Michael Mayhew

2007 Excellence in Earth and Space Science Education Award Winner


It is both an honor and a privilege to present Michael Mayhew as the 2007 recipient of the AGU Excellence in Geophysical Education Award. I do so on behalf of the geosciences community and the dozens of geoscientists who wrote letters documenting the sustained commitment and impact Mike has had on geoscience education. He is highly deserving of this recognition because his contributions to geophysical education have resulted in

  1. a significant and long-lasting cultural change in the community such that geophysical education is embraced and promoted by scientists across the discipline; and
  2. the development of a vibrant and highly successful geophysical education research community dedicated to advancing understanding of how we teach and learn about Earth.

In 1996, Mike assembled a team of scientific leaders who articulated the wide-ranging educational needs of the community and formulated a vision and strategy for developing a new education program within the NSF’s GEO directorate. Their report, entitled “Geoscience education: A recommended strategy,” was the basis for creating the Geoscience Education program, the first and one of the few education programs within a research directorate at NSF. This report and funding program jump-started a revolution that took geoscience education from one of the most anemic education efforts in the basic sciences to one of the strongest. The community was able to explore, learn, and grow this new field from its strength in science. It is noteworthy that much of what was advocated in that initial report has come to pass and it has come by engaging mainstream geoscience researchers. Mike’s vision and implementation of GEO/Education enabled the research community to leverage their broader impact efforts into a true service and education function whose role and contribution is well beyond the timescale of the individual research project. His vision thus kept the productivity of the community high in contributions to both education and current research.

Mike’s efforts in building an education community and infrastructure go well beyond that first program. He was also instrumental in establishing education programs as normal components of science centers and facilities. The improved success of geoscientists in science education is due to the partnerships Mike fostered within NSF and with other agencies, which resulted in broader understanding and support for geoscience education.

Finally, Mike’s longest-lasting contribution might be in the many partnerships and collaborations he has brokered to help new scientists get started in this field. In addition to being a catalyst for change and innovation within the geoscience education community, Michael is also a mentor, supporter, and consistent source of inspiration and encouragement for numerous individuals who have chosen to pursue careers in this much needed area of scholarship. His impact has been far reaching, as his efforts over the past decade have created a vibrant community, inspired a new cadre of leaders in the field, and established geoscience education as an important and credible research endeavor among geoscientists.

—MICHELLE HALL, Science Education Solutions, Los Alamos, N.M.


We started up a geoscience education activity in NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences over a decade ago. This was very much a team effort in the directorate, but we also worked with a succession of talented and dedicated program managers in the Division of Undergraduate Education, two of whom became recipients of this award. Likewise, we found common ground with other agencies, particularly NASA, where similar efforts were under way. We went forward largely with the attitude that forgiveness is easier to get than permission and that we should keep going until someone told us to stop.

We had pitifully little money to work with, so we started a small grants program with the broadest possible scope, with the idea that a little money in the hands of a creative and motivated person can go a long way, and can lay the foundation for something better funded and longer term. It was amazing to me, and highly motivating, how many highly innovative projects came to fruition. Perhaps just as significant, we discovered that the synergy of highly motivated investigators, superb review panels, and a proliferation of education sessions at AGU and other meetings led quickly to a widespread and well-networked community that continues today. The energy and excitement in this diverse community were then and are now palpable.

Then, when the opportunity came along to add an educational dimension to the interagency digital library initiative, the community was poised to swing into action and form the Digital Library for Earth System Education, and in the process the community expanded much further.

This community has an amazing amount of energy and tolerance for frustration in the face of daunting obstacles, and progress is steadily being made, even on the difficult but exceedingly important challenge of eroding the traditional barriers between research and education. I have no doubt that this community will ultimately succeed in its quest.

I would have liked to have named in the space available some individuals that have played a key role in this adventure. But there are so very many for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration that I would feel very badly indeed to mention some and not others. So I have chosen to name no names at all.

I realize that it is unusual to recommend this award for someone from the federal service. I would like to note something that I believe is well known, yet rarely acknowledged: that there are and have been many individuals—both permanent federal employees and those who pass through agencies on temporary duty—who have worked hard and largely behind the scenes to make sure that the creative efforts of members of the community can be realized. They do not expect, nor do they typically receive, much recognition for their dedicated efforts on the high road, even from their own organizations. This award is in part such a recognition, and so I would like to think that I am accepting it as much on their behalf as my own.

—MICHAEL MAYHEW, U.S. National Science Foundation (ret), Arlington, Va.