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National STEM education leader joins Office for Research

Bennett Goldberg to focus on center funding, training and inclusion

By Matt Golosinski

Northwestern physicist and education innovator Bennett Goldberg has joined the Office for Research (OR), where he will serve as director of research in higher education, training and evaluation.

The new role, which was effective Sept. 12, is aligned with ongoing enhancements that strengthen OR’s portfolio of expert resources and services that support Northwestern’s rapidly growing research enterprise.

The position’s broad objectives aim to help faculty design, implement and improve their grant-funded education and training programs through pre- and post-award grant support. Bennett also will co-create and evaluate new educational practices, resources and templates. Focus areas include large centers and group grant-funded programs led by Northwestern faculty. He also looks to increase capacity for research and center grants by developing resources and training for aspiring grant writers and program leaders.

The various efforts have a common goal: drive breakthrough research while also building more inclusive research and teaching environments that recognize the importance of diversity in knowledge creation.

“We want to generate greater funding success, increase institutional prestige and spur research and teaching innovation,” said Bennett, who had led Northwestern’s Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching since joining the University in 2016. “This move recognizes how valuable the collaborations among our faculty have been, including those in support of large center grants.”

During Goldberg’s tenure as director and assistant provost for learning and teaching, the Searle Center worked to strengthen the connections between teaching practice and research, amplify educational innovation and research of faculty, educate and support faculty, postdocs, graduate students and undergraduates, and advance Northwestern’s commitments to assessment, evaluation and inclusive teaching. Many of these initiatives were significantly funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

A Boston native, lifelong Red Sox fan and physicist by training, Bennett earned his bachelor’s degree at Harvard and master’s and doctorate degrees from Brown University and will remain on faculty in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Before coming to Northwestern, he was a member of the physics faculty at Boston University (BU) since 1989. His BU tenure included service as chair of the Physics Department, director and founder of the university’s Center for Nanoscience and Nanobiotechnology, and director and founder of the nanomedicine program. He was appointed director of STEM Education Initiatives at BU in 2012.

While Bennett said he followed a “traditional faculty academic path,” he also discovered a passion for supporting education and equity in society, including in underprivileged communities. “About 10 years ago, I wanted to shift my work to make a bigger difference, a bigger impact, for undergraduates and traditionally underrepresented students,” he said.

His strategic leadership and grant writing acumen have been instrumental in helping advance initiatives such as Aspire, an NSF-funded national STEM teaching alliance aimed at developing inclusive and diverse STEM faculty. Similarly, he is the co-investigator of the Postdoc Academy, which provides comprehensive professional development for postdoctoral trainees.

Bennett is the primary investigator (PI) or co-PI on a half-dozen research projects underway. One involves a national inclusive STEM teaching course that is being piloted with some 40 faculty from Northwestern this fall. The course will go live on edX next spring and hopes eventually to attract 10,000 STEM faculty members to develop their inclusive teaching practice for their undergraduates. For graduate students, Goldberg leads Northwestern’s partnership with nine other universities in an NSF Alliance for Graduate Education to the Professoriate in support of the academic success of underrepresented STEM PhDs. The AGEP program provides mini-grants to faculty and programs aligned with this mission – including support for diversity peer mentoring and a diversity dialogue series.

“I’m an inveterate grant writer, and good at that game,” said Bennett, noting a success rate of about 35 percent over the years, with roughly half the grants securing funding for physics and engineering and the other half for STEM education. That experience will prove invaluable to Bennett’s new role within the Office for Research.

“Northwestern’s thriving research enterprise is integral to the University’s reputation and rankings success,” said Vice President for Research Milan Mrksich. “By strategically supporting our grant-funded training and education programs, Bennett can help our faculty continue to secure the resources to pursue groundbreaking investigations that make a transformative impact for society and further elevate Northwestern’s research profile. One important area for the development of thematic training and formal evaluation processes is the work pursued by our cross-disciplinary University Research Institutes and Centers, which attract investigators from throughout Northwestern.”

Goldberg is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and a United Methodist Teacher/Scholar of the Year, has been awarded a Sloan Foundation Fellowship, and is a recipient of the Presidential Young Investigator Award. As a physicist, Goldberg’s research interests are in the areas of nano-optics and spectroscopy of two-dimensional crystals, exploring strain and friction in single-atom-thick layers. Among his projects are developing new approaches to subcellular imaging, biosensors and single-virus imaging.

Nationally, he has been active in building a network of universities preparing future faculty to be excellent researchers and excellent teachers, has co-authored two massive open online courses for PhDs and postdocs on STEM learning and teaching, and is involved in bringing together cross-sector organizations to scale effective strategies for increasing access to higher education for underrepresented groups.