Transforming science education through research-driven innovation

Dennis Lee

Image: Dennis Lee


Research Scientist and Staff Advocate

Dennis Lee is a Research Scientist and joined the BSCS Science Learning team in 2020. He is interested in how biology students know what they know and why they believe it. He is also interested in how students use this scientific knowledge to reason about race, sex, and gender in society. He is currently engaged in research to study how genetics education affects how students use biological concepts to reason about complex social phenomena. By sharing this research, Dennis hopes to transform education for a new generation of students so that they can contribute to shaping a more just and equitable society. Dennis holds a BAs from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Zoology and Bacteriology, a MS from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Bacteriology, and a PhD from Clemson University in Engineering and Science Education.

In his free time, he likes to unwind by playing a round of disc golf, playing violin with his family, and pushing wargame miniatures around a table while rolling dice and making pew-pew noises.

Humane Genetics/HGL2 Summary

Racial inequities continue to be a persistent problem in the United States. Genetics knowledge has historically been used to justify policies that contribute to racial inequity. Additionally, research has shown that genetics education can affect how students think about race. For example, some forms of genetics education can lead students to believe that 1) people of the same race are genetically uniform, 2) people from different races are categorically different, and 3) genes are the most powerful and important cause for complex human traits. Individuals with these beliefs often argue incorrectly that it is futile to address racial inequality because inequality is in our genes and is therefore natural and unchangeable.

The Humane Genetics project aims to refute these beliefs by teaching students about human genetic diversity and complex multifactorial causes (i.e., interactions between genetic and environmental factors) for human traits. Our research is beginning to show that teaching students about these complex genetics concepts reduces, on average, racial bias among students, as well as increases genetics knowledge among students relative to traditional genetics instruction.

Currently, we are working on improving the Humane Genetics Curriculum by testing if the addition of a reasoning with evidence framework improves student learning. While teaching students how to reason with evidence could help them to refute racially biased arguments, it could also strengthen some students’ ability to argue for these same biased ideas. Therefore, we are interested in determining if our revised curriculum results in greater reductions in racial bias among students, or if racial bias increases after exposure to the newly developed Humane Genetics intervention.

Selected Publications

Lee, D. M., Kennedy, C., & Benson, L. C. (In Preparation). Students’ epistemic practices during argumentation in a course-based undergraduate research experience.

Lee, D. M., Weindling, M., Syed, A., & Donovan, B. M. (In Preparation). Treatment Effect Heterogeneity and its Implications for Reducing Belief in Genetic Essentialism Through Genetics Instruction.

Faber, C. J., Kajfez, R. L., Lee, D. M., Benson, L. C., Kennedy, M. S., & Creamer, E. G. (2022). A grounded theory model of the dynamics of undergraduate engineering students’ researcher identity and epistemic thinking. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 59(4), 529–560.

Kajfez, R., Lee, D., Ehlert, K., Faber, C., Benson, L., & Kennedy, M. (2021). A Mixed Method Approach to Understanding Researcher Identity. Studies in Engineering Education, 2(1), 1–15.

Lee, D., Wright, M., Faber, C., Kennedy, C., & Dittrich-Reed, D. (2021). Participation in Biology Education Research Influences Students’ Epistemic Development. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 20(4), ar58.

Donovan, B. M., Weindling, M., & Lee, D. M. (2020). From Basic to Humane Genomics Literacy. Science & Education, 1479–1511.

Faber, C. J., Kajfez, R. L., McAlister, A. M., Ehlert, K. M., Lee, D. M., Kennedy, M. S., & Benson, L. C. (2020). Undergraduate engineering students’ perceptions of research and researchers. Journal of Engineering Education, 109, 780–800.