McComas Awarded Fulbright Fellowship, Headed to Ireland

Opportunity to study new model of science education

Tuesday, October 25, 2011
William F. McComas will travel to Ireland to spend six months at Dublin City University on a Fulbright Fellowship. Photo by Beth Hall

William F. McComas will travel to Ireland to spend six months at Dublin City University on a Fulbright Fellowship. Photo by Beth Hall


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.-Science education professor Bill McComas expects to experience the true meaning of the Fulbright Exchange Program when he spends six months in Ireland: exploring different approaches to teaching and learning science and preparing science teachers. He is looking forward to bringing those new perspectives home to share with his University of Arkansas colleagues and students.

McComas was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to teach and conduct research at Dublin City University beginning this January. McComas holds the Parks Family Professorship in Science Education in the department of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education and Health Professions.

At Dublin City University, he will work with members of the Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Teaching and Learning. CASTeL members have an international reputation for research in the areas of science and mathematics education at all educational levels, said the center's director, Eilish McLoughlin.

McComas has long been interested in pursuing a Fulbright opportunity, but the vast majority of opportunities focused only on education in general. This past grant cycle revealed a pleasant surprise; one institution, Dublin City University, was looking specifically for a science educator in CASTeL, a research center focused, in part, on studying science learning.

"In 2000, CASTeL started as a research center composed of scientists with a strong interest in education," McLoughlin said about why they were so interested in the field of science education. "It is now a multidisciplinary research center involving scientists, mathematicians and educationalists from Dublin City University and its linked college, St Patrick's College, Drumcondra.

The Dublin City University model of the Bachelor of Science in science education program is based on a concurrent structure in which students learn science and mathematics in the context of education over the four years of their degree.

"In the commonly used U.S. model of educating secondary-level teachers, there is pedagogical instruction and content instruction," McComas said. "Typically, two different faculty groups perform these functions, often far removed from each other."

Students typically learn their subject matter in one college but most frequently learn how to teach with another faculty, he explained.

"At Dublin City University, they are doing some innovative things with science-teacher education by embedding it within the sciences," McComas added. "Studying this approach firsthand will be a fantastic opportunity for us. At the same time, I hope to bring some insights and perspective from the education side to them."

McLoughlin said McComas will be expected to contribute to teaching at all levels of science education: pre-service, in-service and post-graduate, and she is also interested in what he can contribute regarding professional development programs for teachers.

"There's a significant climate change in education in Ireland at present," McLoughlin said. "We are very interested in other perspectives that McComas has to offer. We are delighted to learn from his experiences in in-service teacher education, and we hope that McComas will collaborate with us to set up programs to engage and support teachers on a continual basis."

McComas is involved in many areas of science education research and policy development. He has served on the boards of directors of the National Science Teachers Association; the International History, Philosophy and Science Teaching Group; and the Association for Science Teacher Education. He currently serves on the board of the National Association of Biology Teachers as director at large.

He has authored, co-authored or edited 18 books and book chapters along with more than 40 peer-reviewed articles and more than 100 presentations. He received the Outstanding Evolution Educator and the Excellence in Biology Education Research awards from the National Association of Biology Teachersin addition to the Ohaus award for innovations in college science teaching and the Outstanding Science Teacher Educator award from ASTE.

McComas' wife, Kim, who is a math educator, and his daughter, Emily, a high school junior, will accompany him to Ireland. Son Will is a freshman at the University of Arkansas majoring in biomedical engineering.

The Fulbright program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those of more than 155 countries where the program operates. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement and demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.

The Fulbright program was established by the late U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. Fulbright also served as president of the University of Arkansas from 1939 to 1941. As a teenager, Fulbright graduated from the training school operated by the university in Peabody Hall, the home of the department of curriculum and instruction. He was later a Rhodes Scholar.


William F. McComas, Parks Family Professor of Science Education
College of Educationa and Health Professions

Heidi Stambuck, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions

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