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New Scientist Spotlights Website Helps Instructors Highlight Diversity in STEM

August 5, 2020

scientist spotlight

The new Scientists Spotlight Initiative website aims to help teachers diversify their STEM curriculum. The project, led by Foothill College biology instructor Jeff Schinske and San Francisco State University biology professor Kimberly Tanner, is open to anyone interested in disrupting stereotypes in their fields and making sure students see their identities represented and valued in class.

Chris Lipski, a science teacher at Hillsdale High School in San Mateo has used the website’s resources in his classroom. The Scientist Spotlights website "provides so much content that it makes it easy to integrate these important stories into science classes, moving beyond the objective science to talk about the diverse scientists behind the numbers," he said.  “This is such an authentic way for students to see and hear scientists from different backgrounds - hear them talk about how these scientists of color struggled and succeeded."

The free web resources, funded by a $1.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) Program, are part of a multi-year effort to develop inclusive science teaching materials. Schinske originally created the project in his own classes at the college. Schinske wanted to enhance his students’ learning by highlighting underrepresented scientists. He made weekly assignments for students to learn about scientists similar to themselves while studying science concepts. His published study of Scientist Spotlights demonstrated the value of the assignments in enhancing students’ sense of themselves as scientists. Students completing Scientist Spotlights additionally earned higher course grades compared to students completing more traditional homework assignments.

The website features curriculum supplements that center the stories of scientists of color, queer scientists, and first-generation college-going scientists as tools to teach science content. Most of the material is authored by students who are studying science at Foothill or San Francisco State University. Marcela Aguilar, a first-generation student at Foothill, created the Scientist Spotlight on Dr. Patricia Bath, the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology and the first African American woman doctor to receive a medical patent. “I chose Patricia Bath because she seemed so passionate about helping people through her work. She never let anything hold her back and she achieved everything she could have ever hoped for.”

Schinske and Tanner are now partnering with a group high school and middle school teachers to investigate the use of these assignments at pre-college levels. At Foothill, students create the materials as part of a discipline-based biology service-learning course (BIOL 81). The college’s service leadership philosophy encourages education through service to prepare students to be community and global leaders.

This project was made possible by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NIGMS or NIH.