New grant addresses Next Generation Science Standards

Learning GardensScience 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.”

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Outstanding graduate Nakisha Nathan receives top 2015 commencement award

Nakisha NathanGSE 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

PSU’s George C. Hoffmann Award goes to Dilafruz Williams

Marysville PFAD 002 (Large)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

OIEA names Judy Bluehorse Skelton Outstanding Teacher of the Year

Judy Bluehorse Skelton 1Alumna Judy Bluehorse Skelton, MA ’08, is the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year award from the Oregon Indian Education Association (OIEA). She is a graduate of the Leadership for Sustainability Education (LSE) program and has a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies from PSU. She received the honor at the group’s annual conference in Warm Springs on April 11, 2014.

Ms. Skelton is an instructor in PSU’s Native American Studies program and is affiliated with the Nez Perce and Cherokee People. She is a true advocate for cultural and indigenous learning and has taught PSU capstone courses to undergraduates. She is very active in supporting Native American youth in Multnomah County.

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Two 2012 PSU commencement speakers chosen from GSE graduates

Emily Coleman, MS (VIL) ’12, and Jacob Sherman, MS (LSE) ’12, are polishing commencement speeches for PSU’s June ceremony at the Rose Garden. Both were chosen for compelling and entirely different success stories at PSU. Ms. Coleman is a graduate of the Visually Impaired Learner program in the Department of Special Education and Mr. Sherman has completed a Leadership for Sustainability Education master’s degree. Continue reading

Alumnus of the Month – Jill Kuehler

Inspired by summers spent in her grandmother’s garden digging for worms, Jill still cannot keep the dirt out from under her fingernails. While in the Peace Corps in Guatemala she helped a rural elementary school install a garden that continues to provide food for school lunches. It was during this period of service that Jill developed her passion and commitment for connecting children with their food source.

Before becoming the executive director of Friends of Zenger Farm (FZF), Jill managed the Lents International Farmers Market (LIFM), a program of FZF, for two seasons. In addition to the LIFM, she also directed the Sauvie Island Center, a Portland nonprofit organization that teaches children about farms, the food they grow, and the landscape in which they exist. Previously, she spent two years as the Wellness Coordinator at Abernethy Elementary, developing a model wellness program centered on the school’s Scratch Kitchen and Garden of Wonders where students learn to grow, prepare, and eat good food.

Jill was recently elected to the Board of the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, a unit of local government serving Multnomah County East of the Willamette River that works toward keeping water clean, conserving water, and keeping soil healthy.


How did you transition into the field after your graduate studies?

With experience in both environmental education and sustainable agriculture, I entered my graduate program knowing I wanted to merge these two passions. The GSE gave me the flexibility to design my education to build my skills in both areas. Not only did the professors help guide my education, but my peers also inspired and encouraged me in my professional development.

While earning my degree, I had a graduate assistant position working with school garden program development. Upon graduation, I was offered a job continuing the work I started while in school. My professional career continues to build from the network of peers I developed while in the GSE.

What has proven to be the most useful thing you learned while at the GSE?

The program was excellent about connecting students to the community. I quickly developed a network of professional peers and gained hands-on skills that continue to serve my personal and professional development.

What accomplishment in your career are you most proud of?

I managed the Lents International Farmers Market for two seasons. The LIFM has the dual goal of providing a low-income neighborhood with access to healthy food and providing a place for immigrant farmers to sell what they grow. As a way of providing more neighbors with affordable, fresh produce, we started a food stamp match program. When customers come to the market and use their food stamps, we match it, dollar for dollar. For example, if someone wants to put $5 on their food stamp card, we will give them $10 in tokens to spend at the market. The program is supported by New Seasons Market and Bob’s Red Mill, and over the past three seasons over $7,000 food stamp dollars have been matched. Since we started the program, six other Portland area markets have started their own match programs, providing underserved Portlanders with access to healthy food.

The GSE strives to make an impact on our community through the work of our students, faculty, and alumni. What does the term “impact on the community” mean to you?

I believe it is our duty as citizens to give back to our community. The fact that the GSE has the goal of striving to make an impact on the community is what originally attracted me to the program. Through my work and my volunteer service I try and make my community a better place, one where all people can equally thrive. I recently became a new mom and “impact on the community” has taken on a whole new meaning as I try and build a better world for Baby Charly and her friends to inherit.

How do you try to incorporate this concept into your daily work?

At Zenger Farm we strive to improve the food security in outer SE Portland. One program we started is Healthy Eating on a Budget, which is providing workshops on how to shop for and prepare simple healthy meals on a limited budget. Not only has the program reached over 200 underserved families, it has created networks of residents sharing recipes and shopping together. We believe building these networks will allow people to learn from each other and have the tools to impact their own communities.

Did you have a favorite course, professor, or project while at the GSE?

Toby Hemenway taught a course on permaculture design. What I learned from Toby has made a lasting impact on my daily life. Toby not only teaches about creating sustainable communities but also what individuals can do in their own homes, in their own backyards. With skills I gained in Toby’s class I can now walk out into my backyard and harvest the herbs, fruits, and vegetables to supplement my family’s meals.

What advice would you give currently enrolled or recently graduated students?

Take advantage of Portland! So much wonderful work is happening in this town and the GSE really encourages students to become immersed in it. Graduate school allows students a time of exploration to discover skills and decide on a professional path and the best education is getting involved in the community, in on-the-ground projects.