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Stephen F. Austin State University grant to serve science educators

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Stephen F. Austin State University has received a three-year grant to develop online courses that will better equip museum workers to take on controversial and complex science topics through their exhibits and conversations with patrons. The grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services totals $247,000.

Theresa Coble, an associate professor in SFA’s Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, said the five, graduate-level courses will help informal science educators broach complex and sometimes politically-charged subjects – like climate change.

“There’s a lot of political ideology that can sway people’s basic understanding of science or how they understand science communication," Coble said. "We're going to help equip science educators to navigate those waters.”

The grant includes partners from universities and science centers, like the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. Coble said the aquarium has its own in-house training to teach its volunteers how to talk with the public about oceans and climate change. There are many other centers across the country looking for formal training. Some, she said, end up shying away from the big issues of the day.

"You have exhibit developers who will pick less controversial topics, and sometimes it’s driven by a board of directors. Sometimes it’s driven by what’s the mission of the institution or how they interpret that mission," Coble said.

The grant’s six principal investigators will gather in the fall to draft an outline of what will be included in the new online courses delivered through SFA. Coble said the courses will lead to a graduate certificate.