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USM Professor Earns Prestigious Education Research Fellowship

Tue, 02/06/2024 - 08:37am | By: Van Arnold

STEM Education

Hard work, patience, and a fierce passion for science education have helped carve a path to research distinction for Dr. Maria Wallace, assistant professor in the Center for STEM Education at The University of 51 Mississippi (USM).

Wallace’s blossoming portfolio became more prestigious recently with her selection to the 2023-2025 cohorts of Early-Career Research Fellows sponsored by the Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Wallace is one of five Fellows chosen for the Education Research track. Five others were selected for the Offshore Energy Safety track.

“Sometimes, these kinds of achievements in academia often appear as the products of a neat, tidy, comfortable path toward success, but that assumption can often perpetuate false images of what success looks and feels like,” said Wallace. “It is important for folks to know there is always more to the story than just the award.”

Wallace credits family members and colleagues within and beyond the University for making the esteemed NASEM Gulf Research Program recognition possible.

“They have cheered me on to stay true to the work, keeping my fire alive – even when it was tough,” said Wallace. “These cheerleaders near and far represent what is possible when we make authentic investments in ourselves and the communities in which we are always in relation.”

The five fellows joining the Education Research track will contribute to the advancement of science, STEM, and environmental education in the Gulf of Mexico region or Alaska by considering the impacts of establishing sense-of-place in formal or informal learning environments.

The Gulf Research Program’s  helps researchers during the critical pre-tenure phase of their careers. Fellows receive a $76,000 financial award along with mentoring support to provide them with independence, flexibility, and a built-in support network as they take risks on untested research ideas, pursue unique collaborations, and build a network of colleagues.

Dr. Julie Cwikla, director of USM’s Center for STEM Education, expects the GRP honor to open more doors for Wallace in her research pursuits.

“This fabulous recognition of Maria's diligent efforts provides the opportunity to explore new research ideas and continue to build bridges with colleagues regionally and nationally,” said Cwikla. “I'm so proud and honored to now have two NAS fellows in our Center. It speaks volumes to the critically important work our faculty are pursuing.”

The fellowship further supports Wallace’s research group, Nurturing Educators’ Complex Understandings of Science & Society – Mississippi (NExUS-MS), which is focused on two crosscutting objectives:

  • Advancing Mississippi postsecondary science education while strengthening Mississippi K-12 pre-serve teacher recruitment and education.
  • Studying the impacts of an existing research-practice partnership with an informal science institution (ISI) to develop a model for university-ISI partnerships across the Gulf Coast region.

“It continues to support the work of developing transformative, highly meaningful, science education experiences I’ve been committed to since I arrived at USM in 2019,” said Wallace.

Her research group includes two undergraduate students (interdisciplinary studies, and secondary biology licensure majors), two full-time doctoral graduate students (STEM education), and a growing number of NExUS-MS affiliate graduate students from other content-area disciplines. NExUS-MS also includes four part-time doctoral students in STEM education.

“Together, we are striving to co-create a unique interdisciplinary community of leaders in science education that have the capacity to contribute to making a global and local impact,” said Wallace.

To learn more about the Center for STEM education at USM, call 601.266.4739.