Initial Publication Date: November 2, 2021

Transformation Award

This award was updated in 2023.

The Transformation Award is linked to the advanced career stage, associated with generativity and transformation that represent investments in GER scholars across generations. To be eligible for this award, a nominee must be an active member of the NAGT-GER Division. Furthermore, it is recommended (but not required) that the nominee be 15 years or more into their GER career. This award honors colleagues who have made and continue to make outstanding contributions to GER, GER's applications to geoscience education, and capacity building within the GER community commensurate with an advanced career stage.

Examples of outstanding contributions to GER, GER's applications to geoscience education, discipline-specific research contributions to geoscience education, and capacity building within the GER community commensurate with an advanced career stage may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Contributing to the development of GER as a scholarly field
  • Presenting in GER and/or STEM education conference sessions
  • Publishing in GER and/or STEM education journals
  • Publishing in traditionally non-GER journals
  • Improving a sense of belonging, accessibility, justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in geoscience
  • Educating others to apply GER and/or STEM education research to course and curriculum development
  • Educating others on how to apply GER and/or STEM education research to their teaching
  • Developing collaborations that generate productive lines of GER
  • Leading capacity-building GER activities
  • Educating others on how to mentor a diversity of scholars
  • Sharing research expertise with GER and non-GER communities (e.g., mentorship of high school students, undergraduate students, graduate students, and/or peers)

The Transformation Award recipient will receive (1) a complimentary one-year membership to NAGT and its GER Division and (2) a complimentary ticket to the NAGT luncheon at GSA, where the awardee will be recognized. Awardees will also be profiled in the GER Division's newsletter and included in the NAGT newsletter.

Nomination Process

Potential awardees can be identified through independent nominations and/or self-nominations. The GER Division particularly encourages nominations of BIPOC scholars and individuals from other groups that have been historically marginalized in or excluded from the geosciences. Nomination packages will be accepted through the online nomination form.

Nomination packets should be compiled into a single PDF document and must include:

  • A current CV with the publication record of the nominee
  • A nominee-prepared statement that addresses how the nominee (1) conceptualizes their GER program at their current career stage, (2) disseminates their GER, (3) applies their GER and/or other STEM education research to their course and curriculum development and their teaching, (4) benefits from collaborations, and (5) engages in GER capacity-building efforts
  • Two letters of support from two different individuals (not the nominee) that discuss the nominee's scholarly contributions to the field of GER, application of GER, research collaborations, and GER capacity-building efforts. At least one letter must be from a current member of the GER Division.

Final awards decisions will be made by the NAGT-GER Awards Committee with input from external reviewers. The NAGT-GER Awards Committee comprises the Past President, Vice President, and Secretary. External reviewers will be active NAGT-GER Division members and GER scholars at the post-doctoral career stage or more advanced career stage. Nominations for this award will be kept under consideration for 3 years.

Transformation Award Nominations

Award Timeline

Nomination period opens: April 1

Nominations due: June 1

Award committee decision: by August 1

Past Awardees

2022 Transformation Award Winner: Karen McNeal.

Citation for Dr. Karen McNeal by Dr. Larry Collins, Delta State University and Ally Brown, Auburn University

Dr. Karen McNeal is the 2022 Awardee for the NAGT-GER Division's Transformation Award.  Dr. McNeal is a Full Professor at Auburn University where she directs the Geocognition Laboratory. Among several honors, she was also previously recognized as the Molette Endowed Professor (2019-2022) in addition to being selected as Auburn University's 2022 SEC Faculty Achievement Award recipient.  Dr. McNeal has been conducting Geoscience Education Research for 15 years and has held numerous roles at her university and in several professional societies/organizations.  Her motivation and strong desire to improve geoscience education through research is documented through her drive to develop new lines of research, the success of her students and colleagues, and her ability to bring interdisciplinary teams together on a much larger scale. 

