Stem Cells Across The Curriculum


The Stem Cells Across the Curriculum (SCAC) project grew out of a prior educational project titled “Cell Biology for Life (CBfL)” an online curricular supplement for Molecular Biology of the Cell by Alberts et al. and published by Garland Science. In CBfL was a curricular unit on stem cell research, but as the field blossomed I felt it needed a curriculum of its own. Between 2009 and 2013, I developed this unit into a semester-length course, incorporated an interdisciplinary approach specifically for non-majors, and collaborated with my team to create the SCAC modular curriculum.

I owe a special debt to David Burns and others at SENCER who saw in me the potential to be a leader in science education reform and appointed me a Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities Leadership Fellow. I would also like to recognize the New York Stem Cell Initiative (NYSTEM) for providing financial support for this project through the NYDOH and the Empire State Stem Cell Board, and in particular the NYSTEM Ethics Committee for their enthusiasm, support, and mentorship, which allowed me to push myself in new directions. I would also like to recognize The New School for investing in this project when we were in need of financial support for further development of the kinds of exciting pedagogical tools that emerged from collaboration across the biology, design, the humanities, the arts, social science and policy.

This project would not have been possible without the trust and dedication of an intelligent and innovative team of collaborators as well as colleagues and students willing to explore teaching using a critical pedagogy and interdisciplinary framework. I thank all the students at the many institutions that shared their learning experiences, stayed in touch, and updated our work with the many Facebook, e-mail, and Twitter news feeds. For students not accustomed to seeing biology as integral to their daily lives, this takes trust, courage, and ambition and I will always be grateful for being privileged to have learned alongside them. I thank each one of them for enriching my mind and helping me make the necessary connections that allow this project to speak to diverse audiences. For those that went on to become research assistants on this project- you know that this project would not have been complete without you! The team will forever be grateful for the generous spirit and creative intellect of Elena Paunova, who in the 25th hour, was able to develop and deliver a website that was in line with the non-linear and modular philosophy of the project. Without her continued dedication to this project, the project would have remained a fiction of our imaginations!

A special thanks go out to Dritan Agalliu and Tyler Cutforth at Columbia University  for their support and critical feedback to reach the high level of accuracy and depth for each of the cell biological topics. An extended appreciation goes out to colleagues at San Francisco  State University, Vassar College, and Fordham University, who disseminated, piloted, and assessed the feasibility of the curriculum in courses ranging from bioethics to developmental biology and this includes change agents  Tatiane Russo-Tait, Kimberly Tanner, Carmen Domingo, Jonathan Knight, Nancy Pokrywka, and Daisy Deomampo.

Perhaps most illuminating to me was the interest from those that could not have been expected to be so integral to the project in the outset. A special “thank you” goes out to those scholars who were willing to let me “graze in their pasture” as educator Ken Bruffee so eloquently says. Their patience and generosity of spirit in nurturing my development in areas such as disability studies, feminism, race studies, social activism, and philosophy was impressive and necessary. The list is in some ways too long, but I must extend thanks to The Center for Genetics and Society, The Tarrytown Working Groups on Biopolitics, The Assisted Reproductive Technologies Working Group, The Facing History and Ourselves Project,  my colleagues in the NYU-Mellon Seminar “The Post-genomic Embrace of the Human?”,  and my colleagues in the Columbia University Seminar Narrative, Health, and Social Justice.

I am particularly grateful for those that spent the time to provide valuable feedback to inform revisions that resulted in the rich framework of perspectives presented here. For Molly Shanley and Nancy Pokrywka at Vassar College, there are no words big enough to express my gratitude for their willingness to adopt our Eggs & Blood: Gifts & Commodities Case Study as a capstone in their Reproductive Bioethics course and for their review of our Primer associated with this case study. Lisa Ikemoto surprised us by utilizing HeLa Cells & HPV Genes: Immortality & Cancer Module with graduate students in law and taking the precious time to share the experience with us. Similarly, Tatiane Russo-Tait’s courage as a first-time instructor to utilize much of our Stem Cells and Social Justice syllabus in the newly accepted General Education Science Course at San Francisco State University, and her critical feedback for teaching notes and instructor support for the HeLa Cells & HPV Genes: Immortality & Cancer Primer were invaluable. Lastly, and, perhaps most importantly, are the contributions from Jonathan Knight who as a first-time case study instructor, brought fresh insight into role-play and provided critical components for the current version of the HeLa Cells & HPV Genes: Immortality & Cancer Module.

Lastly, I must acknowledge the support of my family and friends who kept me sane, focused, and motivated to “get it done.” Thank you Trace Jordan for always reminding me to keep my eye on the big picture, bringing clarity to confusion, and making me smile when it seemed there was no end in sight. To Clarence and Shadi for encouraging me to “fight the good fight” and staying true to my values. Thank you Shireen for reminding me as Shirley Malcolm often has that good work “does not need to be perfect to be effective.” Lastly, I thank my parents for the endless ability to be supportive even when it seemed like there was no clear program and chaos emerging everywhere.