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Week of February 11, 2013

School of Education faculty member receives Fulbright Specialists Award

Nancy Butler Songer, professor of science education and learning technologies at U-M, has been selected for a Fulbright Specialists project at the Ministry of Education of Turkmenistan during March 2013, according to an announcement from the United States Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

To address the severe shortage of women in science in Turkmenistan — one of six independent Turkik countries located in Central Asia — Songer will interact with young people at secondary schools and institutes of higher education in order to promote awareness and opportunity for female participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

“Through her research and scholarship, Nancy Songer has done a great deal to support the success of women in STEM fields,” said Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of the School of Education. “The work she will do in Turkmenistan through her Fulbright Specialist Award will extend her impact and help to create opportunities for women to advance in science in settings beyond where Nancy has worked so far. It is exciting and a well-deserved honor.”

Songer is one of more than 400 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad this year through this program.

“I have been interested in cross-cultural dialogue related to the importance and urgency of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education for several years but this is the first award that has provided such an exciting opportunity in Central Asia,” Songer said. “While in many western countries, significant barriers for women in science have lessened, this is not the case in countries like Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan is an oil-rich country with tremendous opportunities for growth and employment in STEM related fields. As recently as 2008, however, their Academy of Sciences was closed and all graduate studies were halted. In addition, the country is described as very remote with few connections to the outside world.

“STEM topics such as climate change not only require cooperation from many different areas of science, but they require global cooperation and conversation. For these reasons, I feel 2013 is the right time for rich dialogue about the need for individuals of all cultures, genders, and backgrounds to work together as critical thinkers in realizing strong science advances and solutions. With so many young people and fresh optimism towards women and education, dialogue in Turkmenistan provides a fascinating opportunity to serve as a conversationalist and change agent.”

The Fulbright Specialists Program, created in 2000 to complement the traditional Fulbright Scholar Program, provides short-term academic opportunities (2-6 weeks) to prominent U.S. faculty and professionals to support curricular and faculty development and institutional planning at post secondary, academic institutions around the world.

The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Over its 60 years of existence, thousands of U.S. faculty and professionals have taught, studied or conducted research abroad, and thousands of their counterparts from other countries have engaged in similar activities in the United States. 

Songer is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She received a Promising Educational Technology Award from the U.S. Secretary of Education. She also was honored with a National Science Foundation Presidential Faculty Fellowship from President William J. Clinton, and was the first science educator to receive this recognition.  

She earned a master of science in developmental biology From Tufts University and a doctorate in science education from the University of California, Berkeley.

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