As one colleague stated, "Dr. McNeal's research has transcended several areas of geoscience education and her scholarship is impeccable." Her research has focused in several areas including how to engage students in geoscience related materials, misconceptions and mental models people hold about complex earth systems (i.e. the hydrological and climate systems), and psychomotor responses (i.e. eye movements, skin conductance) that occur when people are interacting with geoscience-related materials.  The several lines of research that Dr. McNeal and her colleagues conduct has been documented through an outstanding publication record and awards for external funding. Karen's awe-inspiring accomplishments include 46 GER publications, 8 book chapters, and over 150 GER published abstracts. She also earned $25.5 million total on 37 external grants and $11 million to home institutions.  Dr. McNeal has a strong drive to advance geoscience education by building partnerships across a multitude of areas of expertise that are both internal and external to Auburn University. 

At her home institution, she is the leader of the thriving DBER (Discipline-Based Education Research) interdisciplinary community within the College of Sciences and Mathematics and mentors several early career faculty with recent success in winning several extramural grants in geoscience education. She also makes significant contributions to Auburn's Climate, Human, and Earth System Science (CHESS) research focus group. Within the several roles that she has held at her institution, she has trained a number of MS and PhD students by serving as a committee chair or member. Her leadership in the DBER community at Auburn has played a central role in making Auburn a premier DBER institution.  

Her non-stop efforts in finding innovative ways to address research problems in geoscience education with great societal impacts is documented with the $3M NSF National Research Traineeship grant.  This is a very competitive program at the NSF and this award was the first NRT award at Auburn and in the state of Alabama.  In this project, she and her colleagues are addressing resiliency to environment and climate-related hazards and disasters through data-informed decision making. The unique program has drawn many students who want to explore an interdisciplinary approach to framing climate resiliency within their field and learn applicable ways that their research and science communication can be most impactful to growing issues in geoscience education research. This program also shows how Karen's goals have immediate, important impacts for pedagogy, research, and policy-making as this program exposes trainees to different disciplines including agriculture, wildlife biology, engineering, and rural sociology.  In addition, her research has not only changed how the new generation of geoscientists are trained, but it has also spawned new interest and attention from the general public regarding earth system change and global change that are highly relevant to human society.

Anyone who has interacted with Dr. McNeal is quick to comment on her generosity and dedication toward mentoring the next generation of scholars. She is always ready to discuss new ways to collaborate with graduate students, early career scholars, and other scholars who are within and outside of academia. For example, she seeks ways to collaborate with scholars who work at institutions that have designations including HBCU and MSI. Her collaborations with scholars at these institutions are one indicator of her dedication to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the geosciences.  Another example is through her collaboration with the University of South Carolina on the Geoscholars grant which also supported socioeconomically disadvantaged students through their undergraduate careers. This work has also provided opportunities to recruit from partner universities such as Florida A & M University, while aiding trainees in their ability to build partnerships with stakeholders external to Auburn University. 

Karen's work has undoubtedly made advances toward broadening participation in the geosciences, geoscience education, and Geoscience Education Research.  There are not many who have taken such a comprehensive approach to transforming these fields in a meaningful way, but Dr. McNeal's partnerships with various stakeholders are a clear role model for emerging scholars in GER.  Her commitment to teaching, research, and service are remarkable and she will continue to inspire many more scholars in her future. Dr. McNeal continues to have a transformative impact in GER and DBER as a whole in addition to being a huge contributor to the success of all those who are so fortunate to work with her. She has made a permanent footprint in the landscape of Geoscience Education Research and our community is lucky to have a leader in her.

2021 Transformation Award Winner: Renee Clary.

Read more about Dr. Clary's contributions to the GER community. Citation written by Drs. Larry Collins, Delta State University and Athena Owen Nagel, Mississippi State University:

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Dr. Renee Clary is the 2021 Awardee for the NAGT-GER Division's Transformation Award.Dr. Clary is a Full Professor at Mississippi State University specializing in Geoscience Education and Paleontology. She is also the Director of the Dunn-Seiler Museum, on campus. In addition to these roles, she is also the Director of the 15 Degree Laboratory, the EarthScholars Research laboratory, and a co-founder of the GeoViz Laboratory. Dr. Clary has been conducting Geoscience Education Research for over 20 years, while serving numerous roles at her home institution and in many professional organizations on the local, national, and international levels. Renee has a strong passion for improving informal and formal geoscience education and has dedicated her career to this important mission.

