California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

Ritz, Student Earn Awards from Science Teachers Association

Published: January 15, 2010

Thousands of children in the United States and now in China have a greater interest and knowledge about science thanks to William C. Ritz, emeritus professor of science education at CSULB.

To recognize his accomplishments, the California State Science Teachers Association (CSTA) named Ritz as recipient of the 2009 Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award. CSTA also named CSULB teacher credential student Bernice (Jeanne) Lepowsky as the 2009 Future Science Teacher Award winner.

The Nicholson Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and provides leadership and service to make a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. The Future Science Teacher Award recognizes college students who demonstrate an interest in and commitment to science education through volunteering, teaching and professional organization activities and who show promise to become outstanding science educators. Up to two students can be selected each year.

Ritz is the founding chair of the Department of Science Education at CSULB, which has become the largest department among California universities for training pre-kindergarten through high school science teachers.

A former junior high science teacher in upstate New York, Ritz earned a doctorate in science education from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He was a science education faculty member at Syracuse University before joining Cal State Long Beach in 1977.

He retired from the university in 2003 but continues to oversee the “A Head Start on Science” (HSoS) project, which was developed in 1996 by a team of educators under his direction at CSULB in collaboration with Long Beach Unified School District’s Head Start program for preschool children.

Initially funded by a federal grant, the HSoS program encourages children’s sense of wonder beginning at a young age by training teachers in using hands-on science to explore the child’s everyday world. Published by NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) Press in 2007, the program Teachers’ Guide won the 2008 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Association of Educational Publishers and is now in use by teachers of children ages 3 to 7.

Many California Head Start and school districts send teachers to Ritz’s annual HSoS summer workshops taught by science educators experienced in working with young children. A grant from the American Honda Foundation in 2000 took HSoS to 21 centers across the country. Moreover, in 2007, educators from the China National Institute for Educational Research in Beijing contacted Ritz about the program, resulting in collaboration with Chinese kindergarten and science teachers.

“We are still maintaining our Chinese connection,” Ritz said. “Two HSoS staff will be traveling to Shenyang to conduct a four-day workshop there for Chinese kindergarten teachers and others, and the HSoS Teachers’ Guide is now scheduled to be published in a Chinese edition in Beijing.”

In addition to thanking CSTA; the K-12 Alliance, a California science education consortium; his family and his HSoS collaborators, “I’m especially grateful to Cal State Long Beach and my wonderful colleagues there, because, from the very beginning, Cal State Long Beach has been a fabulous environment that has allowed us all to grow together in so many ways,” Ritz said.

William C. Ritz
Photo by David J. Nelson
William C. Ritz

At the national level, Ritz served as president of the Association for the Education of Teachers in Science, and as regional director and board member of the NSTA, where he chaired the NSTA national conference in Anaheim in 2006.

Lepowsky, who lives in Laguna Woods, is pursuing a single subject science credential at CSULB after 20 years in business and management. She earned a B.S. in business administration/accounting from San Jose State University and an M.S. in industrial administration from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and she spent her career in information technology development and management and software consulting.

In 2001, she returned to California to care for her ill mother. “I had some extra time, so I decided to do something I had wanted to do for many years—I became certified as a University of California Master Gardener with Orange County,” she explained. She volunteered for several years at The Ranch After-School Program at the Orange County Fair and Exposition Center, teaching fifth-graders about the art and science of growing a vegetable garden.

“I had so much fun teaching kids I decided that I should switch professions and become a science teacher,” Lepowsky noted. “My mother died in 2003 before I made this decision. She was a chemist herself, so I know she would have approved.”

Lepowsky, whose goal is to teach middle school science, also has been a teaching assistant at CSULB’s summertime Young Scientists’ Camp and began student teaching recently. “I am very interested in school gardens. I believe that by establishing and maintaining a garden, schools can enhance learning at all grade levels,” she pointed out. “This semester I am working on a directed study project in the Department of Science Education to show how a school garden can be used at the middle school level in conjunction with the existing science curriculum to engage students, get them excited about science, help them see connections and relevance in what they are learning, and foster an awareness of nature and the environment.”

She becomes the fifth CSULB winner of the award, following Genevieve Finch in 2005, William M. Berkstresser and Padma Haldar in 2007 and Caroline Potter in 2008.

“I am honored to receive this award,” Lepowsky said. “It means that people who care deeply about science education believe I can make a difference in the lives of young people. It is a vote of confidence. I will make every effort to live up to the expectations represented by this award.”

–Anne Ambrose