Over the past few years, I have led efforts as Director of the National Collaborative for Research on Food, Energy, & Water Education (NC-FEW) to cultivate a national network of educators and education researchers focused on education grounded in the Food-Energy-Water-Nexus (FEW-Nexus). The potential of the FEW-Nexus has been recognized most recently in the U.S. through NSF and USDA-NIFA’s collaborative Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, & Water (INFEWS) initiative, which has led to a series of science-focused workshops and funded research projects. However, the education component of these efforts has been underemphasized and underrepresented, despite compelling evidence for the very real and pressing global challenges in the FEW-Nexus, the need to foster science literacy in America’s citizenry, and necessity of meeting ever-evolving needs of the STEM workforce. These challenges provide a rationale for sustained, systemic, and interdisciplinary education efforts focused on food, energy, and water issues in a wide array of contexts, including formal, informal, and non-formal postsecondary and K-12 contexts. Capitalizing fully on this significant opportunity requires transdisciplinary collaborations that can be greatly facilitated by cultivating a community around FEW education and education research. To address this need, we have sought to cultivate a national network of scholars committed to educational research grounded in the FEW-Nexus. Two Multistate Research Committees (NCDC231 and NC1207) have served as a nucleus for these efforts. In May, 2018, we held a national invited conference in Washington, D.C., involving over 50 participants representing an array of institutions and disciplines. With recent funding from NSF, these efforts will continue over the next 5 years.
NC-FEW reflects and leverages institutional commitments at UNL. Over the past 5 years, I served as Coordinator of the Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources‘ (IANR) Science Literacy Initiative, providing leadership across IANR for the development of innovative research, extension, and teaching programs that help foster science literacy in formal school settings (PK-12), higher education contexts, both informal and non-formal learning environments, and among the public. At UNL, we define science literacy as an enhanced capacity, both at the individual and collective levels, to make effective decisions grounded in STEM-informed analyses of complex, real-world challenges associated with food, energy, and water systems. The Science Literacy Initiative is grounded in four underlying principles:
- Feeding 9 billion people
- An emphasis on natural and managed systems
- Linked with standards for STEM teaching and learning
The Science Literacy Initiative involves the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Extension, and College of Education and Human Sciences and is grounded in partnerships with formal, informal, and non-formal educators, institutions of higher education, commodities groups, civic organizations, and a host of other stakeholders.
At the University of Iowa, I served as the science education representative to the Elementary Education program committee and Coordinator for elementary science. I was integrally involved in the redesign of the new elementary teacher education program, which was rolled out in the spring of 2013. I led the development of three new innovative courses for prospective elementary teachers – one each in life, earth, and physical sciences – that integrate disciplinary content and pedagogy.