As one colleague stated, "Dr. Clary's impressive research record stands for itself." Her work has primarily focused on the integration of geological and biological knowledge in formal, online, and informal science education settings.  Renee's impressive accomplishments have resulted in over $3 million in grant funding, over 80 journal articles, 30 book chapters, 300 peer-reviewed research presentations, that have been disseminated over five continents. Dr. Clary  also has numerous collaborations with scholars outside of geoscience education, this coupled with her willingness and ongoing mentoring of students and early career professionals  has also grown the field itself, as well as, resulted in many additional publications.

Renee is a very dynamic geoscience education researcher as her expertise spans many topics including: examining the role of the history of science in science education, nature of science, optimizing learning in informal settings such as United States parks, online learning, professional development for teachers, sense of place, and assessment.  Her methodologies have employed both qualitative and quantitative research designs.  Dr. Clary's diverse expertise in GER allows her to be an effective mentor to undergraduate and graduate students who have a wealth of interests in geoscience education. This is highlighted by the depth of graduate student research both in terms of theses and dissertations which she has participated in either by serving as a committee chair or member.

Dr. Clary has received funding for her scholarship from several organizations including the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Army Cadet Command.  For example, Renee currently serves as Co-PI/STEM Director for the leaderSTATE STEM program which brings over 300 JROTC students from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama to Mississippi State University, each summer for week-long residential summer camps that provide training in the geosciences, leadership, and fitness.  Her leadership in this project has also involved her graduate students and included the completion of a dissertation by Mark John Powers entitled "Evaluating the impact on underrepresented populations of a 5-day university-based STEM academic leadership camp for high school JROTC students."  This research provided an analysis of the effectiveness of these summer camp programs in changing student attitudes toward science.

Dr. Clary's outstanding accomplishments have also been acknowledged by several professional societies.  She has received the distinguished honor of being a Fellow with the Geological Society of America, Geological Society of London, and American Association for the Advancement of Science.  She is also an elected member of the International Commission on the History of Geological Sciences.  As Dr. William Cooke, her former Department Head, stated "Dr. Clary's research has propelled her to a place of national and international prominence and some of the aforementioned accolades and awards are a testimony to that fact."

Finally, Renee is also a strong advocate for women and other underrepresented groups in geology and STEM fields.  As one colleague wrote, "Dr. Clary's focus on racial disparities and assessment of the effectiveness of the leaderSTATE STEM program on changing attitudes of underrepresented populations toward science, is a critically important ongoing research effort that has the potential to change the racial makeup of STEM education."  This commitment to changing attitudes of underrepresented population's attitude towards science, is such a critical area of research for our community.  Her strong scholarship, new ideas, collaborations, commitment to JEDI, and publications continue to pave the way toward making geology a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive community.  Collectively, her accomplishments make her a stellar scholar and truly an icon in the Geoscience Education Research community.

2020 Transformation Award Winner: David McConnell.

Read more about Dr. McConnell's contributions to the GER community. Citation written by Jason Jones, North Carolina State University:

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David McConnell is the 2020 Awardee for the NAGT-GER Division's Transformation Award. For over twenty years, David has worked selflessly towards the promotion of geoscience education research (GER), beginning his discipline-based education research (DBER) journey as a faculty member at the University of Akron in the mid-1990s before moving to North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 2008. Once at NCSU, he started what became a thriving GER graduate program that has produced graduates successfully defending 4 theses and 6 dissertations related to a wide range of GER topics, from student motivation to professional development to course design. Additionally, he has supported two postdocs and over a dozen undergraduate researchers on GER research projects at the institution. Of his graduate students, all have gone on to become contributing members of the geoscience education community, with alumni represented as GER faculty members at research institutions, assistant directors of teaching and learning centers, DBER postdocs, museum educators and instructors of geoscience at both the university and K-12 levels. In addition to his exemplary advising during their graduate careers, David continues to support his former graduate students years after graduation, never hesitating to talk over concerns of becoming new faculty members in different departments, provide career advice, and promote the work of graduates being done at all levels of geoscience education (both formal and informal). One supporting nominator and former student Michael Pelch, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice at Texas Christian University, put it this way, "From my first to my last day as a student, David provided inspiration, guidance, leadership, and friendship that helped me become a successful scientist and teacher. ... Even after graduating, finishing a postdoctoral fellowship, and moving on to a new teaching position, David continues to lend his support."

