Our Vision

All students experience a science education that honors their identities and experiences, motivates them to explore relevant issues, and prepares them for college, career, and citizenship.

Our Mission

Our mission is to transform science teaching, learning, and leadership through equitable and evidence-based approaches to reviewing classroom instructional materials, designing professional learning, and developing system strategies.

Our Story

In April 2020, NextGenScience launched at WestEd to support educators with the implementation of rigorous science standards across the nation. NextGenScience brings together expertise in classroom teaching, learning design, science leadership, and policy analysis.

Our team was formerly part of Achieve — the nonprofit organization that coordinated the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in 2013 and led efforts to improve the design, selection, and implementation of high-quality science curricula and assessments.

At WestEd, the NextGenScience team works alongside educators to design quality, coherent programs that align science standards, instructional materials, professional learning, and assessments.

Our Staff

PROJECT DIRECTOR

Jenny Sarna directs NextGenScience, providing leadership and vision for the project’s work supporting science educators and leaders nationwide. She assists district and agency leaders with planning, implementing, and evaluating science education programs — paying special attention to equity and access.

Prior to joining WestEd, Sarna served as Achieve’s director of district support, overseeing strategic planning initiatives that brought district-level leaders together to implement college and career-ready STEM policies. Sarna also led Chicago Public Schools’ NGSS implementation strategy, as the district’s high school science specialist and preK-12 science manager. She began her career teaching middle school and high school science, in Hidalgo, Mexico, and Chicago.

Sarna graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Science. She earned a Master of Arts in teaching from the University of Chicago and a Master of Educational Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

SCIENCE REVIEW LEAD

Jennifer Childress Self leads NextGenScience’s efforts to deepen understanding throughout the education field of the features vital to materials designed for today’s science standards. This work includes managing professional learning programs and resource development for education stakeholders and coordinating NextGenScience’s reviews of science and engineering instructional materials.

Prior to joining WestEd, Self worked with several international organizations, promoting research-based approaches to STEM education in developing countries. Previously, Self served as the director of instructional support for science at Achieve, where she supported state and district implementation of the NGSS and other Framework-based standards after coordinating the development of the NGSS. She also led the development of the Smithsonian’s Center for Building Awareness of Science Education and served as its director for four years before joining Achieve. She began her education career by teaching science at the local Boys and Girls Club.

Self received a doctorate in biomedical sciences from the University of Texas and a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry from the University of Missouri.

PROGRAM ASSOCIATE

Neelo Soltanzadeh supports NextGenScience’s initiatives to review instructional materials and assists with the planning and design of professional learning and of NextGenScience resources. She connects educators to the resources they need to better understand and evaluate NGSS design, access high-quality NGSS units, and utilize NGSS assessment tools.

Prior to joining WestEd, Soltanzadeh supported NGSS and STEM-related initiatives as part of the science team at Achieve. Soltanzadeh’s work there focused on coordinating the development of professional learning and other resources to improve educational equity for all students, particularly English language learners and middle school students. Soltanzadeh previously taught middle school life and physical sciences in seventh and eighth grades. She participated in the implementation of the NGSS in the Anne Arundel County Public Schools eight grade science curriculum.

Soltanzadeh received her Bachelor of Science in biological sciences and her Master of Arts in teaching from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR

Vanessa Wolbrink supports state and district leaders in developing comprehensive roadmaps for science learning and in guiding their implementation. This includes assisting leaders with instructional materials and assessment. She connects educators to evidence-based resources that can help them to better understand and evaluate NGSS design, access high-quality NGSS units, and utilize NGSS assessment tools.

Prior to joining WestEd, Wolbrink worked as an associate director for the science team at Achieve. There, she directed states and districts in implementing the NGSS and managed Achieve’s STEM initiatives. Previously, Wolbrink served as a legislative assistant at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, where she monitored and analyzed national and state legislation, including education and nondiscrimination policy. She also has taught elementary students in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District.

Wolbrink received a Master of Public Policy from The George Washington University and a Bachelor of Science in sociology and women’s studies from the University of Michigan.

About WestEd

WestEd is a nonpartisan, nonprofit agency that conducts and applies research, develops evidence-based solutions, and provides services and resources in the realms of education, human development, and related fields, with the end goal of improving outcomes and ensuring equity for individuals from infancy through adulthood. For more information, visit WestEd.org. For regular updates on research, free resources, solutions, and job postings from WestEd, subscribe to the E-Bulletin, our semimonthly e-newsletter, at WestEd.org/subscribe.

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