PSU part of $10 million science program

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently approved a five year, $10 million grant to create the Center for Learning and Teaching in the West, or CLT-West. The PSU share of funding totals $2 million, with some of that money going to help science programs in Portland Public Schools. Dr. Carl Wamser and Ronald Narode spent over a year petitioning the NSF with their proposal.

Wamser recalls the long and difficult road, and is happy that his hard work paid off in the end.

“Ron and I worked over a year on this project. We drove through a Colorado snowstorm, we met with the consortium in Montana, we hosted them here in Portland and we went to Washington D.C.

There were over 30 proposals this year for this grant money and the NSF invited only five groups to Washington D.C. as finalists for this funding.”

The CLT-West includes five campuses in three states: Montana State University, University of Montana, Colorado State University, University of Northern Colorado and Portland State University.

These schools form one of the seven satellite programs across the United States.

The NSF gives grants to Portland State on a fairly regular basis, but Wamser believes the $10 million for establishing the CLT-West is the largest project ever to involve PSU.

The money is designed to set up four programs in the science field here at Portland State, with a heavy emphasis on research and education.

The first phase involves expanding the current doctoral level curriculum in five areas. Each of the five schools specializes in a different area, with Portland State taking the lead in developing a new course titled “Diversity and Equity.”

The second area to benefit from the funding is research. According to Wamser, the bulk of the research is going to be aimed at better understanding how students learn math and science.

The third goal of the CLT-West is in-service professional development. Simply stated, this involves improving the training of science teachers. The information gathered about how students learn is used to develop the science curriculum for schools.

The fourth and final aspect to the CLT-West program is preservice professional development. The goal is to encourage more people involved with science to take up teaching. The NSF released a statement stating: “in grades 7-12, approximately 33 percent of mathematics teachers and 20 percent of science teachers have neither a major nor minor in their teaching field; yet these underqualified teachers teach more than 26 percent of mathematics and 16 percent of science students.” The fourth agenda of the CLT-West program is aimed at improving those statistics.

“The focal point for the proposal is research and education,” Wamser said.

“We want to improve our field for the next generation of math and science students. We want to narrow the achievement gap. Low income students and minority students generally have not performed as well and we want to understand what are the deficiencies in our teaching and curriculum that cause this.”

Wamser is also excited about what these programs will do for the visibility of Portland State as it emerges as a nationally recognized leader in the science community. “We have been known nationally as being innovative. Being part of the CLT-West has now put us in very good company with the other satellites nationwide.”

Wamser is referring to the other programs that have been founded with the same goals as the CLT-West. Joining these high profile campuses brings attention to the expanding science program at Portland State, and puts our university among the elite in the science community.

Nationally, the other regions with similar programs total seven; three are based in California, one in Texas, one encompasses the Appalachian region and one sits in the Mid-Atlantic region.

An immediate beneficiary of The PSU involvement with CLT-West will be Portland Public Schools.

The financial support they are set to receive is estimated at $875,235. Portland Public Schools K-12 science coordinator, Susan Montag, is collaborating with the CLT-West group in the implementation of these programs aimed at improving the science educational system.

Montag released a statement saying “I am especially excited about this opportunity to solidify the many ongoing partnerships for mathematics and science education between Portland State University and Portland Public Schools. We’re continuing to do some very important work here.”