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From cosmic chemistry to atmospheric science

Meet John Ristvey, new director of the UCAR Center for Science Education

April 29, 2014 | He’s taught high school biology, led NSF grants, designed online courses, and worked with teachers and students in Russia and Honduras. The latest step in John Ristvey’s varied career brings him to UCP, where he took the helm of Spark on February 24.

Update June 2014:  Spark is now the UCAR Center for Science Education (SciEd).

John Ristvey
John Ristvey.

John comes from McREL International, a Denver-based nonprofit that conducts research on learning technologies and helps educators align their curricula with state and national standards. He served as director of McREL’s Center for Learning Innovation and, before that, as a consultant for their education and public outreach team for the last fifteen years.

John is excited about having our institution’s hefty pool of scientific and technical expertise at hand. “The ability to work directly with scientists was a huge attractor for me,” he says. “I’m very impressed with the level of science going on here.”

A Pennsylvanian with an undergraduate degree in biology, John taught in middle and high schools for a decade in Pennsylvania and Texas before joining McREL. Among his many projects there, John led a three-year U.S. Department of Education project called “Cosmic Chemistry.” That program developed and tested a two-week intensive summer program that employed science from NASA’s Genesis mission as a motivator to get high school students interested and prepared to take chemistry.

John’s acquaintance with UCAR began by meeting UCP director Emily CoBabe-Ammann: the two contributed to the NASA Science Mission Directorate planetary outreach forum nearly a decade ago. Now, as part of Emily’s team, John will be part of the effort to strengthen collaboration among the diverse set of UCP activities. “I’m already seeing deep connections waiting to be made among the different programs in UCP,” he says.

John is getting even more of a big-picture view by serving on one of the eight task groups working on the UCAR strategic plan. “This gives me a nice chance to be part of shaping our overall goals,” says John. “In some ways it’s the perfect time for me to come into this organization.”

As for Spark itself, John and company are rethinking the program’s name (stay tuned), but he doesn’t foresee any drastic change to the range of education and outreach work the group carries out, which runs the gamut from school and public programs at the Mesa Lab to the development and implementation of resources and opportunities for teachers and students.

“I’ve been telling people that I’m not going to turn over the tables,” he says. “We’re trying to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the things we do. I’m of the opinion that groups can always get better, and it seems there’s a lot of great potential here that can be tapped even further.”