All Centre College students study the sciences in some form. Even non-science majors complete basic education requirements, one of which is a two-part set of natural science courses (NSC). Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry Leonard Demoranville is on a mission to make the College’s natural science courses better than ever, thanks to funding from the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) faculty advancement grant program.
“There has been an ongoing conversation among the Division III faculty about the future of the natural science courses,” Demoranville explains. “A survey last year showed that there was support for continuing the course, but that there were some concerns.”
One of those concerns was the breadth of the content within the courses.
“Many faculty members are hesitant to teach the course,” Demoranville says. “We all have a strong science background, but the course hits on many different sub-disciplines. The time it takes to get comfortable enough with material outside of our specific discipline to teach it has been seen as a barrier to new faculty who would like to teach a course like NCS.”
To try and solve this problem, Demoranville collaborated with John C. Walkup Professor of Chemistry Preston Miles, Professor of Education Donna Plummer, Professor of Biology and Biochemistry-Molecular Biology Peggy Richey and Assistant Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience KatieAnn Skogsberg to design a two-part ACS proposal.
The first part of the proposal gives faculty members a small stipend to sit in on the NSC course they would like to teach, giving them a glimpse into the organization of the course, pedagogical approaches and time to review some of the basic concepts taught.
The NSC requirement has two courses: a life science course and a physical science course; the second part of the ACS proposal addresses issues that come up with this two-pronged approach.
“We want to make sure the physical science and life science portion of the sequence match,” says Demoranville. “There is some funding in the grant to support experienced NSC faculty members sitting in on whichever portion of the sequence they don’t teach.”
In addition to these two opportunities for faculty to learn more about how to best teach NSC, a summer workshop is also planned, at which faculty can discuss issues and plans for improving the courses.
“The NSC program has been thinking a lot about how we can reach our goals of making science accessible, attractive and relevant to students who will only take these science courses,” Demoranville says. “As such, we want to think about how we can best use the content and themes of the course to support science literacy and the College’s goals for general education courses.”
Ultimately for Demoranville, the implications of improving NSC extend beyond Centre.
“I truly believe that science literacy is important for our society,” he explains. “Many decisions that get made in life can be enhanced by science; our country’s energy policy, the vaccination controversy, GMOs and many other highly controversial topics have a basis, at some level, in science.
“Science alone can’t provide the answers,” he continues, “but a clear understanding of the science behind the issues helps to inform decision-makers. Learning how science works and where science can inform these decisions and where it cannot is crucial for an educated citizen. I believe this is best handled for non-majors in a course like NSC.”
By Mariel Smith