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Sayler is director for Center of Excellence in Math and Science Education - Top

A passion for environmental science acquired as a high school student has ultimately led Dr. Ben Sayler to Black Hills State as director of the Center of Excellence in Math and Science Education (CEMSE).

Sayler, 32, has a Ph.D. in atmospheric science, and just completed a postdoctoral fellowship in science, mathematics, engineering and technology at the University of Washington.

The program at BHSU appealed to him as an ideal blend of faculty members teaching science and in turn teaching science to K-12 teachers.

“I like the wide range of levels,” said Sayler. “I was doing there (in the Seattle school system and the university) what I'll be doing here.”

His two-year fellowship involved research on elementary school science and support of science education reform in the Seattle elementary schools. His responsibilities included overseeing the design and instruction of college-level, inquiry-based science courses for elementary teachers; designing and field-testing tools or assessing what students are learning and serving as a scientific advisor for the district's family science program.

The new CEMSE director arrived on campus just recently and is anxious to meet the faculty and get oriented with the program and community. He has already attended a two-day workshop with superintendents, principals, and curriculum directors involved in the Black Hills Science Teaching (BLAHST) project to prepare K-8 teachers for the new millennium. The project is funded by a $1.4 million National Science Foundation Grant and involves seven western South Dakota school districts and 28 schools.

He is hitting the ground running with a $50,000 NSF Grant titled “Starter Grant: The Assessment of Science Education in South Dakota and Seattle.”

Sayler said, “It's a link back to Seattle and their established program. What teachers want their students to know and what measures they use to determine what they know is the focus.”

There are several other projects he is interested in developing and refining at this point. They include the BLAHST project and a math grant. Sayler is also interested in creating an enhanced curriculum or scholars program and attracting enthusiastic and talented undergraduates into the K-12 teaching program at BHSU and making sure they are well prepared in science, math and technology.

“We also need to do research as to what's going on in schools and access how we can best serve pre-college teachers,” he said.

In the near future, Sayler plans to get oriented by visiting classrooms in the state and hopefully gaining the trust of teachers.

“I really appreciate the job teachers do and realize the challenges they face and that science and math aren't the only things they deal with in the classroom. They are the professionals and experts and together or in a sense of collaboration they are more willing to get involved.”

He also said he would like to see the center of excellence work on populations traditionally underrepresented in science and math, such as the Native American population.

If knowledge and enthusiasm are any indication, the CEMSE program at BHSU is in capable hands.

Sayler earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Yale University in geology and geophysics, graduating cum laude with the highest academic distinction in two majors. He also holds another master's degree and a Ph.D. degree from the University of Washington in atmospheric sciences.

As an undergraduate he worked with children as a tutor and served in the Outdoor Corps coordinating a hiking program for college freshman in the Catskills and Adirondack Mountains. He also attended the National Outdoor Leadership School as a wilderness instructor in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming.

During his recent post doctoral fellowship he served as a volunteer instructor and taught several science courses for teachers. He also taught graduate courses and taught an honors course at the University of Washington.

Sayler has received three fellowships since beginning his doctoral studies, is a member of several professional science organizations and has published numerous scientific papers.

What started out as a passion for environmental science kindled by a motivational and inspirational high school teacher has come full circle. Sayler now has an opportunity to be the mentor who motivates and inspires others who teach science. They in turn can be the catalyst who enlightens today's elementary and secondary students.

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