Skip to main content

Five Pa. Universities Receive National Science Foundation Grant to Create Professional Development Program for Secondary STEM Teachers

headshot of education professor lisa marco bujosa

VILLANOVA, Pa.—Lisa Marco-Bujosa, PhD, assistant professor of Education, is part of a group of researchers that will be working together to create a professional development program for 7-12 grade STEM teachers to design learning experiences and curriculum that focus on social justice issues in the communities in which their students live and learn.

The four-year, $2.8 million research and development project is funded through the National Science Foundation’s Discovery Research PreK-12 program. Arcadia University is the lead on the project, and Marco-Bujosa will also be working with colleagues from LaSalle and Mercyhurst universities. The Philadelphia Regional Institute for STEM Educators (PRISE), which is hosted by St. Joseph’s University, is also part of the grant. PRISE has previously received NSF funding for professional development for urban STEM educators, but this grant will expand on the previous work by adding in social justice and local impact components.

The team of researchers will work with a cohort of approximately 25 teachers from southeastern Pennsylvania over the course of two years, reaching a total of 75 teachers for the duration of the grant. The first year, the researchers will deliver the professional development program to the teachers. The second year, the research team will go into the classroom and see how the teachers are implementing it into their classrooms. They will then repeat the process with a new cohort in years three and four.

Marco-Bujosa is passionate about equity and social justice in STEM. She explains that rather than have a textbook and the standards that are handed down by a state, this endeavor is really to think about how students can best understand science that is meaningful, interesting and can be tool in their own lives­­­­­­ – specifically from a social justice and urban education standpoint.

“There’s a lot of topics in urban communities that students are aware of that if you allow them to make the connection and have the issue be the lead, as opposed to the content that’s more interesting, meaningful and authentic for students.” says Marco-Bujosa. “That will be the hook to get students not only interested in science learning, but also the skills that they need to be activists and put real change in their community through science.”

Before Marco-Bujosa became a professor, she was a middle school science teacher in Houston, Texas. Because of the heat, humidity, pollution and other factors, the city often issued air quality warnings. In addition, her school was right across from a beer manufacturing plant. Many days she would drive by and see a beige cloud of yeast and other byproducts hovering over the community and could not help but think about the impact it had on the students and their families living there. Locally, an example of an issue students in Philadelphia face is sugar. Students might learn about it as a compound in chemistry, but they’ll also talk about how sugar impacts the body in biology and the Philadelphia sugary drinks tax in social studies.

“Quite often these topics are right in front of students,” says Marco-Bujosa. “They may not be front and center to those that don’t live in those communities, but for the students that do, if they have a better understanding about how it impacts their lives, families and health, and are empowered to do something about it because of what they’ve learning in school, then we’ve done something good.”

In addition to how the research team hope students benefit, they also hope teachers will see value in this way of thinking and teaching.

“A lot of teachers, especially those that are starting out, are given the curriculum and the standards and they think there’s only one way to go about accomplishing their goals,” Marco-Bujosa said. “But we’re going to provide them with the tools and savviness in the professional development program to see how they can accomplish their goals as a teacher and check their boxes, but also accomplishing these broader social justice goals. It’s reframing the way we think about the purpose of science and science education.”

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit