A short burst of much-needed rain did little to dampen expectations for the first annual Learning Gardens Laboratory (LGL) Farm to Fork Dinner on Saturday, August 11, 2018. After the sun returned, nearly 100 guests settled into a lovely summer evening, exploring the acreage and visiting various stations that represented the garden’s many programs. At each station, students told stories while plying guests with appetizers like grilled mahi-mahi and a local brew or wine. The evening included a gourmet dinner prepared by PSU Eats—PSU’s campus dining service and catering—and concluded with a chocolate dessert under the stars. LGL provided fresh vegetables that Executive Chef Matt Steele carefully incorporated into each course. A community member, whose own garden plot was steps away, supplied background music.
Two GSE faculty members were recognized by the PSU Foundation for their leadership in acquiring $1.25 million in funding toward the GSE’s new home that opens in fall 2020. Assistant Professor Jean Aguilar-Valdez and Associate Professor Sybil Kelley are leaders in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) instruction. The PSU Foundation presented them with the Philanthropic Leadership Award at this year’s Commencement Ceremony. Aguilar-Valdez and Kelley have played significant roles in developing programming that led to the philanthropic gift to build the Vernier STEM Classroom in the new 4 th and Montgomery building.
Aguilar-Valdez teaches science methods and social justice courses for the Graduate Teacher Education Program (GTEP) in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. This includes working with teachers in the Bilingual Teacher Pathway program and with students to develop community activist approaches to education.
Kelley leads the Leadership for Sustainability Education (LSE) program in the Educational Leadership and Policy Department. In addition, she teaches the elementary science methods course for GTEP in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and is also the faculty coordinator for the Learning Gardens Laboratory in Southeast Portland that provides garden- based education for public school students, university students, and community members.
Each year the Institute for Sustainable Solutions honors a faculty member whose teaching inspires students to embrace sustainability both inside and outside the classroom.
Sybil Kelley, PhD, is an associate professor of science education and sustainable systems in the Leadership for Sustainability Education (LSE) program in the Educational Leadership and Policy Department. In addition, she teaches the elementary science methods courses for the Graduate Teacher Education Program (GTEP) in the Curriculum and Instruction Department and is the faculty coordinator of the Learning Gardens Laboratory.
Rather than rely solely on theories, Kelley incorporates innovative and experiential pedagogies to reinforce the content. This means that students not only learn about sustainability, they experience it in a reflective and integrated way through engaging in-class activities and community-based learning. Beyond teaching individual courses, Kelley helps to grow sustainability educators through the LSE degree program, from which students graduate ready and willing to dig into the work of sustainability in different capacities and forms. She has inspired countless students to become sustainability leaders throughout her time in the program.
Kelly has worked for Portland State since 2001 and holds a PhD in environmental science and an MS in science teaching from Portland State. She is the recipient of the 2017 Fred Fox Distinguished Service to Science Education Award from the Oregon Science Teachers Association.
Science in the Learning Gardens (SciLG): Factors that Support Racial and Ethnic Minority Students’ Success in Low-Income Middle Schools is a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant in its second year at PSU that is designed to study the impact of using garden-based education to support Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) among racial- and ethnic-minority students. The $500,000 project, which is a partnership between PSU and Portland Public Schools, serves sixth through eighth graders at Lent and Lane Middle Schools in outer Southeast Portland. Both schools have high numbers of students who are low income and minorities. PSU’s Learning Gardens Laboratory is one of the sites serving Lane. About 200 sixth graders participated in the first year.
The SciLG is led by long-time school garden pioneer and researcher Dilafruz Williams, with Sybil Kelley in Educational Leadership and Policy, Cary Sneider in the PSU Science Education Center, and Ellen Skinner in the PSU Psychology Department in a unique cross-disciplinary approach.
Two important features differentiate the project. First, while most school garden programs exist in lower elementary grades, the SciLG is designed for middle schoolers. By continuing the study with the same group of students over three years, sixth through eighth grades, investigators are collecting unique longitudinal data on engagement and motivation.
Second, the project is aligned with the national Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Oregon is one of the lead states that has adopted the new standards, which had not been updated in 15 years. The new NGSS establish what K–12 students will need to know and be able to do upon graduating from high school. Rapid advances in science and technology in recent years and new information about how students learn prompted the update, along with the goal for American students to graduate and better compete in a global economy. The hope is that by increasing skills and interest at the middle school level, Lane and Lent schools’ culturally diverse students will have better proficiency in STEM classes in high school and beyond.
“We at PSU have seized the opportunity to bring together two significant education movements,” said Williams, principal investigator on the grant. “One is NGSS. And the other is the surge of interest in school gardens across the nation. With tens of thousands of school gardens across the country, research shows that school gardens positively impact student outcomes, especially in science.”
GSE master’s graduate Nakisha Nathan took home more than a diploma at commencement this year. She was also recognized by the university with the President’s Award for Community Engagement.
Nathan arrived at PSU in 2012 armed with a bachelor’s degree in bioenvironmental science from Texas A&M University. Her goal was to learn how to connect communities to their environment, which led to the GSE’s Leadership for Sustainability Education (LSE) master’s program. This program emphasizes leadership, biocultural diversity, social justice, and economic sustainability.
Nathan is a former legal assistant with a variety of experiences in outdoor education. She spent three years in the LSE program and served as a school garden liaison and teaching assistant, working with two middle schools and the Learning Gardens Laboratory. For her final project, she worked alongside Professors Dilafruz Williams, Sybil Kelley, and Heather Burns on a National Science Foundation grant, Science in the Learning Gardens: Factors that support racial and ethnic minority students’ success in low-income middle schools. The grant is focused on helping low-income middle school students boost their proficiency in STEM using the school’s garden program and thus help them meet the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)*. Continue reading
Professor Dilafruz Williams has been awarded Portland State University’s George C. Hoffmann Award for excellence in teaching, scholarship, and service. The Hoffmann Award is given annually to a PSU faculty member in recognition of distinguished contributions to the University in instruction, service, and scholarship. A committee of previous recipients selected Williams for her work performed in the “spirit of humanism, civility, and collegiality with particular dedication to students and loyalty to the University.”
Williams is a professor of Leadership Sustainability Education (LSE) in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in the Graduate School of Education (GSE). Williams co-founded the LSE program, which prepares those who wish to educate for sustainable solutions in settings including schools, nonprofit organizations, local government, and businesses. Continue reading