Sustainability and Science at the 2016 SENCER Summer Institute

Sencer_LogoThis past week, Roosevelt’s Chicago Campus and the Department of Biological, Chemical, and Physical Sciences hosted the 2016 SENCER Summer Institute — an annual gathering of educators devoted to exploring and sharing ways to make science, math, and STEM-related courses more interactive, engaging, and socially grounded. As noted on the conference website,

The central theme of this year’s Institute is transformation. Transformation is expressed throughout several facets of our work this year, from the continued progress in our SENCER, SENCER-ISE and Engaging Mathematics projects to our pursuit of opportunities emerging from new partnerships and initiatives, and our organization being profiled in a recent USC monograph by Adrianna Kezar and Sean Gehrke as a Community of Transformation in STEM reform.

The major aims for this year’s program include conversations about the STEM reform ecosystem, examples of SENCER work on campus and of the SENCER approach in real-world problems, and assessment of SENCER work. Other topics that will be covered in this year’s program include Civic Intersections of STEM and Humanities; Communities of Transformation: Maximizing Impact; Public Engagement with Science; Foregrounding Quantitative Literacy in Civic Life; Science and Technology for Social Good; and Leading Change: Aligning Institutional and Personal Priorities.

Now in its 16th year, SENCER is a National Science Foundation-funded program that has reinvigorated STEM education in K-12 and college classrooms by creating an extraordinary community for faculty to develop and exchange ideas and strategies for connecting the learning of science and math to social problems and challenges, real-world scenarios, and (last but not least) environmental issues, including those related to the sustainability of natural ecosystems and human communities.

SENCER Inst at RU 2016-07-31 final updated_Page_01Several Roosevelt faculty gave presentations and conducted workshops at this year’s Institute, which commenced last Thursday and wraps up today, Auguse 1st. On the program Sunday were SUST professor Mike Bryson, current SUST major Maria Cancilla, and SUST alum (BA ’15) and RU’s Sustainable Operations Coordinator Rebecca Quesnell, who collaborated on a 50-minute session entitled “Transformative Sustainability: STARS, SENCER, and the Future of the University” (pdf, 3MB).

Representing faculty, staff, and students at RU, the presentation team focused on the close relationship between RU’s recent sustainability efforts and the values/aims of SENCER pedagogy:

At the same time that SENCER has inspired civic engagement and pedagogical innovation in STEM undergraduate education, colleges and universities have been engaged in a sustainability revolution. This session describes Roosevelt University’s journey since 2010 to green its curriculum, buildings, operations, and community relations — efforts which culminated in the development of a Strategic Sustainability Plan and Roosevelt’s first STARS rating in 2015 from AASHE.

In line with SENCER’s approach of students learning through applied, real world contexts, RU’s sustainability work has been student-driven from the outset. In this presentation, Roosevelt students, staff, and faculty will discuss how the academic and operational wings of a university can collaborate on campus sustainability initiatives across a broad range of topics. We further suggest that aligning the goals and methods of SENCER with campus sustainability endeavors has transformative potential for students, faculty, and other institutional stakeholders.

Mike Bryson and Beeka Quesnell at SENCER 2016

The STARS team’s afternoon session was well-attended and generated lots of fruitful and enthusiastic discussion, as hallmark of SENCER gatherings (which in this case included ~250 people from across the US). Clearly lots of folks see the numerous connections between teaching science/math in a civically-engaged way and working to make our campuses and communities more sustainable. These two academic revolutions are complementary, and the relationships created at SENCER may lead to productive collaborations among institutions in the future.

A special thanks to Dr. Bob Seiser, Associate Professor of Biology and Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, for a tremendous job in bringing the SENCER Summer Institute to RU and making sure, along with his many RU colleagues and conference organizers, that the Institute was a success!

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