President Barack Obama has announced that Harvard Graduate School of Education Associate Professor Tina Grotzer is a recipient of a prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor given by the United States government to young professionals beginning their independent research careers. Winners receive up to a five-year research grant to further their studies in support of critical government missions. There were 94 recipients this year.
“It is inspiring to see the innovative work being done by these scientists and engineers as they ramp up their careers — careers that I know will be not only personally rewarding but also invaluable to the Nation,” President Obama said. “That so many of them are also devoting time to mentoring and other forms of community service speaks volumes about their potential for leadership, not only as scientists but as model citizens.”
“I am incredibly honored by the PECASE award and am deeply appreciative to those at the National Science Foundation who have supported my work,” Grotzer said. “My research examines how children learn about complex causal dynamics in everyday contexts and how to advance these abilities through learning in the classroom and beyond. Reasoning well about complexity is critical to dealing with many of the world’s most pressing problems such as climate change, biodiversity, ecosystems, and human health. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to contribute to our efforts in educating the next generation to think effectively about such challenges.”
Currently, Grotzer’s research project explores how children’s understanding develops in grades K–6. She studies three forms of causal complexity including distributed causality, probabilistic causality, and action at a distance. She identifies ways in which understandings about the nature of causality impact our ability to deal with complexity in our world and to learn science. She also directs the Understandings of Consequence Project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which identifies default assumptions about the nature of causality that students bring to their learning. She was awarded an Early Career Award from NSF to enable her to extend this inquiry in new directions and to fund the work of doctoral students studying with her.
“Tina Grotzer’s outstanding scholarship focuses on how students understand scientific concepts and processes, and, especially, complex chains of causation—a major component of modern science,” said Dean Kathleen McCartney. “Her research is already influencing the way science is taught in schools across the country. For these contributions and many more, Tina richly deserves this prestigious honor.”
The Presidential Early Career Awards, established by President Bill Clinton in February 1996, embody the high priority the administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers to advance the nation’s goals and contribute to all sectors of the economy. The nine federal departments and agencies annually nominate the most meritorious young researchers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for strengthening America’s leadership in science and technology, and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions. Pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and a commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach are the two criteria for selecting award recipients.