In Memory ...


A Tribute to Dr. Donna Roudabush Sterling

Donna Roudabush Sterling was born in Philadelphia, PA, in 1948.  Her family moved to Sacramento while she was still in elementary school.  Her education path continued through McClatchy High School, Sacramento City College and the University of California at Berkeley, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry in 1970.  At McClatchy she had the good fortune of having a wonderful chemistry teacher, Judy Overholser, who inspired her to seek a career in science.  


After graduating from UC Berkeley, Donna married fellow Class of ’66 alumnus David Sterling and raised a family – daughter, Dana, and son, Douglas.  David, a career officer in the Air Force, and Donna spent a year in Bangkok, Thailand, where she taught math and science at an international school.  Later, they were stationed in many parts of the United States: California, Washington state, Florida, Colorado, Arizona, Alabama, and Massachusetts before finally settling in McLean, Virginia.  During this time, she continued to teach science and math at both high schools and community colleges.  She observed many different and often unsuccessful teaching methods and decided she wanted to change that. 

After earning a Doctorate of Education in Science Education from George Washington University in 1992, Donna was immediately hired as the science education professor at George Mason University.  Her goal was to develop a science program for elementary and secondary teachers that would provide the tools and experience to build on the natural curiosity of children.  She accomplished this by treating children as budding scientists who employed the scientific method and procedures to research nature.  By using the scientific method, the children would actively learn science and teach themselves with guidance from their teachers.  Over several years, Donna prototyped this method by running summer science camps, gathering evidence that honed the method of active, project-based learning that is evidence-based.  

As a result of her work, in 2011 the US Department of Education awarded George Mason University a $28 million five-year grant, the largest grant in the history of the university, to employ this methodology throughout the state of Virginia via the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA).  

Sadly, Donna passed away in 2014, during the third year of the grant, just as positive test results were being documented.  But her work continues through a cadre of dedicated professors and teachers throughout Virginia who are working to capture the enthusiasm of students.  At the time of her death, she was a Distinguished Service Professor at George Mason University, and is survived by her husband and children.

All these accomplishments were the direct result of a dedicated science teacher at McClatchy High School who motivated not only Donna, but many of her students, to seek careers in science and make the world a better place for us all.