You are here


WISCIENCE, the Wisconsin Institute for Science Education and Community Engagement

WISCIENCE has a history that dates back to 1988/89 with the founding of the Center for Biology Education, a cross-campus unit within the Provost's office focusing in improving biology education. It has gone through multiple transformations over the years in response to campus needs but has always remained a cross-campus unit, serving the entire university as well as the surrounding community. In 2004/05, the Center became the core entity from which the Institute for Cross-College Biology Education was created. The Institute was an experiment to combine several biology-related programs whose audiences went beyond any single school/college. In 2013/14, a review of the Institute and its largest academic program found that although the experiment had been very successful in some areas, the Institute needed changes. Responsibility for academic programs like undergraduate majors and course sequences was reassigned to units within schools/colleges. The core programs and initiatives that had grown from the original Center for Biology Education were recognized as making significant contributions, particularly with regard to facilitating cross-campus collaboration and expanding access to science education for groups underrepresented in science. To support further development of this work, the mission was expanded beyond the biological sciences to all of the natural sciences. To match the mission, the name was changed to WISCIENCE, the Wisconsin Institute for Science Education and Community Engagement.

In addition to its own portfolio of programs and courses, WISCIENCE campus collaborations over the years have made a significant impact—for example, WISCIENCE helped initiate the Undergraduate Symposium, NSF Broader Impacts workshops, and First-Year Interest Groups in biology (BIGs). WISCIENCE initiated the collaborative creation of the Biological Sciences Course Guide, which became the model for the current online catalog for all courses, and was instrumental in the creation of the cross-college Biology Major and the Digital Media Center. WISCIENCE staff also designed and coordinated the science portion of the PEOPLE program.

The Center for Biology Education

The unit that formed the original core of what is now WISCIENCE was the Center for Biology Education, founded in 1988/89 with funding from the University of Wisconsin and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to foster collaborative education initiatives across the UW-Madison campus and to improve biology education at all levels. The Center's role was to:

  • Encourage faculty, future faculty and staff to develop innovative teaching methods and instructional resources<
  • Help to translate the excitement of research into classrooms
  • Facilitate faculty participation in outreach
  • Promote interdisciplinary activities
  • Increase the participation of underrepresented groups in the biological sciences
  • Coordinate, nurture, and help to fund education initiatives

The Institute for Biology Education

The Institute for Biology Education was formed in 2004/05, largely as a response to the Susman Report (see below). It brought together the Center for Biology Education, three bioscience majors that did not have departmental homes (Biology, Molecular Biology, and Biological Aspects of Conservation), and two introductory biology course sequences (the Biology 151/152 courses and the Biocore honors program). It was originally named the Institute for Cross-College Biology Education because of the cross-campus nature of many of its programs. The name was changed in 2011 to the Institute for Biology Education to better reflect its entire mission, both across campus and beyond.

Several other programs that were originally located in other campus units also found homes at the Institute:

  • The Wisconsin Teacher Enhancement Program, a professional development program for K-12 educators that was founded by Professor Raymond Kessel in the 1990's, joined the Institute in 2007.
  • The Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching and its core Teaching Fellows program were founded by Jo Handelsman in 2003 and became part of the Institute in 2010. 

A major grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 2010 allowed an expansion of programming for first-year students in the biological sciences.

Influential Reports

Files:  PDF icon Bio-CommonsReport.pdf PDF icon 2011WiscBioExpTownHallSummary_FINAL1-1.pdf PDF icon OSOEReport_Final.pdf PDF icon Susman_Committee_Report_2003.pdf PDF icon Roberts_Committee_Report_2002.pdf Microsoft Office document icon issue_statement.doc PDF icon Planning_Future_Interdisciplinary_Teaching_1997.pdf PDF icon Wang_Committee_Report_1996.pdf PDF icon Undergrad_Instruction_Biosci_1995.pdf PDF icon Hearn_Committee_Report_1991.pdf