Science Literacy Program in the News


UO biologist Judith Eisen elected into elite American academy
By Jim Barlow

UO biologist Judith Eisen is best known to the world as a pioneer in using zebrafish as a model to study the nervous system.

On campus, in addition to her research, she played a lead role in establishing the Science Literacy Program and has influenced how faculty members teach in biology, chemistry and biochemistry, physics, geological sciences and human physiology.

Now she’s in awe as she finds herself listed alongside actor Tom Hanks, former President Barack Obama, Supreme Court Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor, physicist David J. Pine of New York University and author Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose 2015 non-fiction book “Between the World and Me” was the UO’s Common Reading book for 2016-17.

Read the full article at Around the O.


It’s an incredible time to be studying STEM fields at many of Northwest’s Largest Colleges:
STEM Changes underway at University of Oregon
By Bruce Sussman

eugene si 2017 (8 of 66)The University of Oregon is also doing some unique things in STEM studies, developing an award-winning Science Literacy Program. The program is designed to make science study relevant and successful for both science majors and non-science majors who have to take science courses.

Science Literacy Program instructors use 30% more evidence-based teaching practices compared to STEM courses outside of the University. The program’s 155 courses have been attended by more than 14,000 students since the program’s start in 2010.

This winter, STEM courses within the program include the Biology of Cancer, the Science of Health, Solar and Renewables and Introduction to Ecology.

“The nationally recognized Science Literacy Program has focused on working with faculty to create science courses that are interesting, engaging, and relevant for non-science students,” says Elly Vandegrift, Associate Director of the Science Literacy Program and a Senior Instructor in Biology.

And U of O is seeing increasing numbers of young women enrolling in STEM related courses and majors. “In some of our life sciences majors (biology, human physiology) more than 50% of majors are women,” Vandegrift says.

Innovation is going strong on both of these campuses in 2018, as well as college campuses around the northwest. It’s a great time to study something you are passionate about, so you can make a difference in the world after graduation.

(Read the full article online at the Oregonian.)

Win-Win for Science: Elly Transforms Teaching

Ellybass-224x300How is it possible to take something that is mundane and ordinary, like bread, and transform it into a multidiscipline course that truly engages the interest of students? You transform the experience into a hands-on exploration of the chemistry, microbiology, and physics of bread-making. You delve into the underlying science. You cover the full spectrum, transforming seed into bread—from the genetics of wheat to today’s politics of wheat and bread production. The course, Bread 101, served as a course development lab for the Science Literacy Program. It also won a national award for food studies pedagogy. The Bread 101 colloquium (HC 441H) is a perfect example of what happens when committed faculty members come together with students to examine a subject in nontraditional ways.

Read the full article in the Fall 2017 Biology newsletter.


Summer Institute on Scientific Teaching 2017

eugene si 2017 (63 of 66)EUGENE, Oregon (July 25, 2017) — Even teachers need to go back to school, especially when it comes to learning how to teach science better.

That’s an idea the University of Oregon has embraced with such gusto it has become a leader in efforts to make science classes more effective and engaging. And interest is spreading, from veteran professors to young doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows.

Funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and directed by UO Science Literacy Program director Elly Vandegrift, the summer institute brought 55 faculty and postdoctoral researchers from across the country, including 23 from the UO, to campus for a week of evidence-based science teaching workshops.

“We are trained to be experts in our disciplinary fields, but that does not mean we have practiced how to communicate the science to nonexperts or have learned about approaches that support learning for all students,” Vandegrift said.  

To read the rest of this story by Molly Blancett, please visit the website.

Elly Vandegrift – Thomas F. Herman Award for Specialized Pedagogy

vandegrift_1Elly Vandegrift, senior instructor of biology and associate director of the Science Literacy Program, was recognized for her constant and astonishing dedication to education in the Department of Biology and the Science Literacy Program. In the words of department head Bruce Bowerman, “Eleanor is bringing us together to explicitly and deliberately focus on how we can systematically improve both our curriculum and our approaches to teaching.”  In recognition of her achievement and expertise in the area of science literacy, Elly Vandegrift was a recipient of a 2017 Thomas F. Herman Award for Specialized Pedagogy.  More about Elly and her contributions to the Science Literacy Program and the Department of Biology can be found here and here.

