UH President David Lassner and Tara O’Neill

Tara O’Neill, College of Education (COE) Director of the School of Teacher Education Secondary Program and the Curriculum Studies STEMS² master’s concentration, is the recipient of a 2017 Board of Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Teaching award. Each year, the board selects faculty members who exhibit an extraordinary level of subject level mastery and scholarship, teaching effectiveness, and creativity and personal values that benefit students.

With the COE since 2008, O’Neill is an associate professor of science education, past chair of the college’s faculty senate, and creator of STEMS². Integrating science, technology, engineering, mathematics, social sciences, and sense of place, STEMS² is a master’s concentration in curriculum studies. O’Neill has worked with undergraduate and post-baccalaureate pre-service teachers, Department of Education teaching mentors, master’s and doctoral students, and community partners such as the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s ‘Ohana Wa‘a. In March 2015, she represented the college as a crew member on Leg 9 of Hōkūle‘a’s Worldwide Voyage.

Crediting the Native Hawaiian concept of a‘o (to teach and to learn), O’Neill says, “This reciprocal process of teaching and learning guides me and my students through self-reflection and supports productive and critical science argumentation. We work together, even in moments of cognitive dissonance and conflict, through a democratic exchange.” As director of the A‘o Hawai‘i grant project, she has worked with K–12 educators developing STEMS² units associated with the Worldwide Voyage of Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia. This involves designing and evaluating multicultural STEM curricula and professional development around the Native Hawaiian theme of Mālama Honua (to care for the earth and her people).

O’Neill is an appointed member of the Journal of Research and Science Teaching (JRST) Editorial Review Board and elected Chair of the American Education Research Association (AERA) Science SIG. Before moving to Hawai‘i, she worked for 10 years as a middle and high school science teacher in Boston and New York City where she also focused on place-based education, non-dominate students’ access to science education, and the integration of sense of place and Western science education practices.

“I thank my students, colleagues, and wife who thoughtfully challenge my ideas and continue to push me to question and learn,” O’Neill concluded.

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