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Pat Shane: Sharing the Wonders of Science

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Pat Shane

Pat Shane is a lifelong learner and teacher, with three degrees from Indiana University in her home state and a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction with concentrations in science and reading, which she earned from UNC in 1987. She officially retires this summer as the associate director of the Center for Mathematics and Science Education (CMSE) and clinical professor of science education at the School of Education, as she simultaneously steps down from a term as president of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

“It’s been a very busy last couple of years,” says Shane, who’s been active in the NTSA since 1985. She has received accolades for her work at NTSA from colleagues at the organization. “Pat served as the president during an exciting time of transition for both science education and the Association,” says Dr Francis Eberle, executive director of the NTSA. “In the past few years Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - known as STEM education - has been embraced by a number of policymakers and organizations. Under Pat's leadership, NSTA was a key player during the [Obama] Administration's “Educate to Innovate” STEM initiative, and she led the association through very challenging economic times. Pat also spearheaded NSTA's Strategic Planning initiative that developed goals which will chart the course of the Association over the next five years.”

Her collaboration with the NTSA also included editing five books for the organization on science education and leadership. In another professional realm, she has been awarded more than $2 million in grants during her academic career. Shane received numerous awards during her career, including the Vi Hunsucker Outstanding Science Educator, the National Science Education Leadership Association’s Presidential Award and National Outstanding Supervisor Award, and the Herman Gatling Award for Outstanding Science Supervisor.

Shane has worn many hats during her academic and professional career, from working as a guidance counselor in middle and junior high schools, to classroom teaching in science, math and language arts, to serving as the reading coordinator for the Chapel Hill –Carrboro City Schools. “One thing just seemed to lead to another,” she says. “I got into reading when I found out that children I worked with [as a counselor and teacher] couldn’t read. It was important to me to be able to teach that basic skill so as to better share my interest in and enthusiasm for the world around us.”

Shane came to UNC after teaching science in middle school for 17 years, but much of her work after joining CMSE in 1992 focused on professional development at the elementary school level. “I felt that I had to focus my efforts on elementary school science education in order to really make a difference,” she says. “Since 1985, I have focused on science and math. For me, it all relates back to science, in the way that science dovetails with literacy and math. The skills that are used in scientific exploration are essential to the abilities needed to master other subjects.”

Her efforts at CMSE have concentrated on improving science and math education at the K through 12 level, but her passion is clearly with the elementary school grades. “Elementary school teachers tend to be less well-versed in science than teachers at the middle and high school grades, who have had more specialized training in the subject,” she explains. “This is an area where I felt I could really make a difference.”

As associate director of CMSE, Shane has utilized the resources of another School of Education program, the Carolina Center for Educational Excellence, housed at Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill. “CCEE holds many workshops, seminars and programs for K through 12 teachers, college instructors and undergraduate students,” Shane says. “We’ve done a lot of work with science education there. And in these programs, you see people getting excited about what they are learning. You like to think that your passion can become someone else’s, that you’re doing something that is for the greater good.”

Shane has inspired and guided many students and fellow teachers during her years at UNC. “Dr. Shane has been my teacher, mentor and friend for more than 20 years,” says Darlene Ryan, a former classroom science teacher who is now principal of Glenwood Elementary School in Chapel Hill. “She has guided me strategically with questions and discussed the positives and negatives for any decision-making process. Pat willingly shares the facts without forcing her own personal opinions. She is the consummate teacher and model for those who desire to enter the field of education and science. I have been immensely blessed to be her protégé.”

Though she’s ready to slow down, Shane admits that after 45 years of working, she’s not quite sure what she’s going to do in retirement. “But all of my friends who have retired tell me that it’s true you’re so busy that you can’t believe you used to work,” she says. “I am sure I will have lot to do.”

With five grown children and stepchildren and six grandchildren spread out across the United States, Shane looks forward to having more time to travel and visit them. She’s confident that, whatever she does in retirement, she will continue to inquire about and explore the world around her. “I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve done,” she says. “It’s been a great ride and I look forward to the rest of the trip.”