Jeffery Seitz (Photo: Barry Zepel)
Jeffery Seitz, Cal State East Bay science professor, has long believed that the United States should produce the most and brightest of the world’s top scientists, as was once the case. With fewer and fewer students in California and the United States pursuing the sciences, however, the nation ranks near the bottom of the pack.
A two-year, $1.4 million grant from NASA that was announced recently by the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) will help Seitz, chair of Cal State East Bay’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science, to improve science education at high schools in Alameda County as they try to turn the tide. There are three high schools for the first year of the program.
The NASA LIFTOFF grant, awarded to ACOE March 31, is designed to transform science teaching at a dozen of the county’s high schools. Seitz and three Cal State East Bay colleagues – chemistry professor Danika LeDuc, physics professor Jason Singley, and biology professor Caron Inouye – will collaborate with ACOE on the project. LIFTOFF is an acronym for “Learning Inspires Fundamental Transformation by Opening up Future Frontiers.”
The CSUEB educators will use NASA mission data and research, along with participation from the agency’s top scientists, to train about 25 science teachers from participating Alameda County schools about “how to make science more relevant and fun to high school age students,” Seitz said.
“My hope is that we can capture the imagination of more students who would then consider science as a career option,” Seitz said. “Future jobs in California will depend on a population that is trained in science, engineering and mathematics. Projected career opportunities are going to be in the areas of biotechnology, environmental science and green technology.”
The project’s mission calls for creation of high school classrooms where teachers and students actively engage in NASA mission research with NASA scientists and specially trained high school science faculty. For the past 10 years, the East Bay Science Project, led by Seitz, has helped promote teaching of the sciences at area K-12 schools.
“This innovative project is at the very frontiers of science and technology,” said Cal State East Bay President Mo Qayoumi, who has committed the university to becoming one of the CSU’s pre-eminent campuses in the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“(The LIFTOFF grant) builds upon our successful partnerships with NASA and the Alameda County Office of Education to advance teaching and learning of science in our secondary schools.
“It provides an exceptional opportunity to engage teachers and students in the most current, cutting edge NASA research. We are especially pleased that future science teachers throughout the 23-campus CSU system also will benefit from the best practices in science and education.”
Seitz is the grant’s co-principal investigator, working with principal investigator Rachelle DiStefano, who is director of professional development for ACOE. The four CSUEB professors will be the only participants from the CSU during the grant’s pilot program during the first year. The LIFTOFF program will be expanded during its second year to include faculty from San Jose State and Cal Poly Pomona.
High school students are key to improving the region’s and nation’s development of top scientists for the future,” said Sheila Jordan, Alameda County superintendent of schools.
“Transforming science and math teaching and learning is an economic development issue in many high schools,” said Jordan. “NASA Liftoff targets those schools specifically to increase knowledge of and interest in science, technology and engineering among low-income and under-represented minority students. We want to motivate these students to stay on track for college by helping them envision a future in which they will be prepared to participate in careers in science, technology and engineering.”
Seitz is hopeful that Cal State East Bay’s collaboration with NASA and Alameda County Office of Education is a major step in the right direction towards improving the state’s and the nation’s output of scientists to meet the needs for a science-oriented economic workforce.
“Our hope is that this is the first of what will be ongoing programs for students and high school teachers,” Seitz said.