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Frascella to direct NSF education division

Building bridges between K-12 and college

William Frascella
William Frascella, professor of mathematics and former chair of IU South Bend’s Department of Mathematics, has received a two-year appointment at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Washington, D.C.

Beginning next month, Frascella will be the director of the NSF’s Division of Elementary, Secondary and Informal Education.

“It is an exciting opportunity to work at a national level to meet the challenges of K-12 education in mathematics, science and technology,” he said.

NSF, an independent U.S. government agency established in 1950, is responsible for advancing U.S. mathematics, science and engineering, as well as supporting education and training in these areas at all levels, from pre-kindergarten through career development. It funds projects in more than 2,000 universities, colleges and other educational institutions throughout the United States.

A major strategy NSF employs to support K-12 education is to encourage partnerships between school districts and institutions of higher education, bringing together K-12 teachers and administrators with university mathematicians, scientists and education faculty.

Frascella, as chair of the IUSB Department of Mathematics, became acutely aware of the problems of mathematics education at the college level. “It became obvious to me in the early 1990s that our state’s problems of mathematics education could only be solved by forming bridges and partnerships between Indiana’s K-12 community and its institutions of higher education,” he said. “Mathematicians, math educators and K-12 teachers and administrators had to develop ways of trusting one another and developing common action plans all could support.”

Frascella said the challenge is daunting, with no quick fixes. He stressed that trust and cooperation between groups that do not normally talk or work with one another do not come easily. Yet without these ingredients, Frascella believes, developing solutions to the problems of our nation’s K-12 education will not be possible.

Together with Dan Maki, chair of the IUB Department of Mathematics, and Frank Lester, professor of education at IUB, Frascella formed a system-wide IU Center for Mathematics Education in 1996.

In 1997, he established a collaboration between a consortium of 10 urban Indiana school districts and the university. In that same year, under Frascella’s leadership, the partnership, which came to be called the Indiana Mathematics Initiative (IMI), received $2.2 million in NSF funding to improve mathematics teaching and learning in IMI school districts. In 2002, the IU-IMI partnership received an additional $6.6 million to further develop the common goals of this university and K-12 collaboration. Frascella has been principal investigator and project director for both NSF-funded projects.

In addition to his work with Indiana’s K-12 community, Frascella believes his experience at IUSB, especially his years as chair of its then-combined mathematics and computer science department, has given him important resources to meet the challenges of his new job as NSF divisional director.

“What I learned about teaching and learning mathematics with a wide variety of IUSB students and the experience of chairing a dual department, including mathematicians, computer scientists and highly dedicated lecturers and adjunct faculty, will have direct application in my new position,” Frascella said.

“There is a lot of similarity between NSF’s institutional structure and that of a university. Most of the foundation’s program officers have doctorates and many of its institutional values have academic origins. The division I will lead has a mix of backgrounds similar to the IU South Bend department I chaired, and I know this experience will assist me at NSF,” he said.

Frascella explained that this is a particularly exciting time to be a part of the NSF team, indicating that the foundation is in the process of reorganizing its pre-college mission. “NSF is exploring new ways of having its Division of Elementary, Secondary and Informal Education make connections with its other divisions and directorates, establishing bridges between its pre-college activities and its efforts in undergraduate and graduate education,” he said. “I think my work at NSF will allow me to continue working toward the same academic and educational goals I have been pursuing in Indiana, but this time from a national perspective.”

IUSB Chancellor Una Mae Reck said the appointment is a tremendous opportunity. “Professor Frascella’s hard work and research will be making an impact on mathematics education for generations to come. This kind of active service and involvement is the foundation of IUSB’s commitment to the community and education.”

Frascella has been a member of the faculty at IU South Bend since 1970. He earned his bachelor of science degree in mathematics from Loyola University in Los Angeles in 1962. He received doctoral degrees from Notre Dame in 1966 and 1978, in mathematics and philosophy respectively.

In 1999, Frascella was the recipient of the Lundquist Faculty Fellowship. The award is given annually to the IUSB faculty member who demonstrates outstanding accomplishments in teaching, scholarship and service to the community.

Related story: Hoosier math education to be augmented with $6.2 million award from NSF

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Publication date: January 31, 2003
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