About Jim and Kathy 

The Jim and Kathy Spencer Fund to Advance POGIL Practice is named for two longtime educators who have been integral to the growth of The POGIL Project. Jim was one of the founders, and also served as a leader on the original National Science Foundation grant that funded nationwide training for educators to learn the POGIL approach. Read more about the Spencers

James Nelson Spencer grew up in rural West Virginia, where his proudest moment was quarterbacking the state-championship high-school football team—a squad so small it couldn’t muster a scrimmage. He earned a B.S. in chemistry from Marshall University and a Ph.D. from Iowa State. He served on the faculty at Lebanon Valley College for 13 years before moving to Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster, PA, where he taught from 1980 until 2007. At F&M, Jim’s career was one of passionate commitment to teaching, learning, and research. He was awarded the highest honors that the college bestows in each of these areas and was also the recipient of the American Chemical Society’s 2005 George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education for his work in reforming the college chemistry curriculum. His research led to more than 100 publications, the vast majority with undergraduate co-authors. Before the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, Jim could, among other feats, quote from memory hundreds of lines of Shakespeare. He read voraciously in American history, and collected, within the constraints of a professor’s salary, 17th and 18th-century English and American furniture and decorative arts. It was with great sadness that we notified our POGIL community in March 2021 of the passing of our beloved Jim, one of the pillars and founding visionaries of The POGIL Project, and a mentor and friend to so many. We are grateful for Jim's impact on teaching and learning, and we know he will live on in the hearts and minds of those he leaves behind. You can view Jim's official obituary and information on services and donations in his honor here .

Kathleen Moretto Spencer earned her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, her master’s degree in library science from Drexel University, and a M.A. in music history, also from Penn. She served as the Franklin & Marshall College head librarian for 15 years and was the architect of the college’s first website in the early 1990s. Prior to her time at F&M, she was the assistant director of the Yale University Music Library. Currently college Librarian Emerita and adjunct Assistant Professor of Classics, she is also a serious student of the harpsichord and is a skilled player of the viola da gamba. Kathy is also the founder of the Friends of the Library at Franklin & Marshall, which was organized in 1986 to advance the library as a cultural and historical resource, both within the college and in the larger community. She is active in the Lancaster, PA, community and is the founder and director emerita of Early Music at St. James Episcopal Church, a concert series of music composed before 1800. After Jim’s diagnosis, Kathy has become an advocate for Alzheimer’s awareness. She participates in a program to certify health-care team members as dementia caregivers at Willow Valley Communities and chairs a support group to provide comfort and education for families affected by the disease.

The pair met when Kathy interviewed at Franklin & Marshall College. Jim was on the search committee, but missed her initial interview. Later in the day, Kathy was having lunch with the members of the committee when Jim arrived, sat down and asked, “What are your thoughts on departmental libraries in the sciences?” Kathy replied, “they should be abolished.” Kathy believed that all library materials should be accessible to the entire college community and managed professionally, not tucked away in the back rooms of academic departments. Despite that initial conversation, they fell in love and were married in 1984. Several years later, Franklin & Marshall inaugurated the Martin Library of the Sciences managed by a professional science librarian and with Kathy at the helm. On the day of the opening, she recounted that first meeting and gleefully told the crowd, “I married the man who asked me that question.” 

During their marriage, the couple has taken their disparate interests and merged them into a lifetime of inquiry and shared passions that include travel, languages, science, and history. "As someone who has not had the benefit of an education in the sciences, I realize that during my years with Jim, I gained a profound respect for science and the scientific method. And in me, Jim found someone who ignited his love for the arts,” said Kathy. 

This lifelong love of learning and their exuberance in sharing their passions with those around them led to mentorship of countless students and colleagues throughout their tenure in higher education. The Spencers have always been strong advocates for educational innovation both in and out of the classroom, and it is in this spirit that they have established this scholarship to support educators as they strengthen their POGIL practice and expand their ability to involve students in their own learning. 

As Jim once said, “Perhaps the most important thing I have learned is that to teach is to engage students.”