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Home > Press > NSF-Funded SENCER Project Important For National Competitiveness

Abstract:
Biotechnology, computer and information sciences, mathematics, chemistry, and physics form the rungs of the modern career ladder. Students across the nation will get a chance to climb the modern career ladder thanks to a National Science Foundation $2-million grant awarded to the University. The University will use the funds to develop new courses for faculty and students in colleges and universities nationwide.

NSF-Funded SENCER Project Important For National Competitiveness

Harrisburg, PA | Posted on December 3rd, 2007

Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., presented the grant during a ceremony at the University on December 3rd. Joining him were Mayor Stephen Reed, Dr. Mel Schiavelli, and Wm. David Burns, executive director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement, which is based at Harrisburg University. The funding will be used in the center's Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) project.

As a national dissemination program, SENCER works to encourage and support faculty development though a coordinated set of activities and programs. SENCER courses and academic programs aim to strengthen the learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The $2 million grant will be used to provide faculty development activities for more than 300 faculty at 75 more institutions. The center aims to create courses and programs to improve science literacy for an additional 150,000 college students nationwide over the next three years.

"Getting more students engaged in STEM education and more workers trained in STEM careers is crucial to the economic success of our Commonwealth and the global competitiveness of our nation. In just a few short years, the United States will require many more workers who can fill the jobs that Harrisburg University calls the 'new rungs of the modern career ladder' - biotechnology, computer and information sciences, environmental chemistry, mathematics and geospatial technologies," said Casey. "Harrisburg University is not only leading the way when it comes to inspiring and educating science and technology students, it is mapping the route for colleges and universities throughout the United States. Harrisburg University is a great example of how one regional university can impact higher education at the national level, while also helping to expand, attract and create economic opportunities for our country."

The goals of the center are to increase understanding of science and technology among all college students and to increase the number of students in the United States with degrees in science and technology. The project develops courses focused on real-world issues --such as diabetes and other diseases, global climate change, nanotechnology and alternative energy -- as a way to expand the teaching of science and technology across academic disciplines.

"Harrisburg University is the ideal place to demonstrate what can be done when learning is connected to real things—real challenges we face. SENCER courses focus on some of the most challenging issues of our day, issues that are critical to citizens in a democracy," says Burns. "Students and faculty report that, with the SENCER approach, science becomes more real, more accessible, more ‘useful' and indeed more civically important. Faculty enthusiasm and evidence of success has garnered endorsements by deans and other academic leaders who are now applying SENCER principles and ideals to larger efforts designed to achieve better outcomes in general education."

There is also emerging evidence that the SENCER approach strengthens learning for those who have chosen to major in a STEM field.

"SENCER has been part of the University since 2004 and it has built a comprehensive set of linked activities to develop a community of scholars committed to improving STEM education. As a result, hundreds of new undergraduate science courses have been modified or newly designed and taught," says Schiavelli.

SENCER is an excellent example of designing courses on student interest scaffolds, notes Myles Boylan, Program Director in the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation.

"The SENCER approach is to structure STEM knowledge through serious examination of capacious national issues, such as HIV/ AIDS. By building knowledge around a theme rather than a collection of seemingly unrelated facts, it increases the probability of real knowledge transfer," says Boylan.

He adds, "It is important to note that SENCER also provides a successful approach to real knowledge transfer to the faculty themselves. We have learned through other efforts that instructors do not like to simply adopt a new approach that is completely worked out and allows them no space for personal creativity. SENCER has developed a nice balance between course materials but also offers plenty of such creative wiggle room."

Harrisburg University offers an applied science and technology education dedicated to careers.

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About Harrisburg University
The Harrisburg University of Science and Technology is an independent educational institution offering academic and research programs in mathematics, science and technology designed to meet the needs of the region's youth, workforce, and businesses, and to expand, attract, and create economic opportunities in the region.

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