Meet the NSTA Leadership
Dr. Elizabeth Mulkerrin
Dr. Elizabeth Mulkerrin is president of the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA). Her term began on June 1, 2022, and concludes on June 1, 2023.
A desire for lifelong science learning and a passion for the natural world brought high school science educator Mulkerrin to the Omaha Zoo and Aquarium, where she has served as Vice President of Education since 2000.
In this position, Mulkerrin creates and designs zoo exhibits and associated educational materials, works to provide positive visitor experiences, partners with local leaders to engage the community, develops unique partnerships to drive the zoo’s mission, raises funds through donors and corporate relations, and has crafted a five-year strategic plan for the zoo. In 2020, during the pandemic, she created and implemented innovative events and programs that generated revenue during the zoo’s closure from March to August 2020.
She leads the team that provides quality STEM education programming to 158,000 students annually, and is co-founder of the Omaha STEM Ecosystem, a grassroots organization that brings business and education together in developing Omaha’s STEM workforce.
Mulkerrin is also the driving force behind the zoo’s collaborative partnerships and innovative informal education programming with local Omaha school districts and universities. These partnerships created several academies that provide students with knowledge and career explorations relating to life sciences through authentic STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) experiences at the zoo.
In addition, Mulkerrin served on the executive board and as president of the National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA). She was a division director for informal science for both the NSTA and NSELA Board of Directors. She also completed the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Executive Leadership Development Certificate Program in 2019.
Mulkerrin is active with a number of national science and informal education associations, including the AZA, the National Science Olympiad, and the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC).
In Nebraska, Mulkerrin works with districts on curriculum development and strategic planning. She has served in leadership roles for the Nebraska Junior Academy of Science; the Nebraska State Science Olympiad Board; the Nebraska Next Generation Science Standards Review Committee; the Nebraska Association of Science Teachers; the Department of Education Math Science Partnership Board; and the Nebraska Building a Presence for Science/Science Matters Advisory Board.
She has received numerous honors from both formal and informal education groups, including the AZA Innovative New Exhibit Award; the NSTA Distinguished Informal Science Educator Award; the University of Nebraska Distinguishing Alumni Promising Professional Award; the Nebraska Academy of Science Friends of Science Award; the Nebraska Association of Teachers of Science Business Partner “Catalyst” Award; the Phi Delta Kappan “Outstanding Service to Education” Award; and the Nebraska Career Education “Outstanding Business/Industry Partnership” Award.
Currently, as an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha, she teaches a graduate course in science education and an administrative leadership course. Mulkerrin has also published works on a myriad of topics including STEM careers, job shadowing, professional learning, and collaborative initiatives between informal and formal education. She received her master’s and PhD degrees from the University of Nebraska Omaha, and her undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Before joining the Omaha Zoo and Aquarium, she taught high school biology and zoology for six years in Omaha Public Schools.
Dr. Julie A. Luft
Dr. Julie A. Luft is the president-elect of the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA). She began serving her one-year term on June 1, 2022. She is currently a Distinguished Research Professor and Athletic Association Professor of Mathematics and Science Education in the Mary Frances Early College of Education at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. She joined the University of Georgia in 2012.
Luft began her career in education as a middle and high school science teacher in Utah (1986–1991). Her desire to know more about the teaching of science resulted in her pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Iowa. As a graduate student, she learned about educational reform, inquiry instruction, and constructivism, which transformed how she viewed the learning and teaching of science.
As a faculty member, she teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses, and mentors doctoral students. The undergraduate courses are for preservice teachers and often consist of science methods, biology for middle school, or the supervision of student teachers. The graduate courses are for masters and doctoral students who are progressing professionally. Her favorite courses to teach are focused on science teacher education research and the professional learning of science teachers. As teacher, she has received several university and national awards for her instruction and mentoring of graduate students.
Over time, her research has progressed from investigating the design of novel professional learning environments to understanding how early career science teachers can build their teaching knowledge and instructional practices. Recently she explored how out-of-field teaching constrains the knowledge and practice of science teachers. Currently funded by the National Science Foundation, she is studying early career science teacher resilience and persistence, and the role of science leaders in supporting newly hired science teachers. Central to her work are science teachers, and the connection of practice and research.
As an active scholar, Luft has published more than 150 research articles, book chapters, editorials, and books for teachers, teacher educators, and educational researchers. She has given more than 200 peer-reviewed conference talks. Much of this work is the result of external funding from the National Science Foundation. Her recent research highlights include the co-editing the Handbook of Research on Science Teacher Education (2022) and giving a plenary at the European Science Education Research Association in 2022. Her publications have been honored with a number of awards, including the NARST JRST award, which recognized the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST) article deemed the most significant publication of the year; the Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE) Award for Implications of Research for Educational Practice; an NSTA Research Worth Reading recommendation; and the Association of Educational Publishers educational practice award.
As an engaged member of the science education community, Luft has served as a board member and President of ASTE, Director of Research and a scholar in residence at NSTA, as NSTA’s representative to the NARST board, and associate editor for various journals, including JRST. In her work as an advocate for graduate students and early career faculty, she has served as a mentor in the Sandra K. Abell Institute for Doctoral Students; the South African Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Research School; and the Science Education Research Institute in Thailand. Highlights of her work in the science education community include being a mentor at science education research schools and serving on the committee on the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine consensus report Science Teachers’ Learning: Enhancing Opportunities, Creating Supportive Contexts (2015).
Luft held previous appointments at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, where she was a Professor of Science Education (2005–2011); at The University of Texas at Austin, where she was an Associate Professor of Science Education (2002–2005); and at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, where she was an Assistant/Associate Professor of Science Education (1994–2002). Luft became an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow in 2010, an NSTA Fellow in 2017, and an Owens Institute for Behavioral Research Distinguished Scholar in 2020. She was a Fulbright Research Specialist to Vietnam in 2017.
