Skip to main content

Jessica Watkins

Assistant Professor of Science Education, Department of Teaching and Learning

Jessica Watkins is assistant professor of science education at Vanderbilt University. The overarching goal of her scholarship is to foster and study humanizing spaces to learn science and engineering, particularly in K-16 classrooms. Valuing more of students’ humanity in these disciplines requires learning spaces that are responsive to their ideas, interests, curiosities, and puzzlements, expansive to include multiple ways of contributing to disciplinary activities, and critical to examine and challenge oppressive structures that limit who can thrive in science and engineering. Her research contributes to each of these strands, developing new theoretical perspectives, design principles, and pedagogical strategies to support learners to bring their whole selves to understand the natural world and to design for problems within it. Her scholarship bridges the fields of science and engineering education, teacher education, and the learning sciences. 

Across her work, Dr. Watkins partners with teachers, students, and STEM faculty to develop communities and structures that support more humanizing science teaching and learning. In 2018, Dr. Watkins collaborated with biology faculty to establish the Vanderbilt STEM Learning Assistant Program. Since then, hundreds of undergraduate students have served as Learning Assistants (LAs) across dozens of STEM courses, helping to foster more inclusive and engaging learning environments. With Dr. Heather Johnson and the support of experienced LAs, she developed a LA pedagogy course for first-time LAs that supports them to enact responsive pedagogies with a critical eye for inequities in undergraduate STEM environments. 

In 2022, Dr. Watkins was awarded the National Science Foundation Early CAREER grant to develop a new course and science teacher community in which teachers and teacher candidates will engage in scientific sense-making to explore new and more expansive ways of doing science together. Our group of undergraduate secondary education students, science teachers, teacher leaders, and graduate education researchers are designing these spaces to imagine what science learning can look like and foster inter-generational community among local science educators.