News Release| CSULA; Cal State L.A.; Los Angeles; CSU; science education

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Embargoed until 2 p.m. Eastern Time (U.S.), Thursday, December 18, 2008


CSU team reports in Science: Specialized faculty

foster undergrad learning, K-12 reform

A greater commitment by science faculty to focus on science education could drive education reform at universities and K-12 schools, according to a new report by a team of five researchers from the California State University (CSU) system and one from Purdue University.

Appearing in today’s issue of the journal Science, the report evaluates the role that science professors who specialize in science education play in improving how the sciences are taught.

To illustrate the pressure universities are under to cultivate an effective learning environment, the report cites an earlier study indicating that when college students abandon science as a major, 90 percent of them do so because of what they perceive as poor teaching; and, among those who remain in the sciences, 74 percent lament the poor quality of teaching.

“Ultimately, we need data on science faculty who focus particularly on science education to learn how colleges and universities can make science accessible to everyone,” said James Rudd, corresponding author and assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at California State University, Los Angeles.

In addition to Rudd, the study’s co-authors are Seth D. Bush, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo; Nancy J. Pelaez, associate professor of biological sciences at Purdue University and formerly with CSU, Fullerton; Michael T. Stevens, assistant professor of biological sciences at CSU, Stanislaus; Kimberly D. Tanner, assistant professor of biology at San Francisco State University; and Kathy S. Williams, associate professor of biology at San Diego State University.

The research team studied science faculty who take on specialized roles in their disciplines to reform undergraduate science education, improve K-12 teacher education and preparation and conduct science education research.  These “science faculty with education specialties,” or SFES, come from various backgrounds.

In a comprehensive survey of the CSU campuses, 59 science faculty were identified as serving in the SFES role. Of those, 47 percent transitioned into the role from a more traditional science-faculty position, with many of them continuing their efforts in basic science research.  The remaining 53 percent were hired specifically for the SFES position, and they tended to focus more on science education efforts.

Roughly 40 percent of both types of SFES surveyed noted serious consideration toward leaving the specialized science-education position due to a perceived lack of institutional understanding of the field and to job burnout.

The authors will next expand the CSU study to a national sample.

The success of SFES positions, the research team believes, can be measured by increased numbers and quality of K-12 science teachers and of science majors graduating from colleges and universities; and such increases will need greater collaboration between universities and K-12 education districts, within universities between colleges of science and colleges of education, and internally within science departments.

“The quality of undergraduate and K-12 science education depends on strengthening these collaborations with additional funding and published research on science education,” said Rudd.

The CSU is the largest U.S. university system, with an annual enrollment of approximately 450,000 students spread among its 23 campuses – which differ substantially in their history, settings, student populations, enrollment sizes, and level of research orientation. 

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Co-authors and contact details:

Seth D. Bush, Assistant Professor
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Contact through Scott Roark at or 805-756-6530. 
“Our findings show the SFES model is promising and spreading in the CSU, but they also suggest that individual SFES face professional isolation. National and local policymakers could enhance the promise of the SFES model by establishing national networks of SFES. ” – Seth D. Bush

Nancy J. Pelaez, Associate Professor
Department of Biological Sciences
Purdue University
765-496-3261 (office)
765-496-3092 (lab)
“Despite this study being focused only on the CSU, it is important because California can be a test case for potential national trends.  For example, at Purdue University there are science faculty with education specialties in the Departments of Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Physics, and Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.  The career dynamics for faculty with interests in education in the California State University system may also apply to faculty at other institutions.” – Nancy J. Pelaez

James A. Rudd, II, Assistant Professor
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
California State University, Los Angeles

Michael T. Stevens, Assistant Professor
Department of Biological Sciences
California State University, Stanislaus
“For a long time, science faculty have focused on teaching content while education faculty have focused on pedagogy.  To effectively improve science education, there needs to be some mechanism to connect science content and pedagogy.  The SFES model for science education reform makes this connection within university biology, chemistry, geoscience, and physics departments.” – Michael T. Stevens

Kimberly D. Tanner, Assistant Professor
Department of Biology
San Francisco State University
“What is really striking is that the SFES phenomenon reflects initiative by science faculty, science departments, and colleges of science to make science education a key part of the scientific disciplines.” Kimberly D. Tanner

Kathy S. Williams, Associate Professor
Department of Biology
San Diego State University
“It’s a myth that SFES just teach and provide service. Our data indicate that SFES also are actively engaged in externally funded scholarly activities and research of many types, and thus require lab space, start-up support, graduate students, and access to peers and mentors in their field, similar to more typical science faculty.” – Kathy S. Williams


Working for California since 1947: The 175-acre hilltop campus of California State University, Los Angeles is at the heart of a major metropolitan city, just five miles from Los Angeles’ civic and cultural center. More than 20,000 students and 205,000 alumni—with a wide variety of interests, ages and backgrounds—reflect the city’s dynamic mix of populations. Six colleges offer nationally recognized science, arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and humanities programs, among others, led by an award-winning faculty. Cal State L.A. is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Jazz Orchestra and to a unique university center for gifted students as young as 12. Programs that provide exciting enrichment opportunities to students and community include an NEH- and Rockefeller-supported humanities center; a NASA-funded center for space research; and a growing forensic science program, housed in the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center.