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School of Education Professor Receives Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers

Drexel University School of Education

Christopher Wright, PhD is a recipient of the 2019 PECASE Award

September 20, 2019

Drexel University School of Education Assistant Professor Christopher Wright is a 2019 recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). This award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology.

We sat down with Dr. Wright to hear his thoughts on receiving this award.

SOE: This award is a tremendous honor, tell us how you found out about your selection and what your reaction was?

Dr. Wright: This is actually a funny story. Several months ago, I received a random email saying that I was being nominated for the Presidential Early Career Award and that I would need to complete several forms that requested personal information. My initial thoughts were to immediately delete the email because I thought it was spam and someone on a phishing expedition. Luckily, prior to deleting the email, I decided to contact a friend of mine who was a PECASE recipient several years ago and described the situation. She laughed and informed me that this was indeed the same exact reaction that she had, but she took a chance with answering the email. Her having a similar experience encouraged me to go ahead and respond with the requested information. Several months passed and I had forgotten about the original submission. I received a second email stating that my nomination was accepted and that I would be getting the award. I was sooooo excited and immediately contacted my spouse and my mother, knowing that they both could match my excitement and share in the excitement of such an honor. It is actually still rather difficult to believe in some ways.

SOE: You are the first faculty member in the School of Education to receive this award while working at Drexel. What does this award mean to you both personally and professionally?

Dr. Wright: This is a great question, as it is indeed such an honor to be recognized as a Presidential Early Career Award recipient. With that being said, this award means a lot to me for what it represents. I see the award as not representing my personal accomplishments, but as recognition for and acknowledgement of the communities that I work with. My work is centered around highlighting the voices and experiences of people within communities that have been historically marginalized from science and engineering participation. In a weird sort of way, this award calls attention to the importane of these stories and the possibilities for transforming how we acknowledge the STEM-related brilliance that resides in these communities. This kind of work is not often celebrated within STEM disciplines and this award simply adds to the emphasis on these voices and experiences.

SOE: You got to go to Washington to meet your fellow award winners, what was that like?

Dr. Wright: My experience in Washington, D.C. was wonderful, especially being able to interact with individuals who are doing incredible work. Hearing about these fascinating projects and thinking that my work is also included within the grouping was exciting to consider. I think the most exciting part of the experience was being being able to share it with my spouse and my mother; two individuals that continue to support me and inspire my research.

SOE: You also recently received a research grant from the National Science Foundation. What will you be doing with that?

Dr. Wright: In collaboration with Dr. Ayana Allen-Handy (Drexel University’s School of Education) and colleagues at Tufts University, Boston University, the University of Flordia, and Olin College of Engineering, our newest project is entitled, Using Culturally Sustaining STEM+C Learning Environments to Explore Computational Learning and Identity. This three-year project will design and study a model learning environment that integrates computational making practices, interdisciplinary STEM learning, and cultural and expressive pratices within hip hop. From first glance, hip hop may not seem to have anything to do with computational making practices. However, it is our argument that hip hop can serve as a bridge for young people to recognize the ways in which their lives are already computational, ways in which they already think computationally, and ways in which they can extend their thinking to new ideas and contexts. We contend that this project will produce three main outcomes: (a) principles and research findings for culturally sustaining pedagogies in computer science and STEM, (b) out-of-school time learning in computational making practices, and (c) assessments that align with culturally sustaining learning environments in computational making.

SOE: In addition to research, you also teach, what courses will you be teaching this fall?

Dr. Wright: This fall, I have a little lighter teaching load than normal. I will be teaching one course; Secondary Science Teaching Methods – EDUC 514. The course is designed to allow students opportunities to explore various aspects of teaching science within middle and high schools, including national and state standards and the importance of reform-based science approaches. Throughout the course, students will gain experiences in planning inquiry-based science instruction, developing authentic assessments using a variety of tools, creating and maintaining a safe laboratory and learning environment that meets the needs of diverse learners, and integrating technology into science teaching and learning. In addition to coursework, students will complete a 30-hour field experience, where they will observe and teach science lessons in accordance with our pre-service teaching requirements. The coursework and field experiences are opportunities for students to reflect upon and negotiate a balance between the theory and practice of teaching secondary science.