95th ESA Annual Meeting (August 1 -- 6, 2010)

OOS 42-8 - Transforming undergraduate education: Institutionalizing outreach with academically-based community service courses

Thursday, August 5, 2010: 10:30 AM
315-316, David L Lawrence Convention Center
Lori H. Spindler, Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, Jennifer H. Doherty, Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Cory Bowman, Netter Center for Community Partnerships, University of Pennsylvania and Idris Stovall, Moelis Access Science Program, University of Pennsylvania

There are many challenges in transforming the conventional university education to include substantial experience and growth in the following: communicating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects to technical and non-technical audiences; leadership; collaboration and team building; and teaching.  In this presentation we will specifically address the question of how to sustain NSF-funded GK-12 and GK-12-type university-community outreach activities after initial funding expires.  Our strategies are based upon STEM outreach activities linking the University of Pennsylvania with Philadelphia partners for over 10 years.  


The core of our work has been to create Academically-based Community Service (ABCS) courses.  These are full-credit courses for undergraduates, often assisted by graduate students or sometimes taught by graduate students – except that they focus on undergraduates learning content by creating hands-on and inquiry-based lessons and teaching those lessons to local K-12 students in Philadelphia.  Departments fit these courses into the curriculum in three  ways: as electives (e.g., mathematics, biology, physics, chemistry, psychology, earth and environmental science, biological basis of behavior, engineering); counting towards the major (e.g., biology, earth and environmental science); or counting towards general distribution requirements (e.g., earth and environmental science).  Penn has over 160 of these courses, over 60 are offered each year, and about a dozen are STEM-focused.

In addition to our ABCS courses, our STEM outreach work includes 1) graduate students supported directly by the School District of Philadelphia to connect to Penn resources to develop quality curricula and provide ongoing city-wide professional development for teachers in the curricula and general content knowledge and 2) direct support for classroom teachers by both graduate and undergraduate students.  These students are hired through several institutional supports: alumni and private donations, work study, and institutional funding.  We are exploring ways to integrate and aggregate a variety of “broader impacts” activities across campus in a way that would provide ongoing support for these activities. 

The idea behind this outreach work is that students, both graduate and undergraduate, learn a) critical professional skills, b) teaching skills, and in most every case c) disciplinary knowledge by teaching material in a sustained relationship (at least a semester) to K-12 school partners.  Most traditional outreach activities are episodic but by connecting this work to the core teaching and learning missions of the university (i.e., by creating undergraduate courses focused on learning STEM by teaching STEM), we have created a foundation for institutionalizing all of our outreach activities generally.