER courses and programs might address through evidence-based investigation and student research, including immigration policy and the long-term impact of survey design and data collection criteria in the upcoming census.  Eliza Reilly adjourned the 18th SSI with a the reminder that NCSCE warmly invites all members of the SENCER community to use the e-news, journal, regional meetings and web sites to share their achievements, news, queries, problems, and great ideas and keep our “community of transformation” growing.

Next year the SENCER Summer Institute will return to the midwest with a new host institution, Case Western Reserve University on August 1-4, 2019.

Materials from selected presentations from SSI 2018 are available online.

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