Engaged Faculty Spotlight: The Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences

October 22, 2019

This spotlight focuses not on individual faculty, but rather a department committed to engaged scholarship, as evident in its activities, liberal learning goals, and Departmental Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan (DDIAP).

The Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences (DEEPS) has a long history of fostering collaborative projects in Providence around youth education. One of the department's main outreach programs, DEEPS STEP, evolved from an earlier NSF-funded work (PI: Prof. Tim Herbert) that engaged graduate students with local public schools, generating an accessible lesson plan database and an ongoing relationship with Vartan Gregorian Elementary School. 

During the 2016-2017 academic year, DEEPS, in collaboration with the Providence Public School District (PPSD), supported an intensive re-design of its outreach program, now known as DEEPS STEP - The Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences' Science-Teaching and Education Program. The program expanded to involve both graduate and undergraduate students across Brown departments, as well as postdocs and faculty. DEEPS STEP’s goal is to create comprehensive Earth Science Modules aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards for grades 2-5 and assist teachers across Providence in implementing them in their classrooms to improve access to quality science education for all PPSD students, as well as offering a science teaching and community work experience to Brown students. 

DEEPS now dedicates half of Senior Research Associate Olga Prilipko Huber’s time to managing the DEEPS STEP program and supports her teaching a related course for engaged students, "GEOL 1960: Earth Science Curriculum Design and Teaching Practicum in Elementary Schools" (Spring 2020). The program runs over two years in each participating classroom, with DEEPS STEP volunteers providing materials and leading lessons with teachers’ support during the first year (Phase I), then supporting the same teachers in leading the lessons themselves the second year (Phase II), thus building capacity within the school and allowing DEEPS STEP to expand to additional grades and schools, in response to requests. 

In 2019-20, DEEPS STEP is working with seven classrooms in three public elementary schools. Important collaborators include Diane Silva Pimentel, Associate Professor of Practice - Science Education at Brown, and Donna J. Casanova, Supervisor of Science in PPSD. Dr. Prilipko Huber welcomes outreach from people in other departments at Brown interested in getting involved and enhancing DEEPS STEP’s scope and impact. Many DEEPS faculty are also involved with other projects that will be featured over time on the DEEPS outreach website.