SENCER courses and programs strengthen student learning and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by connecting course topics to issues of critical local, national, and global importance.
Students and faculty report that the SENCER approach makes science more real, accessible, “useful,” and civically important.
SENCER improves science education by focusing on real world problems, and extends the impact of learning across the curriculum to the broader community and society. We do this by developing faculty expertise in teaching “to” basic, canonical science and mathematics “through” complex, capacious, often unsolved problems of civic consequence. Using materials, assessment instruments, and research developed through SENCER, faculty members design curricular projects that connect science learning to real world challenges.
SENCER uses high-impact and evidence-based methods and strategies to improve undergraduate STEM education to ensure both STEM learning and curricular reforms are durable. John Bransford, a member of the Board on Science Education of the National Academies and Mifflin Professor of Education at the University of Washington, claims that SENCER is “bringing to life the recommendations we made in How People Learn.”
What We Offer
We support a “community of transformation” in STEM reform by offering faculty development programs through regional symposia and our annual summer institutes, and supplement those interactions with a collection of resources, including field-tested and emerging course models, backgrounder papers, a peer-reviewed e-journal, and eNews updates. We also encourage and participate in the development of assessment strategies and tools that help educators better evaluate and promote student learning and engagement, and support advanced research in these areas.
Our Background and Intellectual Traditions
SENCER was initiated at the Association of American Colleges and Universities in 2001 under the National Science Foundation’s Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement national dissemination track. Since then, SENCER has established and supported an ever-growing community of faculty, students, academic leaders, and others to improve undergraduate STEM education by connecting learning to critical civic questions.
SENCER is the signature undergraduate education program of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE). NCSCE is the umbrella organization for initiatives that have extended the SENCER approach to STEM Learning in Informal settings, to STEM/Humanities collaborations, to professional engineering education, and science learning partnerships with indigenous communities.
SENCER’s particular origins can be found in a course developed at Rutgers University that focused curricular resources on the HIV epidemic. Using the HIV epidemic to teach biological concepts increased student learning. Other faculty members using similar approaches to teaching reported similar results in learning. Discussions of the “genealogy” and the philosophy of SENCER can be found in “Knowledge to Make Our Democracy” and “Reflections on the Premises, Purposes, Lessons Learned, and Ethos of SENCER.”
SENCER’s work is informed by the National Academies’ commissioned reports on learning, notably How People Learn and Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Educational Assessment. Since the original pilot project to link biology education to an emerging disease, the SENCER ideals have been applied to develop field-tested courses for many disciplines on a broad range of topics from brownfield reclamation to natural catastrophes, and nanotechnology, the mathematics of secrecy, water quality, tuberculosis, diabetes, and obesity, to name just a few.
Our goals are to: (1) get more students interested and engaged in STEM, (2) help students connect STEM learning to their other studies, and (3) strengthen students’ understanding of science and their capacity for responsible work and citizenship.
SENCER programs and symposia have reached more than 6000 educators, administrators, and students from more than 400 two- and four-year colleges and universities, non-governmental organizations, government agencies, educational associations, informal education venues, and community-based organizations. Since its inception, the SENCER ideals, programs, and materials have been shared with thousands more STEM faculty and academic leaders at symposia, poster sessions, disciplinary society meetings, and other workshop venues in the US and countries around the world.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.