A Tribute to PKAL at Twenty

David M. Bressoud February 2010

This past fall marked the twentieth anniversary of the founding of Project Kaleidoscope (, better known simply as PKAL, and December 31 was the last day as director for its founding director, Jeanne Narum. Although there have never been formal ties between MAA and PKAL, our goals are often closely aligned.

In its first national conference, the leadership of Project Kaleidoscope described three goals for its efforts:

  1. “Increase the number, quality, and persistence of individuals in careers relating to science and mathematics, and educate citizens to understand the role of science and technology in the world.
  2. “Promote understanding of “what works” in teaching and learning undergraduate science and mathematics.
  3. “Increase recognition of and support for the essential role of the liberal arts colleges in meeting the challenges faced by our nation in science and technology.”

While its work is not restricted to liberal arts colleges, PKAL has encouraged creative thinking about science and mathematics education at these colleges and raised their visibility as sites that provide the hothouse environment where innovative approaches to learning and teaching can be tried and matured.

Over the years, PKAL has collected and disseminated information on reforms in undergraduate education in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields, promoted strategies for active and engaged learning, and encouraged the development of interdisciplinary programs. PKAL has helped to prepare a new generation of leaders through its program of Faculty for the 21st Century. It has run workshops that are distinctive for the degree of active engagement and required commitment to carry through on a plan of action. It has provided information to architects and those building or renovating science facilities on how to organize and utilize space so that it supports effective programs. And PKAL has produced regular reports that summarize the state of undergraduate STEM education, the calls for change, and the programs that are known to work.

Its greatest service has been to support networks of those working in undergraduate STEM education, both individuals and institutions, connecting them to the best of the programs and resources that are available. Among the notable publications it has produced are

What works, what matters, what lasts, 2004-present
This fourth volume in the series provides easy access to insights, ideas, and materials shaping the future of undergraduate STEM. It is a resource for current and rising leaders with responsibility for the strength of the nation's programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Report on Reports I, 2002 and Report on Reports II: Recommendations for Urgent Action, 2006
An analysis of and recommendations from a selection of influential reports since the mid-1980’s that have set the stage for and shaped efforts to transform undergraduate STEM, and a follow-up that summarizes reports from 2004 and 2005 that discuss the need for transforming undergraduate STEM.

Investing in Faculty, 2001
Central to PKAL's work are activities related to helping faculty pursue successful careers and meet the expectations placed on them to be productive scholars and contributing members of the community. This report outlines lessons learned and issues yet to be addressed in ensuring the excellence of the next generation of STEM faculty.

Information Technology in the Service of Student Learning, 2001
A PKAL Occasional Paper exploring the issues, challenges and opportunities for the informed use of IT in enhancing undergraduate STEM learning.

Leadership - A PKAL Portfolio, 2004
A companion to the 2002 publication, Report on Reports, this portfolio captures some wisdom about the theory of leadership and about experiences of 21st century leaders in translating those theories into action. The intent is to signal that there is a solid base of theory of leadership from which current and rising leaders can shape their future, and to provide a tool for individuals and institutions to figure out what works in their context to nurture and support leaders.

Handbook for Department Chairs, A Work-In-Progress
Resources and essays collected from the PKAL archives provide anecdotes, advice, and useful tools for department/program leaders.

Susan Elrod, a geneticist from Cal Poly, has stepped into Jeanne’s place as PKAL Director, and the AAC&U (American Association of Colleges & Universities) has formally taken PKAL under its wing. I am impressed by Susan’s energy and enthusiasm and am confident that the coming decades will continue to see the flowering of PKAL’s work.

Access pdf files of the CUPM Curriculum Guide 2004 and the Curriculum Foundations Project: Voices of the Partner Disciplines.

Purchase a hard copy of the CUPM Curriculum Guide 2004 or the Curriculum Foundations Project: Voices of the Partner Disciplines.

Find links to course-specific software resources in the CUPM Illustrative Resources.

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David Bressoud is DeWitt Wallace Professor of Mathematics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and President of the MAA. You can reach him at This column does not reflect an official position of the MAA.