Personally, Dr. McConnell has published over 60 peer-reviewed articles and books and was recognized as lead author of the Journal of Geoscience Education outstanding paper award for 2018 for a literature review of active learning strategies designed to promote adoption and research of the practices. In addition to his publishing endeavors, he has personally generated more than $3 million from 17 external grants (10 from NSF, 7 as PI, 3 as Co-PI) directly supporting GER projects and initiatives. These grants include collaborations across the community; from leading the multi-institutional Geoscience Affective Research Network (GARNET) project that funded important research on how geoscience students approach learning in the discipline, to being a co-PI on the seven-institution, discipline-wide professional development program, On the Cutting Edge. More recently, David was the PI for the module development initiative of the wide-reaching InTeGrate project, a multi-faceted, nation-wide endeavor that generated resources for teaching geoscience through the lens of societal issues. At NCSU, David has recently funded GER research as PI for two NSF-funded grants; an IUSE project investigating the effects of utilizing a free, web-based assessment tool (CLASS) on the accuracy of student perceptions of geoscience learning and a multifaceted GEOPATHS-IMPACT grant designed to increase the diversity and volume of majors in the Department of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences at NCSU. Though just a sampling of David's work in the discipline, one can begin to perceive the scope of his influence in the GER community and his efforts towards promoting GER and greater geoscience education, nation-wide.

Though formidable, David's personal work is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg that represents his participation in the GER community. David has been extensively active in NAGT and is the current Past-President of the organization. He has been active in establishing the Earth Educators' Rendezvous as a successful, nationwide conference, serving on the organizing committee for the inaugural meeting at the University of Colorado in 2015 before acting as the co-chair of the 2016 meeting in Madison (all while leading workshops at both events) and leading grant work that provided money for participants during the 2019 meeting in Nashville. Additionally, he was an associate editor of the Journal of Geoscience Education from 2009-2012.

This work within professional societies is in addition to being involved with over 100 GER-based presentations at professional meetings over the past decade (either as presenting author or co-author). He has personally given over 70 invited presentations on teaching and learning at venues throughout the US, exposing GER research and evidence-based teaching principles to hundreds of people unfamiliar with our work. Towards this end, supporting nominator LeeAnna Chapman, Postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, stated, "If there is a subject of interest or of benefit to the geoscience education community, David has likely written about it, given an invited presentation on the topic, and may have even lead a workshop on the topic to help other instructors improve their teaching."

This drive to share effective teaching methods with both students and professionals is also reflected by his co-creation of the GeoScience Videos YouTube channel, for which he and collaborators create short, content oriented videos for student and instructor use. GeoScience Videos have reached over two million viewers in over 200 nations and all 50 states of the US since its launch in October of 2014. This work has not gone unnoticed by the community and his colleagues. David was elected to a GSA fellowship in 2016 and received NAGT's Neil Miner Award in 2010 in addition to having received teaching-related awards at all of his institutions throughout his career as a professor, most recently the Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor award, one of the most prestigious undergraduate teaching awards given at NCSU.

Finally, in the words of supporting nominator, Laura Lukes, Assistant Director for Teaching Excellence, Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning and former NAGT-GER president, David "...has transformed the GER community in a number of ways: elevating the research standards in the discipline, building community capacity through mentorship and providing student opportunities for advancement in GER, and through his openness to explore and consider new ways of doing things." In sum, David truly is the definition of someone who has made "outstanding contributions to GER."

