Catherine Riihimaki

Associate Director, Science Education
Peter B. Lewis Library, Room 234

Ph.D. Earth Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz, 2003
B.A. Geosciences and Mathematics, Williams College, 1998


Dr. Riihimaki supports science education initiatives at the Council.  She is a geoscientist with expertise in the fields of environmental science, geoscience, and geographic information systems. She works on projects across several Princeton programs, including collaborations with the Princeton University Art Museum, and serves as a leader in the geoscience education community through programs sponsored by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers and the Science Education Resource Center. She is a member of the Executive Committee for NAGT and is an elected official on her town's Board of Education.

Catherine's geoscience interests focus on how physical landscapes change through time, particularly in the context of climate change. She has worked primarily in the US Rocky Mountains, with ongoing projects on Holocene environmental records from lake sediment in Glacier National Park, Montana, and coal-based evidence of river erosion in the Powder River basin, Wyoming and Montana. She has recently begun a collaboration with 2ndNature LLC to develop and disseminate software applications for environmental management at the municipality scale. Additional projects have included investigations of the impacts of stream restoration on water quality in the Lake Tahoe basin, California and Nevada, and the role of long-term subsidence on the topography of the Hawaiian islands. She has collaborated with colleagues across disciplinary boundaries by serving as the project expert in GIS.

Catherine's current education projects include:

  • Science and Engineering Education Initiative (SEEI): Focusing on courses in environmental sciences, geosciences, and environmental policy, Catherine works with faculty to revise the focus of their courses so that students from many different disciplines to become more engaged and informed environmental citizens. She has also taught three freshman seminars, one on modern mapping and spatial analysis, one on water issues, and most recently one on the similarities and differences between the visual arts and science.
  • Inclusive STEM: With an eye toward broadening engagement in science, technology, engineering, and math, Catherine collaborates with colleagues at Princeton and beyond to explore topics such as barriers for students to entry into STEM fields, strategies for supporting all students in classrooms and research, and encouraging cross-disciplinary projects that can expose social science and humanities students to relevant STEM concepts and can expose STEM students to social science and humanities concepts. She additionally leads implicit bias workshops for STEM faculty and graduate students.
  • Education Research: Catherine explores research questions focused on how to engage and support all students in introductory STEM courses, and how to motivate faculty to revise their teaching strategies. She recently submitted a manuscript to the Journal of Geoscience Education, analyzing responses by geoscience faculty to survey questions around whether, how, and why they have modified their teaching in the recent past. She has also been a part of three ongoing research projects through CST, all involving mixed methods of survey data combined with qualitative interviews and classroom observations:
    • A two-year project investigating the experience of students in PHY103/104, which began to incorporate parts of the ISLE curriculum in fall 2013.
    • A multi-year study of Freshman Scholars Institute students and faculty, exploring how this program impacts their Princeton experiences from the summer before their freshman year through their sophomore year.
    • An ongoing study of a new curricular pathway at Princeton into engineering for first-year students.
  • Education Leadership: Catherine is currently on the Executive Committee for the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) and is an elected member of the Clinton Township (NJ) Board of Education. She is part of the NAGT Traveling Workshop Program, serving as a facilitator for workshops aimed at strengthening geoscience departments across the US and Canada, and as the Vice Chair of the management team. She is also a workshop leader for the Preparing for an Academic Career workshop, which helps mentor graduate students and postdocs embarking on job searches in academia.