Dr. Rita Hagevik earns distinguished teaching honor

Rita Hagevik
Dr. Rita Hagevik (left) is presented the Distinguished Teaching Award in STEM Education by Suzanne Wilkison, president of NC Association of Biological Research

UNCP professor Rita Hagevik has been integrating science, technology, engineering and math disciplines in her courses long before the term STEM became trendy.

Graduate students use GIS and GPS devices to study how sand moves on barrier islands. These courses have been taught on Ossabaw Island in Georgia and Bald Head Island in North Carolina. Students have studied for example the relationship between salinity and invertebrates found in Bald Head Island’s creek estuaries or how fiddler crabs defend themselves.

 “The field research courses offer science education graduate students a unique experience,” Dr. Hagevik said. “Not only do the students conduct individual field research but they share the data with the host organizations such as the Bald Head Island Conservancy.

“The students are learning and, at the same time, participating in a greater community effort.”

Hagevik’s contribution to STEM education, spanning 15 years, grabbed the attention of the NC Association of Biomedical Research which presented her with the 2018 Distinguished Teaching Award in STEM Education.

“This is quite an honor,” she said. “However, I think the biggest honor was that I was nominated by my peers Rebecca Bullard-Dillard and Ben Bahr. That was pretty awesome.”

Hagevik was honored on October 24 at the Bridging the Gap Conference at N.C. State University.

Her teaching and scholarship reflect her interests in environmental education, scientific inquiry, nature of science, geospatial technologies, and teacher professional development. She incorporates geographic mapping and the use of mobile technologies into her courses.

Outside the classroom, Hagevik has helped spearhead the Kids in the Garden Program which pairs graduate and undergraduate students with middle and high school students from Bladen, Cumberland, Richmond and Robeson counties.

The students study bees, plants and pollination and conduct research under the guidance of UNCP faculty and students.

“Our Biology majors are wonderful mentors. They are very motivated to work with the younger students. They feel like they are giving back and it gives hope to the middle and high school students that they can go to college.

“The Kids in the Garden Program is a great way to connect with the community.”

Hagevik has 29 years of teaching experience, including 15 years in higher education. She joined the UNCP faculty in 2011 and currently serves as Graduate Director of Science Education.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology, a master’s degree in science education, and a Ph.D. in science education and in forestry from N.C. State University.