Global Oceanographer Robert Chen
Robert Chen's world revolves around collaborations in research and outreach. Whether designing a new environmental data-gathering sensor with engineers, working with district science coordinators on a new curriculum, providing support for K-12 or community college science teachers, Chen's raison d'être is collaboration.
A chemical oceanographer with a research interest in inorganic chemistry, Chen is a full professor in the Department of Environmental, Earth and Ocean Sciences. Noted for his efforts in K-12 science education and outreach, he received the University of Massachusetts President's Public Service Award in December 2005.
"Whether it's for researchers and educators, or physicists and biologists and earth scientists, or administrators and faculty members, being able to bridge two different cultures and facilitate interaction effectively has increased my capacity," Chen says. "I've gained respect and trust from teachers because now I can say the right thing. I can speak their vocabulary."
His work on the Boston Science Partnership entered phase 2 when he received a $2.1 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for Boston Energy in Science Teaching. The project's faculty and teacher participants are exploring the use of an organizing principal of energy in science as a vehicle to extend and research how teachers' in-depth conceptual understanding translates into deeper student engagement, exposition, and learning of science.
Chen's other signature outreach and education efforts are the Watershed Integrated Science Partnership (WISP) and the Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE).
The Neponset River Watershed is home to Boston's largest intact estuary, two-state designated areas of critical environmental concern, at least two state champion trees, a storehouse of aquatic biodiversity, and a wealth of protected natural areas along its shores.
Since 2002, the NSF has awarded Chen $3.7 million to support the WISP collaboration between UMass Boston and the local school districts of Boston, Milton, and Dedham. Chen uses the Watershed to train teachers and educate UMass Boston students about the state-mandated science curriculum. By using experiential examples from the playground, students' backyards, and their neighborhoods, WISP facilitates teachers and students gaining a deeper understanding of a wide variety of science concepts using the environment as an integrating context.
Since 2002, the COSEE network has grown to 12 thematic and regional Centers located around the U.S. Their overall mission is "to spark and nurture collaborations among research scientists and educators to advance ocean discovery and make known the vital role of the ocean in our lives."
Recently, the NSF awarded $855,000 to Chen and colleague Arthur Eisenkraft to establish a new center on Ocean Communities in Education And social Networks. Chen, in collaboration with the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, New York Hall of Science, and Boston Public Schools, uses existing social and professional relationships to strategically engage ocean scientists in education and outreach activities by offering them professional development workshops at annual meetings and connecting them to COSEE network outreach activities using social media.