History of the Center

From its inception in the early 1980s, the vision for a science and mathematics learning center was to provide a “place” (laboratory/classroom) and an administrative structure for leadership for the improvement of science and mathematics education in the schools of Arizona.

The Center was envisioned as the coordinating unit for:

  • K-12 science and mathematics teacher preparation at Northern Arizona University
  • programs developed collaboratively with K-12 teachers to provide professional development in science and mathematics education


In 1989, Dr. Gordon Johnson of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Dr. Ray Tamppari of the Department of Biological Sciences joined together to create the Science and Mathematics Learning Center (SMLC).

With their National Science Foundation-funded middle school science program and its offshoot, the secondary science teacher training program, a new era of science education began at the university.

Dr. Henry Hooper, then associate vice president for academic affairs and graduate dean, pointed out the opportunity for cooperation among the various science departments. To take advantage of the science education reform movement, the university hired Dr. Diane Ebert-May with a joint appointment in the Department of Biological Sciences as the new director of the Science and Mathematics Learning Center.

Working with a NSF grant to revitalize undergraduate biology courses, Dr. Ebert-May expanded the scope of the center and added professional development staff, who brought their own grants with them and made it possible to offer professional development programs in science and mathematics around the state.

With these changes, coordination of secondary science methods courses was returned to the departments.


Dr. Ebert-May left the university in 1998 and the interim leadership of the center was turned over to Dr. Henry Hooper, then Vice-Provost for Research and Graduate Studies.

Staying true to the original vision of the center to coordinate efforts in science education across the university, the position of director of the Center was tied to the newly funded J. Lawrence Walkup Distinguished Professorship in Science Education.

With joint appointments in the Department of Biological Sciences and Instructional Leadership in the Center for Excellence in Education, Dr. Julie Gess-Newsome was hired into this redefined position in 2000.



The challenge of responsibilities spanning two colleges offered opportunities for increased collaboration. Since Dr. Newsome’s arrival, the Center staff have worked with the content departments to revise the secondary science methods courses while maintaining the center’s prominent role in professional development in Arizona.

In 2003, the center was renamed the Center Science Teaching and Learning. With the reorganization came:

  • a more narrow focus on science education
  • the addition of three joint appointments of science education faculty in biological sciences, physics and astronomy, and teaching and learning
  • the return of the responsibility for the science methods courses to these faculty and the center staff
  • reorganization of professional development staff lines
  • creation of a Center position dedicated to the advisement and recruitment of secondary science teachers
  • services in the design and evaluation of programs related to science education



During the summer of 2008, the Center moved under the College of Engineering, Forestry, and Natural Sciences as an academic unit. The same year, the Center began to administer $3.4 million granted over five years to establish an undergraduate certification program at Northern Arizona University for secondary science and mathematics teachers.

Modeled after the highly-successful UTeach program designed at the University of Texas at Austin, NAUTeach aims to increase secondary science and mathematics teacher graduates in Arizona who are well-prepared to teach and will tend to stay in the teaching profession.

In 2008, two associate clinical professors—master teachers Deb Wolf and Dave Thompson—were appointed to implement the freshman NAUTeach classes. An NAUTeach website went live in mid-2008.

In 2009, the Center’s professional development staff conducted well-attended workshops for Arizona science teachers covering the topics of:

  • formative assessment classroom techniques
  • teaching inquiry and using inquiry to teach science
  • supporting science in your school 

In 2009, the Center welcomed:

  • Jennifer Claesgens, assistant professor in science education