Plenary Speaker Profile (2014-15)
Wm. David Burns
Executive Director
National Center for Science and Civic Engagement
"Multidisciplinary Trouble" - Some Thoughts on the Future Directions of Education

We hear a lot about workforce readiness and STEM education, about how few students elect to do any more study in the STEM fields than is required, about the lack of "numeracy" and scientific literacy among our college graduates, about how hard it is to fill jobs that require technical skills . . . a veritable litany of complaints and concerns. We hear less, unfortunately, about filling a "job" of equal importance: being a conscientious citizen in a democracy. And we hear almost nothing about the shared ground of scientific practice and democratic practice.

For the last 15 years, a growing community of college faculty, academic leaders, students, and community partners have been engaged in developing an approach to teaching and learning that emphasizes the use of "multidisciplinary troubles" - complex, capacious and unsolved civic issues, the kinds of questions that drive research agendas - to organize learning. When the science of learning is applied to the learning of science and when learning is focused on matters that are real and relevant to the lives of students and their communities, good results follow.

This presentation will review highlights from fifteen years of the NSF-supported SENCER program and will offer suggestions on how the SENCER approach can be used to engage students with learning that is both rigorous and responsible. This is learning that does not leave a student asking, "why did I need to learn this?" Future directions and program challenges will be discussed and participants will be invited to provide examples from their own work as we explore an approach that embraces a pedagogy as old as Aristotle's, freshened up in an american way by William James in the19th century, and made possible today, in large part, by the recent giant advances in information technology.

David Burns is the executive director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE), founder and principal investigator of SENCER (an NSF-supported faculty empowerment and curricular reform program), publisher of Science Education and Civic Engagement - An International Journal, and professor of general studies at the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. He also serves as principal investigator for the National Center's Great Lakes Stewardship Through Education Network (GLISTEN) project, which is supported by the Corporation for National and Community Service, and directs SENCER-ISE, an initiative supported by the NSF and Noyce Foundation, to connect formal science education at the college level with informal science educators (museums, aquaria, science journalists, etc.). He is the principal investigator for Engaging Mathematics, a NSF-supported initiative that applies the SENCER approach to undergraduate mathematics courses. Prior to establishing the National Center, David was senior policy director for the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). During his nine years with AAC&U, he established the Center for Disease Control and Prevention-sponsored Program for Health and Higher Education and created the Summer Symposia dedicated to exploring the power that students have to improve the health of colleges and communities.

For 23 years, David was a member of the administration of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. David is the principal author and editor of the book, Learning for Our Common Health, and, among other publications, the article, "Knowledge to Make Our Democracy." In 2008, the American Society for Cell Biology honored David and SENCER co-founder Karen Kashmanian Oates with the Bruce Alberts Award for Excellence in Science Education. At the state level, David serves as a member of the (NJ) Governor's Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. David's undergraduate and graduate work at Rutgers University was in political science with a concentration on political theory. He was a Woodrow Wilson National Fellow.