head shot of O'Donnell
Under Secretary for Education

Carol O'Donnell

Director, Smithsonian Science Education Center

Carol O’Donnell is the director of the Smithsonian Science Education Center, which is dedicated to transforming K–12 Education through Science in collaboration with communities across the globe. O’Donnell is responsible for all operational activities and planning for the unit, including building awareness for preschool through 12th-grade science-education reform, conducting programs that support the professional growth of P–12 teachers and school leaders and overseeing all research and curricular-resource development, philanthropic development and administration. O’Donnell serves as the U.S. representative on the Global Council of the InterAcademy Partnership Science Education Programme, an appointment by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and she serves on the UN Broadband Commission Working Group on School Connectivity: Hybrid Learning. O’Donnell also represents the Smithsonian on the Subcommittee on Federal Coordination in STEM Education, which advises and assists the Committee on STEM Education of the Office of Science and Technology Policy of the Executive Office of the President.

Before joining the Smithsonian in 2015, O’Donnell worked at the U.S. Department of Education where she oversaw nearly $17 billion in annual federal investments under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. These investments focused on education reform, school improvement, teacher professional development, improved student achievement and assistance for states building their capacity to implement and sustain education reforms and achieve improvement in student outcomes. She also oversaw the cognition and student-learning research program at the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the Department of Education.

While earning her doctorate at the George Washington University, O’Donnell managed a five-year, National Science Foundation-funded trial aimed at identifying the conditions under which effective middle school science curricular interventions improve student learning and reduce achievement gaps when scaled-up. Her research on curriculum implementation was published in the Review of Educational Research and earned her an “American Educational Research Association Division of Learning and Instruction Graduate Research Award” in 2008.

Before attending George Washington University, O’Donnell spent 11 years developing science-curriculum materials for the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s science and technology concepts elementary and secondary programs.

O’Donnell began her science-teaching career in Virginia public schools. She currently serves on the part-time faculty of George Washington University’s physics department.

O’Donnell earned her bachelor's degree in education from the University of Pittsburgh, her master’s degree in geosciences from Mississippi State University, her doctorate in curriculum and instruction from George Washington University and an Executive Education certificate in nonprofit management from the Harvard Business School.

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