2019 Transformation Award Winner: Cathryn A. Manduca.

Read more about Dr. Manduca's contributions to the GER community. Citation written by Leilani Arthurs, CSU Boulder:

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Dr. Cathryn A. Manduca is the 2019 Awardee for the NAGT-GER Division's Transformation Award. For more than two decades, Cathy has been an adroit advocate for high-quality geoscience education and geoscience education research. Her contributions include: (1) leading community visioning and strategic planning activities from which the discipline of Geoscience Education Research emerged; (2) leading capacity-building activities for both geoscience education practitioners and geoscience education researchers; (3) developing collaborations that produced fruitful new lines of geoscience education research; (4) providing expanded opportunities to publish GER literature; and (5) engaging and working with a diversity of individuals, groups, and institutions.

Cathy was one of three leaders whose early community visioning and strategic planning efforts in the mid- to late-1990s produced the initial conceptualization for Geoscience Education Research during theShaping the Future of Undergraduate Earth Science Education workshop. The vision for linking geoscience education with education research was formalized during the Bringing Research on Learning to the Geosciences workshop in 2002, which was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Johnson Foundation and for which Cathy was the lead PI. This workshop brought together twenty leaders from geoscience education, learning sciences, and STEM disciplines who had already introduced learning sciences into their disciplines' education to initiate the development of a community engaged in applying learning sciences to geosciences education. The workshop defined areas of high potential for collaboration and generated recommendations for building capacity in geoscience education research. Through more than a decade of advocacy, in 2015, the NAGT's Geoscience Education Research Division came into being, fostered under Cathy's leadership as the Executive Director for NAGT.

Cathy is perhaps most well known for the capacity building of geoscience education practitioners through her work as the Founding Director for the Science Education Resource Center (SERC). Under her directorship, SERC has offered program after program to facilitate geoscience education practitioners' capacity to provide students at all grade levels with high-quality geoscience education. Such programming has been delivered through On the Cutting Edge, Building Strong Geosciences Programs, InTeGrate, Teach the Earth, and the Earth Educators' Rendezvous. Cathy has also been a leader in the capacity building of geoscience education researchers. Perhaps the most notable examples include her advocacy for GER-dedicated sessions at the Earth Educators' Rendezvous and her central role in the NSF-funded Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center (SILC). According to Nora Newcombe, PI of the SILC, Cathy helped "identify other great working partners and board members" and together they studied specific mechanisms by which students grasp or fail to grasp geoscience concepts.

Cathy's bailiwick in building the capacity of geoscience education researchers also led to the development of fresh collaborations and fruitful lines of geoscience education research. For example, her role in the SILC contributed to large strides in interdisciplinary research that further fueled the emergence of Geoscience Education Research as a new discipline. Through the SILC, she connected cognitive psychologists such as Tim Shipley, learning sciences researchers such as Nora Newcombe, and geoscientists such as Basil Tikoff and Kim Kastens. Supporting nominator, Tim Shipley notes, "With Cathy's assistance we have characterized the spatial skills of students in geoscience courses and developed new approaches to geoscience education based on cognitive science, including new ways to use analogical reasoning." As supporting nominator Tim Bralower describes, Cathy's efforts to connect with researchers in other STEM fields and with scientists who study cognition "enabled her to promote effective pedagogy, teaching data, quantitative reasoning, and effective assessment, [which are] pillars of geoscience education research today."

Cathy's advocacy for Geoscience Education Research also generated expanded opportunities to publish GER literature. For example, she co-edited two volumes, published as GSA Special Papers, which according to supporting nominator David Mogk, introduced Geoscience Education Research to the larger geoscience community. The second of these volumes, Earth & Mind II: A Synthesis of Research on Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences (2012) holds the record as one of GSA's top sellers according to supporting nominator Anne Egger. Furthermore, while serving as the Executive Director for NAGT, Cathy supported the Journal of Geoscience Education's Editor-in-Chief in raising the journal's scholarly profile. The two volumes of GSA Special Papers and the Journal of Geoscience Education provided and, in the latter case, continue to provide a venue for publishing GER literature. The Journal of Geoscience Education remains the stalwart publisher of geoscience education research in the world today.

