School & District Management

Leadership Changing for Science Groups

February 19, 2013 3 min read
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Two organizations deeply immersed in science education are seeing leadership changes.

The head of the National Science Foundation has announced plans to step down. The National Science Teachers Association, meanwhile, has brought on board a new executive with a diverse résumé, including stints as the undersecretary for science at the Smithsonian Institution and, early in his career, as a teacher of high school math.

NSF Director Subra Suresh this month said he’ll leave at the end of March to become the president of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, several years before his six-year term at the independent federal agency expires. With an annual budget of more than $7 billion, the NSF fuels a wide range of work in research and development, including efforts to improve science, technology, engineering, and math education at the K-12 level.

Subra Suresh is leaving the NSF.

President Barack Obama called Mr. Suresh a “consummate scientist and engineer” in a statement. “He has also done his part to make sure the American people benefit from advances in technology,” he said, “and opened up more opportunities for women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups.”

Public and Private Sectors

Meanwhile, David L. Evans began his new job this month at the 55,000-member NSTA, based in Arlington, Va. Beyond his prior work at the Smithsonian and in precollegiate classrooms, he was a longtime academic and a high-ranking official at the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Most recently, Mr. Evans was the director of the Center for Sustainability: Earth, Energy, and Climate at Noblis Inc., in Falls Church, Va. At that nonprofit research corporation, his work included helping federal, state, and local governments devise strategies to adapt to climate change.

“He is a prominent scientist and a distinguished and visionary leader who will guide the association’s future course and continue to establish NSTA as a leader in stem education,” NSTA president Karen Ostlund, said in a press release.

The decision to hire Mr. Evans, 66, comes after the NSTA board dismissed former Executive Director Francis Eberle last spring with virtually no explanation.

The leadership change comes at an important moment for science education, as an effort to develop common standards for science across states is close to completion. The NSTA is one of several “partner” organizations working with 26 lead states in developing the standards.

‘Hidden in My Résumé'

In an interview, Mr. Evans said his high level of interest and engagement in K-12 education might not be immediately obvious from his career.

David L. Evans is the new NSTA chief.

“It’s probably hidden in my résumé, but I have always been interested in science education,” he said.

After teaching math for three years at a public high school in Media, Pa., Mr. Evans earned a Ph.D. in oceanography at the University of Rhode Island and spent some 15 years in academia.

His exposure to education continued with his senior post at NOAA. “I was involved in education programs in all parts of [NOAA], promoting the public understanding of science,” he said.

He then spent about five years at the Smithsonian, where his responsibilities included directing research and education activities, strategic planning, and fundraising.

Mr. Evans described the forthcoming Next Generation Science Standards as a “huge” challenge and opportunity for the NSTA. The organization is well positioned, he said, to be a leader in helping teachers understand and implement the new standards.

He made clear that he’s determined to ensure that the NSTA remains relevant and is seen as a leader in science education.

A top priority, he said, is “working with the science teaching and learning community in a really fundamental way to understand what the needs are in a world that is changing by more than just those [science] standards.”

Mr. Suresh, who was the dean of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the NSF in October 2010, has been recognized as a champion of interdisciplinary research and international collaborations.

Alan Lesher, the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said in a statement that Mr. Suresh had brought “vision and vigor” to his leadership of the science agency. “He began a series of initiatives that will have lasting impact in advancing science, engineering, and scientific careers in many venues where science is done, whether academic or industry,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the February 20, 2013 edition of Education Week as Leadership Changing for Science Groups

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