These scientists study plants and animals by land and sea

Science News for Students (December 6, 2017) by Bethany Brookshire

Some people love learning about science, but others suffer through their science classes. Vandegrift wants to change that. She’s an ecologist who runs the Science Literacy Program at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Her goal, she says, is to make science classes “interesting, accessible, engaging and relevant for all students.”E. Vandegrift

In her work and travels, Vandegrift has experienced the scarier side of science. While on a hike in Kenya, she recalls, “Our Maasai guides got lost. We wandered in circles (with stinging nettle plants more than six-feet tall all around us through areas with lion footprints larger than a dinner plate) for hours. Just after it started to rain, [it] began to get dark and we were out of food and water. Our guides told us they were going to have us sit in a circle in the grass all night while they kept us safe from potential lion attacks. Totally surreal. And then a scout found the trail and walked us two hours back to camp. The ‘hike’ lasted nine hours and stinging nettle rash for two weeks.”

Nicola Barber Joins UO Science Literacy Program

NBarberHeadshot (1)EUGENE, Oregon (October 2016) — Nicola Barber’s research career began by looking at genetic diversity in sockeye salmon while spending the summer in her hometown of Victoria, British Columbia. Hooked on research, she spent the next three years at Colgate University applying genetics and cell biology to uncover a connection between nuclear pores and cell-division machinery in budding yeast. The project brought her to the National Cancer Institute in Maryland for six months, where she worked with collaborators and a robot named Rascal to perform high-throughput genetic analyses. She returned to the West Coast for her PhD in molecular cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley. In her graduate work, she demonstrated that conserved kinases orchestrate the timely progression of meiotic chromosome segregation in C. elegans using a combination of genetic and cell-biological approaches. A turning point in Nicola’s career occurred the first time she stepped to the front of the classroom as a graduate student instructor and discovered her enthusiasm for education.

Read more about Nicola Barber’s career, research interests, and future goals.


Elly Vandegrift, Daniel HoSang receive teaching honors

evandegriftgEUGENE, Oregon (June 27, 2016) — Two UO faculty members known for innovative teaching and their ability to inspire fellow faculty and students are this year’s recipients of the UO’s Williams Fellowships.

The 2016 awards go to Elly Vandegrift, associate director of the UO Science Literacy Program and a senior instructor in biology, and Daniel HoSang, an associate professor of ethnic studies and political science. Williams Fellowships honor faculty members whose work elevates undergraduate education.

Widely recognized for helping transform science instruction on campus, Vandegrift has spearheaded efforts to promote science teaching for nonscience majors by integrating evidence-based active learning into general education science courses across biology, chemistry and biochemistry, geological sciences, human physiology and physics. Through the Science Literacy Program, she has trained and mentored more than 100 faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students in science education best practices.

Read the full Around the O story here.

Science for the rest of us: UO fights for science literacy

He describes himself as an absolute stereotype of a scientist: Bald with glasses, with facial hair reminiscent of Walter White. But his attitude about the way science courses should be taught is anything but stereotypical: He starts most classes with “What’s up, my fine peoples?”

But Fisher is serious about science. He’s a “planet hunter,” monitoring infant solar systems from a remote-controlled telescope in Bend, on UO’s Pine Mountain Observatory. He’s also looking for supernovas: If he spots one, he’ll alert the Gemini telescope at Mauna Kea, where he used to work.

“A major problem is not that people hate science, but that people had such a bad experience with science, that it turned them against it,” Fisher said. “And that’s what I’m trying to fight. Let’s have a positive experience that you can carry forward in life.”

