Short Author Bio(s)

Tolessa Deksissa: I earned my Ph.D. in environmental technology and MS in environmental sciences from Ghent University. I am the Founding Director of Professional Science Master’s in Water Resources Management and the Director of the District of Columbia Water Resources Research Institute in the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences at the University of the District of Columbia. I teach undergraduate and graduate courses in environmental sciences and water quality. My research areas include inquiry-based hands-on teaching and learning approaches in sciences, water quality assessment and modeling, integrated modeling of urban wastewater systems, GIS based modeling of ecosystem services.

Lily Liang: I earned my PhD in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Nevada. I am currently an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC).My research areas in computer science include bioinformatics, data mining, artificial intelligence and digital image processing. Recently I have also been very interested in education psychology and its application in science and engineering education. My focus in this area has been academic motivation, learning mediation, and writing for developing critical thinking.

Pradeep Behera: I earned my PhD in civil and environmental engineering from University of Toronto and MS in civil engineering from Sambalpur University. I am currently an Associate Professor of the Civil Engineering Program at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). Prior to joining UDC, I worked in engineering industry for four years as a Senior Water Resources Engineer in US and Canada and as a faculty member for 6 years in India. My research interests include urban storm water management water resources engineering, and sustainable urban water systems. I have published several research papers in peer review journals, book chapters, and international and national conference proceedings. I am a Professional Engineer from the State of Maryland, District of Columbia and Diplomat from the American Academy of Water resources Engineers.

Suzan Harkness: I earned my Ph.D. in political science (University of Hawaii at Manoa), certificates in Leadership and Intercultural Curriculum Development from the East-West Center and Higher Education Management from Vanderbilt University, MA from Alliant International University, and BS from the University of Wisconsin. I am Special Assistant to the President and most recently was the Founding Director of the Center for Academic Technology and Assistant Dean in Learning Resources Division at the University of the District of Columbia. My skills include higher education management, strategic planning, e-learning, experiential education, faculty professional development, and data analytics. My research is in the scholarship of teaching and learning, instructional technology, experiential education and political behavior.


The new global economy depends on workforce competencies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics more than ever before. To prepare a strong workforce, attracting and educating underrepresented minority students in science is a challenge within our traditional American educational approach. To meet this challenge, fostering significant learning in science that nurtures 21st Century skills in students is crucial. The purpose of this study was to analyze the effectiveness of a set of teaching and learning approaches that foster significant learning in sciences. Using a new introductory environmental science course in urban water quality management, the effect of a set of learner-centered teaching approaches, including hands-on learning, scientific inquiry, frequent feedback, and critical thinking exercises, was analyzed. The results of the pre- and post-course survey questions together with formative and summative assessments showed that our students’ cognitive learning skills and interests in learning science were significantly improved.