Dr. Tonya Jeffery

Assistant Professor of Science Education, Social Justice, & Equity

Department of Urban Education

University of Houston – Downtown (UHD)

Current Academic Responsibilities

In my role as a science educator, I instruct undergraduate science methods courses tailored for those pursuing Early Childhood-Grade 6 (EC-6) or Science 4-8 teaching certifications. Additionally, I lead graduate courses focused on science education and STEM for individuals working towards their Master’s degree. I take on the responsibility of supervising teacher candidates during their field-based experiences in K-12 campuses. Furthermore, I conduct interviews for the admission of undergraduate students into our Educator Preparation Program (EPP).

I concentrate my research on several key areas, including STEM teacher preparation, self-efficacy, and professional development. Additionally, my focus extends to culturally responsive pedagogy and the teaching of science through the critical perspectives of social justice and racial equity. My evolving emphasis involves exploring social justice issues, particularly at the intersection of gender, race, and class, with a specific focus on the experiences of women in K-12 STEM education and academia.

Prior Related-Experiences
Over the past 18 years, I have held various positions in both public schools and higher education. I previously worked as a middle school science teacher, instructing grades 6-8. During my tenure in the Houston Independent School District (HISD), I took on roles such as science department chair and mentor teacher for beginning science teachers. Additionally, during my doctoral studies, I served as clinical faculty at the University of Houston's main campus, where I taught secondary math and science majors pursuing their 7-12 teaching certification in the teachHOUSTON program, a UTeach replication site. My career also includes positions as a tenure-track science educator at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC) and Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU). Furthermore, I held an administrative role as the director of educational programs at the University of Houston – Clear Lake (UHCL) campus.

Recent Accomplishments

  • Invited workshop for Association of Teacher Educators (ATE) panel presentation along with co-authors about our collaborative book chapter titled, Making Space for Critical Thought Amidst State Prohibitions: Critical Race Theory as a Framework to Inform Course Design and Student Learning Objectives, published in the special issue: Antiracist Teacher Education: Theory and Practice, Jan. 25, 2024.
  • Invited to present in a poster session as part of the Association of Science Teacher Educators (ASTE) Equity Committee titled Social Justice & Equity Pedagogy in the Elementary Science Classroom, at the 2024 ASTE Conference in New Orleans, LA.
  • Mentored doctoral student (attending TAMU – College Station) for the Emerging Scholars Program of the Texas regional chapter of the National Association for Multicultural Cultural Education (TXNAME); student’s research proposal was accepted to the upcoming 47th Annual Southwest Educational Regional Association (SERA) conference in Arlington, TX, Feb. 14-16, 2024, title: Retaining Black Female Teachers in Grades 6-12 Science and Mathematics Classrooms.
  • Principal Investigator of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) grant @ UHD ($69K) – Let’s Go Outside! – Urban Explorers STEAM Academy which provides 100 scholarships to support culturally, ethnically, and linguistically diverse middle school girls in the Greater Houston and surrounding school districts with overnight camping adventures at state parks to participate in various environmental science hands-on experiences and interpretive programs, promote environmental stewardship, an increase interest and awareness of STEM fields, as well as female youth empowerment throughout the 2023 – 2024 academic year.
  • Co-PI – DAIR to Teach grant program @ UHD ($800K) – This grant aims to investigate the possible connection between unique barriers related to diversity, access, inclusivity and representation (DAIR) faced by teacher candidates in our educator preparation program. These candidates transferred to our campus through a community college pathway and are seeking certification to teach in PK-12 public schools.

Service to SSMA and other professional organizations

My association with SSMA began in 2010 when, as a doctoral student at the University of Houston – main campus, I joined the organization and attended my first conference. This decision was influenced by the encouragement of my two science education mentors, Dr. John Ramsey and Dr. Eugene Chiappetta. In 2014, during my tenure-track position at TAMU-CC, I served as the first author of a research paper published in the SSMA conference proceedings of the 113th annual convention in Jacksonville, FL. The paper, titled "Connecting pre-service STEM teaching from college to field experience: Case studies using professional development in an authentic, situated context," was a collaborative effort with my colleagues based on research from an NSF-funded three-year grant ($1.2M), Elementary Teachers Engaged in Authentic Math and Science (ETEAMS).

Over the past two years, I have been appointed to a three-year term on the SSMA Membership Committee (2021 – 2024). In this role, I played a key part in crafting the Diversity Statement for the organization, which is now featured on the Membership brochure. Additionally, I have collaborated with the Membership committee colleagues on research related to an exploration of equity practices in STEM education in colleges of education. We have presented findings from our research during the past two years.

Apart from my involvement with SSMA, I have served in various capacities for other professional organizations at both regional and national levels, particularly focusing on initiatives related to social justice and equity. Regionally, I have served as an At-Large Board Member for the Southwest Educational Research Association (SERA) for the past three years, with this appointment concluding in February 2024. I am also a member of the Executive Board of TXNAME and the 2024 conference chair. My term in this role will end May 2024. Nationally, I contribute to the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE) diversity and equity committee and have recently been invited to serve on the ASTE’s equity committee.

In addition to my committee work, I consistently contribute as a reviewer for various conferences and manuscripts, offering my expertise to journals such as the Electronic Journal for Research in Science & Mathematics Education (EJRSME), the International Journal of STEM Education, and Education Sciences. Moreover, I serve on the editorial review board of two journals: EJRSME and the Journal of Multicultural Affairs (JMA). Over the past three years, I have authored two manuscripts and two book chapters published in national and regional journals, all centered around science education and practices in teacher education with a focus on social justice.

Your vision for SSMA

I am enthusiastic about engaging in collaborative efforts to shape the future of SSMA. Drawing on my diverse experiences within various professional organizations and my personal journey as a female faculty member of color, I advocate for increased representation of students and faculty of color within SSMA. Additionally, I believe there is a need to attract and amplify the voices of marginalized groups in mathematics and science education. While I've observed some progress over the years, there is still work to be done to ensure equitable membership from both disciplines. Exploring access and equity in integrating mathematics and science into K-12 teaching practices and teacher education programs remains a crucial area to address. Additionally, I hope to continue with current research facilitated by the membership committee related to an exploration of equity practices in STEM education in colleges of education. Ultimately, my vision encompasses creating a specialized platform or panel during the yearly convention. This platform aims to foster essential dialogues among K-12 teachers, faculty, and both graduate and undergraduate students from diverse cultural, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds. The primary focus of these discussions will be on identifying and addressing the barriers and challenges associated with teaching and learning mathematics and science within diverse student populations.