Dr. Eric J. Pyle
Retiring President 2022-2023
Dr. Eric J. Pyle is the retiring president of the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA). He began serving his one-year term on June 1, 2022. He is currently a Professor of Geoscience Education at James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Pyle has been a committed teacher, educator, and member of the science education community for more than 30 years. He began his professional career as a science teacher at Monroe High School in Monroe, North Carolina. During that time, Pyle also worked as an instructor of physical geology and led summer enrichment programs for high school students and teacher professional development at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. After six years of classroom teaching, Pyle returned to school to pursue a doctoral degree in science education. While studying at the University of Georgia, Pyle worked as a graduate research assistant in the Department of Science Education.
In 1995, Pyle accepted a position as assistant professor of science education at West Virginia University (WVU) and was promoted to associate professor in 2001. At WVU, Pyle served on the board of directors (1996–2004) and as president (2003–2004) of the West Virginia Science Teachers Association (WVSTA). In 2005, Pyle relocated to the College of Science and Mathematics at James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
While at JMU, Pyle has served as a board member (2006–2018) and president (2009–2010) of the Virginia Association of Science Teachers (VAST), and as teacher education division president (2019–2020) of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. Pyle has also held various other leadership positions for the Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE), the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA), and the Geological Society of America (GSA). Pyle served as co-director of the JMU Center for STEM Education and Outreach during 2008–2016, and was promoted to full professor in 2011. He has received funding from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education in support of his work. Pyle contributed directly to A Framework for K–12 Science Education as a member of the Earth and Space Science design team and was a primary reviewer for the Next Generation Science Standards. He was recently named Curator for Education and Outreach for the JMU Mineral Museum.
An NSTA member since 1991, Pyle has contributed extensively to the association. He has served as a division director (of preservice teacher preparation) on NSTA’s Board of Directors and as an NSTA Council member (director of District VIII). Pyle also chaired the NSTA committee that drafted the association’s position statement on teaching climate science and co-chaired the joint NSTA-ASTE committee that revised the standards for science teacher preparation. He has served on several other committees and advisory boards; was a program committee strand coordinator for NSTA’s 2018 Charlotte Area Conference; has authored articles in Science & Children and Science Scope; and has presented numerous sessions at NSTA national and area conferences. As 2021–2022 NSTA President, he represented NSTA to the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) and to multiple state chapters and affiliates.
Throughout his career, Pyle has been honored for his contributions to science education. He received the Gustav Ohaus Award in 1999, the WVU Outstanding Teaching Award in 2001, the JMU College of Science and Mathematics Outstanding Service Award in 2015, the JMU Provost’s Award-Assessment in 2016, and VAST Recognition in Science Education in 2016. Pyle was also named a Fellow by the Geological Society of London in 2016 and by the GSA in 2019. His field-teaching team was honored with the GSA/ExxonMobil Field Camp Excellence Award in 2021. And most recently, he received the JMU Provost’s award for excellence in Global Education and was named a Fellow of the NESTA.
Pyle earned a bachelor’s degree cum laude in Earth science from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, in 1983; a master’s degree in geology from Emory University in 1986; and a PhD in science education from University of Georgia in 1995.
Dr. Erika Shugart
NSTA Executive Director
Dr. Erika Shugart is the executive director of the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA), the world's largest professional organization representing science educators of all grade levels.
Before joining the association staff in March 2021, Shugart served as the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB), a Maryland-based professional society for more than 7,000 cell biologists worldwide. During her time there, she partnered with the board to achieve the Society’s mission through its strategic goals focused on the centrality of cell biology, the promotion of inclusiveness and transparency, leadership in science outreach, career development and enhancement, and financial stability.
Prior to joining ASCB in 2016, Shugart served as the Director of Communications and Marketing Strategy at the American Society for Microbiology, where she led the team that managed media relations, digital communications, marketing, and public outreach. During that time, she also ran her own consulting company, Erika Shugart Consulting LLC, which advised clients such as the Franklin Institute and Academy Health on increasing audience engagement.
Between 2003 and 2013, Shugart oversaw the development of new digital media exhibitions, online experiences, and programs as Deputy Director of the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences. In this role, she managed the creation of several major exhibitions, including Life Lab; Earth Lab: Degrees of Change; Infectious Disease: Evolving Challenges to Human Health; Putting DNA to Work; and a virtual exhibition on Safe Drinking Water. Shugart also conceptualized and managed the museum’s online presence, including its award-winning website.
Early in her career Shugart directed the National Academy of Sciences’ Office on Public Understanding of Science, managing several projects including the article series Beyond Discovery. Shugart also worked at the Office of Policy Analysis at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Shugart’s devotion to the science and education community is also evidenced by her involvement in numerous other professional organizations. She is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives (CESSE), and the American Society for Association Executives. Shugart has also participated in a number of committees for the American Geophysical Union, the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services, to name just a few.
Shugart has been recognized as a leader in the fields of informal science education and science communication. In 2010, she was elected an AAAS Fellow for distinguished contributions and leadership in public understanding and engagement in science. Shugart was a Noyce Leadership Fellow from 2012 to 2013. In 2007, the National Academy of Sciences honored her with an Individual Distinguished Service Award, and she shared Group Distinguished Service Awards in 2004 and 2011.
Shugart has also published extensively for the science communities. She has authored scientific publications, contributed to dozens of scholarly journals, and presented at numerous conferences. Shugart holds a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Virginia and a bachelor’s degree in biology from the College of William and Mary.