Willamette professor earns $500,000 National Science Foundation grant

by University Communications,

Exercise science professor Stasinos Stavrianeas has been awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation award for his leadership role in transforming biology education.

The $500,000 Research Coordination Network for Undergraduate Biology Education award will allow Stavrianeas to lead a team of educators during the development of an innovative introductory biology curriculum.

Building on foundational work laid by Dean Marlene Moore, the five-year grant creates the Northwest Biosciences Consortium (NWBC) — a community of biology faculty from a selection of 2- and 4-year institutions in the Pacific Northwest.

By aligning existing introductory curricula with the “Vision and Change: A Call to Action” national mandate, the team will continue a 20-year trend toward more investigative learning in science education.

“We aim to create a curriculum that will allow students to explore at their own pace,” Stavrianeas says.

“The fact that they can make a new discovery on their own, even if it is new only to them, will give students the confidence to take on different, more advanced questions.”

Designing a uniform curriculum will be a two-year process, as the team explores ways to meet the needs of schools, ranging from community colleges to small liberal arts colleges to large public universities.

Through gradual implementation of the new curriculum beginning in the third year of the grant, Stavrianeas aims to develop an appreciation for scientific inquiry in both biology majors and students who only take a single biology course to fulfill a general education requirement.

“I teach a non-science major natural world course, and I frequently have my students leaving the lab high-fiving each other,” he says. “That excitement is what I want to capture for all introductory science courses.”