Read full article in the Oregon Daily Emerald here

UO named an affiliate of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science

EUGENE, Oregon (August 23, 2015) — Following a successful two-day workshop on Science Communication in May 2015, the University of Oregon has been invited to become an affiliated university with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.

The UO’s Science Literacy Program will serve as the campus resource center for affiliated programs to provide opportunities for graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty members to build science communication skills. The UO is one of ten institutions affiliated with the Center and the first West of the Mississippi River.

The goal of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science is to enhance understanding of science by helping train the next generation of scientists and health professionals to communicate more effectively with the public, elected officials, the media, and others outside their own discipline.

Alda, who is best know for playing the character Hawkeye in the television series “M*A*S*H” and hosting “Scientific American Frontiers” on PBS, found that the skills he learned as an actor can also help scientists communicate complicated scientific concepts to novice audiences.

Today, the trainings organized by the center include learning improvisation techniques, discussions about distilling a message and forming a story, and practice media interviews.

More information about upcoming programs and trainings will be available soon.

UO is host to West Coast Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education

Summer Institute on Undergraduate EducationEUGENE, Oregon — (July 13, 2015) — Fifty-nine science educators from 20 institutions are on the UO campus this week for five days of workshops in the annual West Coast National Academies Summer Institute on Scientific Teaching.

During the sessions, participants will learn the latest approaches in how to use active learning tools to engage undergraduate students in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“It is noteworthy that the University of Oregon is hosting this event because the host institutions are places that are recognized for the innovative work they are doing in science education reform,” said Elly Vandegrift, associate director of the UO’s science literacy program. “We are now part of an elite group of host institutions for a program that has demonstrated how high-quality professional development of teaching can positively impact students studying science.”

Read the full Around the O story here.

Communicating Science Workshop Featured by UO Research and Innovation

Improv-Training-332x181_featuredEUGENE, Oregon — (May 29, 2015) — The recent Communicating Science two-day workshop, sponsored by SLPSTEM CORE and CAS and facilitated by faculty from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, is featured in an article from the UO Research and Innovation. Read the article on Research and Innovation website.

The workshop is also featured in Around the O on June 1, 2015. Read the Around the O article here.

SLP Featured in Cascade Magazine

EUGENE, Oregon — (May 13, 2015) — The Science Literacy Program is featured in the Spring 2015 issue of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Cascade Magazine. The article highlights the history of the SLP and the impact of the program on undergraduate education. The Cascade Magazine article is available here.

UO 2015 Strategic Initiative to Fund Science Literacy Program

EUGENE, Oregon — (May 4, 2015) — The SLP, co-operated under the College of Arts and Science, with Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Geological Sciences, and Human Physiology, has been named a recipient of long-term recurring funding under the UO’s 2015 Strategic Initiative.

This award will provide stable funding for between 16 and 24 graduate SLP Fellows per year to work alongside faculty to co-develop and co-teach science courses for non-science majors. We will continue to provide professional development opportunities for faculty and students to learn about and use the best pedagogy for courses at this level. SLP is also moving toward supporting and impacting more ‘gateway’ courses for potential science majors.

Faculty and graduate students are encouraged to contact SLP staff to enquire about participating in the upcoming school year.

SLP Co-director Receives Thomas F. Herman Award for Excellence in Pedagogy

Judith EisenEUGENE, Oregon — (May 4, 2015) — Judith Eisen, Co-Director of the Science Literacy Program, has been awarded the 2015 Thomas F. Herman Award for Excellence in Pedagogy awarded to a senior UO faculty member who has “demonstrated outstanding achievement and expertise” in pedagogy, for excellence in her own teaching, and her work directing the Science Literacy Program and the positive impact the program has had on thousands of students at the UO.

Read more about the 2015 Distinguished Teaching Awards winners in this article from Around the O. The article includes a bio sketch for each of eight recipients. Read Judith Eisen’s here.

