Meet DEB: Melissa George, Einstein Educator Fellow

Basic Profile

Name: Melissa George

Looking in the opposite direction at Halawa Falls, Molokai.  I took the picture with my iphone.  Can you believe it?!

Looking in the opposite direction at Halawa Falls, Molokai. I took the picture with my iphone. Can you believe it?!


BS Biology, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA;

MS & PhD Curriculum & Instruction, Science Education, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

Home Institution:  I taught middle school science for 12 years at Lafayette Tecumseh Junior High School in Lafayette, IN.  I will return to the same school corporation on August 12 teaching Biology and Zoology at Jefferson High School.

NSF Experience/History:

I am winding down my last month as one of NSF’s Einstein Educator Fellows.  The fellowship was a privilege and has provided me with numerous opportunities to advance my understanding of both science and science education policy.  For DEB, I have worked on portfolio analysis projects and the Reverse Science Fair, an outreach opportunity for DEB staff and scientists.  I have also collaborated with fellows and scientists across NSF on projects such as the Learning360 Facebook site and the GK-12 inspired manual:  The Power of Partnerships:  A guide from the NSF Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education (G-K12) Program.  Working with fellows across agencies (NSF, NOAA, NASA, and DOE), we prepared a joint response to the draft of the Next Generation Science Standards and compiled Government Resources for AP Environmental Science (GRAPES).  I have also researched environmental education curricula; the high school I teach in currently offers no environmental biology course, I hope to change this.

How I learned about NSF:  I was a liaison for multiple Purdue STEM education outreach projects that involved NSF funding (i.e. GK-12, GK-12 in Mainland China, and Making Sense of Climate Change through Collaborative Research.)

Research Experience/History:

Developmental Evaluation, Teacher Ethnography, Situated Learning, Learning Progressions, Mental Models, and Climate Change Education.

One of my favorite quotes from Michael Quinn Patton, a guru of qualitative research, on developmental evaluation is:

“The stories are the point.  The people in the stories, what they do and how they think, are the point.  If you skip the stories and the people, you have missed the point.”

Q & A

How did you come to be working in DEB? 

I came to Washington, DC for a joint presentation (Boilermaker Special:  Purdue GK-12 in Mainland China) at the National Science Foundation Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education Annual Projects Meeting in March 2010.  I learned of the fellowship from Einstein Fellows who were presenting at the conference and applied for it the following year.  My favorite interview was with DEB and I happily accepted the position here when it was offered.

 Biggest surprise you’ve encountered coming to DEB from the academic world:

There have been several:

First, I believe that there are similar pressures on educators and scientists for accountability.   Perhaps the most telling is that policy dictates where money is funneled often exchanging the recommendations of professionals in the field for a “marketable product.”  The tug of war between basic and applied research is similar to the philosophical tensions encountered when balancing educating the whole child with educating the workforce. For me, federal educational policy has increased the pressure to “produce” students who are either STEM career or college ready by methods that are often dictated by venture capitalists rather than by my own professional expertise and knowledge of the students in the community I teach.

Second, I realize that my teaching will be authentic for my students only if my classroom can have repeated encounters with scientists and their projects. For example, prior to my fellowship, I spent three years working with Purdue science educators and physicists on a Climate Change Education Project.  At the onset of the unit, I had my students research a climate area and provide information about its biosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere, and anthroposphere.  We then spent 9 weeks investigating the physics of climate and climate change.  Their culminating project was to predict the causes and effects of climate change on the “spheres” of their researched climate area.  This project is always a stretch for students because the research they have found is very general.  However, my experience interfacing with the work of DEB scientists (especially the LTER work) has allowed me to meet scientists who explore specific ecosystem changes precipitated by climate change, to learn various ways access the dynamic body of information they are generating, and to create ways to share this with my students.

Me laying on the beach with a book at Halawa Bay on the East End of Molokai.

Me laying on the beach with a book at Halawa Bay on the East End of Molokai.

What would someone find you doing in your down time?

I have wanderlust and love engaging in adventures with my friends and family whether they are related to traveling, dining, cooking, reading, creating, or exploring the outdoors.  My favorite get away spot is the island of Molokai.  I travel there with my mom once or twice a year just to relax and reset my priorities.  My photos are from Molokai.

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