Director, Smithsonian Science Education Center
Dr. Carol O’Donnell is the Director of the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC), a unit of the Smithsonian Institution that is dedicated to transforming the learning and teaching of science throughout the nation. As the Senior Executive of the SSEC, Carol is responsible for all operational activities and planning for the unit, including building awareness for P-12 science education reform among State and district leaders; conducting programs that support the professional growth of P-12 teachers and school leaders; and, overseeing all research and curricular resource development, philanthropic development, and administration. In this capacity, Carol was recently appointed by the National Academy of Sciences, a founding organization of the SSEC, to serve as the US representative on the Global Council of the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) Science Education Programme (SEP), the global network of the science academies. Carol earned her Bachelor of Science in Education at the University of Pittsburgh, a Master of Science in Geosciences at Mississippi State University, and her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on science education at The George Washington University (GWU). Prior to coming to the Smithsonian, Carol worked at the US Department of Education for nearly a decade, where her experiences included overseeing nearly $17 billion in annual federal investments under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act focused on education reform, school improvement, teacher professional development, and improved student achievement, and assisting States as they build their capacity to implement and sustain those education reforms and achieve continued improvement in student outcomes. Carol also oversaw the Cognition and Student Learning research program at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research arm of ED. While earning her doctorate at GWU, Carol managed a five-year NSF-funded clustered randomized control trial aimed at identifying the conditions under which effective middle school science curricular interventions improve student learning and reduce achievement gaps when scaled-up. Carol’s seminal research on curriculum implementation, which was published in the Review of Educational Research, earned her an “American Educational Research Association Division of Learning and Instruction Graduate Research Award” in 2008. Before joining GWU, Carol spent 11 years developing science curriculum materials for SSEC’s Science and Technology Concepts (STC) Elementary and Secondary Programs. One of her six books, Catastrophic Events, won a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Mark Trail Award for raising students’ awareness of natural hazards and weather alerts. Dr. O’Donnell, who began her science teaching career in Virginia public schools, is still in the classroom today, serving on the part-time faculty of the GWU Physics Department. Carol is the proud mother of four children and the wife of a 30-year special education teacher.