Brett Merritt

Prototyping alternative futures for (science) (teacher) education in the Anthropocene



Early childhood - A naturalist in training
Early childhood – A naturalist in training

My father is an aquatic entomologist of some renown within his field. This fact is significant because I grew up frequenting the spaces in which he did his scientific work: offices, labs, streams, lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, forests, field stations, etc. My father once said that by age 12 or so I probably knew more about aquatic insects and stream ecology than many of his graduate students. I added to this experiential base in both high school and college where I often worked during my summers as a lab/field assistant for professors at the local research university.

I earned a Bachelor’s degree in the biological sciences from Michigan State University (1988-1993) and, despite choosing to forgo a career as a scientific researcher, I’ve somehow managed to maintain a foot in research science by working as a consulting lab/field technician. Since the mid 1990s, for example (and as recently as 2008), I’ve participated in and contributed to a number of interesting scientific projects: in Montana, I was part of a team fortunate enough to observe parasitic behaviors in a new species of aquatic wasp (Tanychela pilosa); in Wisconsin, I was part of a three-year study that assessed the possibility of non-toxic means of mosquito control for a suburban municipality; finally, in both Florida and Oklahoma I worked with scientific teams tasked with making habitat and environmental recommendations to state governments and industry regarding land/water use.

Some of the products of these research projects include scientific evidence used in federal legal proceedings and a couple of peer-reviewed scientific publications. Although I don’t see myself as a professional natural scientist, over the years my engagements in scientific research are probably enough to qualify me as a reasonably competent scientific naturalist.


Working with students at The American School in Switzerland
Working with students at The American School in Switzerland

It’s difficult to say why I choose to pursue a career science education instead of scientific research. You could say that it was because both my father and mother were educators and thus teaching was something that was relatively known or familiar to me. You could also say that it was because I had a number of fantastic science teachers and professors as a student. To be sure, each of these events probably contributed to some meaningful degree to my ultimate career choice, but there are many others. In the end, it’s hard to say exactly why I decided to become a science educator.

What I can say with greater certainty, however, is when I decided to become a science educator: I left my university after my sophomore year in order to fulfill a long-standing desire to spend a winter skiing in Utah. While it was without question one of the most formative winters of my life, somehow, by the end of the winter, I had decided that I wanted to become a science educator. And so, I returned to my university with great conviction and applied to the honors section of their secondary teacher certification program. I was accepted. That was in the spring of 1991.

Since graduating from university back in 1993, I’ve happily taught science to middle school, high school, undergraduate and graduate students, as well as to elementary, middle, and high school science teachers. I’ve worked in public and private schools, domestic and international schools, boarding and residential schools, and K-12 schools and colleges/universities. In 2013, I was granted my Ph.D. in Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education (CITE) from Michigan State University’s top-ranked College of Education.

Currently, my wife and I live and work in Lugano, Switzerland.


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