For more than two decades, Cathy has engaged and worked with diverse individuals, groups, and institutions. For example, the programming offered through On the Cutting Edge and InTeGrate together reached K-12 teachers, graduate teaching assistants, and college professors at different stages in their careers at a range of institutions including high schools, 2YCs, R1s, and minority-serving institutions. She has worked with geoscientists, cognitive psychologists, learning scientists, members of other STEM disciplines, and geoscience education researchers. She has been a collaborator with and a mentor to many members of today's GER community and its extended family in the learning sciences.

In the words of supporting nominator Tim Bralower, "Cathy has been the national leader in promoting rigorous research in geoscience education. Her deep understanding of effective teaching strategies, her ability to connect people from across the sciences, and her vision and energy have transformed geoscience education research." In the words of supporting nominator Anne Egger, "She is a tireless advocate for not only geoscience education research as a discipline, but for all of the individuals that count themselves as geoscience education researchers and for the community of practice that she helped to create." Finally, as supporting nominator David Mogk states, "Simply stated, without Cathy Manduca's vision and leadership, there would be no Geoscience Education Research capability or community."

2018 Transformation Award Winner: Julie Libarkin.

Read more about Dr. Libarkin's contributions to the GER community.

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Julie Libarkin is the 2018 NAGT-GER Division Collaboration Awardee. Julie is a geocognition researcher at Michigan State University who studies how people perceive, understand, and make decisions about the Earth. Julie has transformed the geoscience education research community in three main ways: 1) through her research productivity that cross-cuts disciplines, bringing new methodologies and approaches to GER; 2) leading the GER community in increased rigor in the both the execution of research and publication of findings and 3) her work as a researcher, mentor, colleague has supported and provided new findings in diversity in the geosciences. She is an esteemed researcher that is nationally and internationally known and she has worked across disciplines has been an important change maker in GER establishing the foundation for the respected research community that we in GER now enjoy. She had been Chairman of the Geoscience Education Division of the Geological Society of America and the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Geoscience Education and she was elected Fellow of the Geological Society of America in 2016 in recognition for her distinguished contributions to the geoscience community.

Since her graduate student years, Julie saw that there was a need in GER to conduct more rigorous qualitative and quantitative research. She worked to learn from other related fields studying their techniques and methodologies to approach social science research and then went a step further to share what she found with others in the geoscience education community through series of JGE articles and conference workshops. She went on to eventually become Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Geoscience Education (JGE). It is in this capacity that she continued to move the needle forward in GER where she established distinctions between "Research" and "Curriculum & Instruction" submissions where she also created new metrics for both types of submissions, increasing the quality of submission for both types of manuscripts while highlighting the importance of both contributions to advance the state of the field.

Julie been PI or Co-PI on numerous federally funded research projects with over $10M in secured grants and she has published over 60 peer-reviewed research articles in a range of publication outlets including: Journal of Geoscience Education, Science, Climatic Change, Journal of Geophysical Research, Journal of College Science Teaching, Tectonophysics, GSA Today, Computers and Geosciences, Astronomy Education Reviews, the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, CBE-Life Sciences, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, International Journal of Science Education, Geosphere, Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, Journal of Engineering Education, among many others. Julie's funding and publishing accomplishments illustrate her ability to work across disciplinary fields as well as her ability to disseminate her research to a broad range of communities.

Finally, Julie has been an advocate and supporter of women, as well as those from diverse and marginalized communities working to not only improve their situations in the geosciences, and academia more broadly, but to improve the geosciences by having them be an essential part of the community.

In summary, Julie's work has been described as "promoting the importance of enhancing access and inclusion in the geoscience disciplines for students from underrepresented groups in order to foster more diverse and innovative perspectives of scientific process." And it has been stated that she has "substantially changed the research culture in GER from qualitative case studies and action research (research centering on a single classroom) to quantitative and semi-quantitative studies using valid and reliable assessment instrument. She has been described as "a pioneer in investigating students' conceptions and in developing assessments that are still widely used today." In all, she has transformed the geoscience education research culture as "work conducted by geoscience educators today is much different than it was in 2000. Today, it is not possible to page through journals that publish geoscience education research without noticing the abundance of quantitative and semi-quantitative studies that were not present 15 years ago. There is no other researcher in our community who has done so much to guide us towards a new model for research as Julie has."