SLP Featured in Chronicle of Higher Education

Ch_H_Ed_photo_69153_wide_large_webEUGENE, Oregon — (May 4, 2015) — The Science Literacy Program is the subject of a substantial feature in the Chronicle of Higher Education published May 4, 2015. This story highlights the impacts of several of our SLP courses, including Scott Fisher’s introductory astronomy course. The Chronicle of Higher Education article is available here.

The program was also featured in Around the O. Read the story here.

SLP Course Receives Pedagogy Awardbread101image

EUGENE, Oregon — (April 13, 2015) — Bread 101, team-taught by five instructors including biologists (Karen Guillemin, Judith Eisen and Elly Vandegrift), physicist (Miriam Deutsch) and instructor of comparative literature (Jennifer Burns Bright), received the 2015 Pedagogy Award from the Association for the Study of Food and Society. Read the article in Around the O.

This course was also featured recently in the Oregon Quarterly.

SLP Course Featured in Oregon Quarterly

shutterstock_85344391_332x181EUGENE, Oregon — (March 2, 2015) —  The Spring 2015 issue of Oregon Quarterly features one of our Spring 2014 courses, Bread 101. This interdisciplinary course was team-taught by Judith Eisen, Karen Guillemin, Miriam Deutsch, Jennifer Burns Bright, and Elly Vandegrift and focused on the biology, chemistry, physics, history, culture, and politics of wheat and bread.

More information about SLP’s Bread 101 course is available on our website.

Team Teaching Pays Off for Students

EUGENE, Oregon — (July 3, 2014) — “Bread 101″ taught as a collaboration between the Science Literacy ProgramClark Honors College, and Food Studies program was featured in the Around the O recently. The interdisciplinary course was taught by Jennifer Burns Bright, Miriam Deutsch, Judith Eisen, Karen Guillemin, and Eleanor “Elly” Vandegrift focusing on the biology, chemistry, physics, history, culture, and politics of wheat and bread.

Bread 101 Instructors

During the term, students had the opportunity to explore the course outside of the classroom. The group took two filed trips. First up was a trip to Noisette Pastry Kitchen where the students learn from bakers. Then the group traveled to Camas County Mill to learn from growers and millers. On display were several grain varieties including spelt, rye, emmer, teff, among others. The group also learned about the milling process and got to see their stone mill in action. tudents maintained a bread starter throughout the course and tried their hand at baking.

Putting theory to practice, students created and maintained a bread starter throughout the course and tried their hand at baking. Drawing on what they learned about the biological, chemical, and physical nature of the ingredients and baking process, students wrote about their experience experimenting with different conditions and recipes. Read more about how the course transformed the students’ and instructors’ thoughts about science, nutrition, and agriculture in the Around the O article.

Three of the faculty blogged about their experiences during the term as well.

Four UO Faculty Participate in Summer Academy

RIVERSIDE, California — (June 30, 2014) — Four UO representatives participated in the West Coast National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education at University of California, Riverside in June.

Throughout the National Academies Summer Institute, they focused on applying research on how people learn to develop and create undergraduate science classroom activities. Following the completion of the program Michelle Wood (Professor of Biology), Ann Petersen (Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Institute of Ecological and Evolution) and Elizabeth “Tish” Toomey Wiles (Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Institute of Molecular Biology) have been named National Academies Education Fellows in the Life Sciences for 2014-15 and Eleanor “Elly” Vandegrift (Associate Director of the Science Literacy Program and Senior Instructor of Biology) has been named a National Academies Education Mentor in the Life Sciences for 2014-15.

The program included work in several areas that have been discussed in the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club including: active learning, backward design, assessments, and flipped classes. To learn more about these topics, see our Active Learning Glossary and Bibliography by Topic web pages.

More information about the Summer Institute is available from UCR Today.

