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Associate Professor in the FSU College of Education, SHERRY SOUTHERLAND

Associate Professor Sherry Southerland

If Florida's public school children ever escape the cellar of science literacy—where years of national and state testing confirms they are—science educators say that policymakers and concerned parents will have to come to grips with at least two things: Florida's universities have got to start turning out a whole new class of teachers far better trained to teach science and math than ever before; and success isn't going to come easily or overnight.

Few educators know more acutely what Florida faces in stemming a troubling malaise in students' competence in science and math than Sherry A. Southerland. Since joining the College of Education's Science Education Program in 2002, Southerland has become a "spark plug," in the words of a colleague, for igniting long overdue change in her field of science and math teacher education.

Trained in invertebrate physiology at Auburn (M.S., '85) and in science education at Louisiana State University (Ph.D.,'94), Southerland brings the kind of credentials that would seem to be the prerequisites for any change agent likely to make a difference in her profession. She's applied her science training outside the academic fence, working as a forensic chemist for a state crime lab in Louisiana. She's taught science in a rural public high school; she's published research findings on science education in a variety of settings for nearly 20 years.

Last fall, on the heels of being named co-director of FSUTeach, the most ambitious attempt yet to overhaul science and math teacher education and training in Florida, Southerland was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in honor of her career contributions to science education.

If energy and enthusiasm are requisites for FSUTeach to succeed, change is on the horizon for Florida's science classrooms. For an example of what Southerland sees as important, she's put in long hours fighting to get Florida's public science teaching standards to include—for the first time in history—specific references to the theory of evolution and what it means for every branch of life science known.

"Some of these things are not debatable. If you want world-class standards, you have to learn the science everybody else is learning," Southerland said. "That we're still having the evolution conversation in this country means we're still way behind. We need a more scientifically and mathematically literate populous. And that's very much the intentions of the national reform effort and FSUTeach." —F.S.

SHERRY SOUTHERLAND is an associate professor in the FSU College of Education, where she's also coordinator of the college's Science Education Program. Last fall, she was named co-director for the new FSU-Teach teacher preparation program that launched this spring. In February, she was inducted as a fellow in the AAAS, the world's largest general scientific society.


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