Science Literacy Program Community of Practice (December 14, 2014)

Life Science Teaching Resource Community Blog

We also have cultivated a science education community of practice at the University of Oregon (UO) that follows many of your recommendations. In 2010 the UO Science Literacy Program (SLP,, funded in part by HHMI, and UO Teaching Effectiveness Program (TEP, teamed up to offer a science education journal club for participants interested in implementing active learning. SLP focuses on improving general education courses in the sciences by adopting evidence-based, student-centered teaching and providing mentored teaching opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students. TEP is the campus professional development center for faculty and graduate students interested in implementing best teaching practices. Our journal club is currently organized and facilitated by the associate director of the SLP and a faculty consultant from TEP.

The journal club began with a grassroots effort by science faculty and graduate students to support and encourage more effective teaching. From the beginning, we have offered two sections to accommodate a diversity of schedules. While each meeting is anchored with a reading (our extended bibliography may be found at, we include small-scale teaching experiments, try out a diversity of pedagogical approaches together, and support exploration of theory. The community of practice also provides for future faculty and science communicators a training ground in pedagogical theory and practice. All this happens within an interdisciplinary, cross-rank community; the participant mix includes undergraduate students, graduate students, post-docs, librarians, and faculty from a wide variety of disciplines.

What started as a handful of individuals wanting to improve their teaching has developed into a supportive education community with 20-30 people attending each week (many of whom have been coming faithfully for several years) and over 350 people on our mailing list. The journal club is the one place where many of our participants have the space and time to discuss teaching innovations and challenges with colleagues. We have a community who now have a common language about science education and are challenging themselves to try new techniques to support student learning.


UO Science Literacy Program excels through active learning
By Lee Rumbarger

EUGENE, Oregon — (August 21, 2013) — During a class earlier this year for Biology/Chemistry 140, biology professor Judith Eisen flashed this question on the front screen: Which of the following experimental results would allow you to conclude that a mutation in a specific gene caused disease symptoms?
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The Science of Good Teaching: Program Invites Wide-Ranging Innovation
By Lee Rumbarger

EUGENE, Oregon — (June 27, 2013) — It’s 2 o’clock on Monday of Week Nine. Professor of Biology Judith Eisen and Associate Professor of Chemistry Andy Berglund’s Biology/Chemistry 140: “Science, Policy, and Biology” students—just over 90 of them—are settling into pod-style tables dotting HEDCO 220. Today’s topic: genetic testing and gene modification. This is one of 21 new or significantly revised courses developed as part of the UO Science Literacy Program’s (SLP) four-year, $1.5 million Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant aimed at boosting public competence and interest in science through revived general education teaching. In addition to these courses, the SLP supports a weekly reading group about science pedagogy and a major assessment project.
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UO delegation leads faculty development event in Japan

NAGOYA, Japan — (April 30, 2013) — A five-person delegation from the University of Oregon led a two-day faclty development workshop for instructors at Japan’s Nagoya University on March 16 and 17. Center for Asian and Pacific Studies director Jeff Hanes, along with Lee Rumbarger, director of the Teaching Effectiveness Program; Trish Pashby, senior instructor at the American English Institute; Georgeanne Cooper, former director of the Teaching Effectiveness Program; and Elly Vandegrift, associate director of the Science Literacy Program, comprised the team that facilitated the workshop.
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Video: UO program aims to improve science literacy

April 19, 2013
View Oregon Daily Emerald video featuring the SLP course GEOL 110.
Produced by Lelani Rapaport

SPUR internship leads UO undergrad into prestigious program

EUGENE, Ore. — (February, 2013) — Research conducted as an intern in the University of Oregon’s Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) not only sealed an interest in science by Christine Liu, it also landed her an award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to support her efforts.
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$1.5 million grant to change way many non-science students are taught at the UO

EUGENE, Ore. — (May 20, 2010) — Non-science majors at the University of Oregon in the future will benefit from a $1.5 million grant that will have four departments working together to change the way they teach their courses. The grant to the UO was among $79 million in grants announced by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to help universities strengthen undergraduate and precollege science education nationwide. View Complete Article