Faculty & Staff Directory
Dionne Nicole Champion
Research Assistant Professor
Center for Arts in Medicine/STEM and Arts Integration, STEAM Making (Learning through Dance Makerspaces), Embodiment and Learning, Dance Physics, Communicating Identity through Movement, Community Engaged Research

Dionne's work has focused on the design and ethnographic study of learning environments that blend STEM and creative embodied learning activities, particularly for children who have experienced feelings of marginalization in STEM education settings (e.g. African Americans, girls).  She is interested in understanding the ways these populations draw on their everyday practices and use their bodies as resources.  She explores STEM engagement through making and embodied experienceto construct broader conceptualizations of cognition that substantively intertwine STEM learning and development, attending to the affective, social and emotional while broadening STEM knowledge and understanding.  

Dionne is an engineer, dancer, arts educator, and education researcher. Her background and experiences give her a unique perspective for understanding issues related to STEM and children from communities of color as well as an informed perspective on the intersections of arts and sciences, informal and school settings, theory and practice.  Trained primarily as a qualitative researcher, she has developed a toolkit that includes video ethnography, participant observation, video and artifact elicitation interview, clinical interview and multimodal analysis.

She is founder of DancExcel, a creative arts center in Gary, Indiana.  Her experience running that program include designing and implementing educational programming that infuses science, math, writing and history into music and dance activities.  This work has deepened her appreciation for the fact that context matters, that cognition is complex and that understandings are often demonstrated but left unspoken. It also deepened her commitment to exploring both STEM and making opportunities for children of color, thinking not only about how to broaden participation, but also about how to understand, respect, and shed light on the ways in which children already engage, and the strengths that they bring to the table.  Dionne is currently developing a research program that studies ways to engage children in authentic STEM experiences and that interrogates and complicates the ways we think about sense-making, particularly within informal learning environments like Makerspaces where STEM is not just STEM, movement can be more than “just” movement, and the pathways to understanding are not linear, normative, or even always predictable.

On-Going Research Projects 

  • UF Virtual Creative Arts Academy: UFVCAA is a virtual arts-infusion program designed to provide creative making experiences for Howard Bishop students through an online platform.  The program provides opportunities for students to get up and moving while engaging in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) activities through modular challenges delivered through video-based content and virtual meetups between students and program facilitators. UFVCAA is a collborative project between the Center for Arts in Medicine and the Center for Arts, Migration, and Entrepreneurship.
  • Making Hip Hop: Using Culturally Sustaining STEM+C Learning Environments to Explore Computational Learning and Identity: This is a 3-year design research project funded by the National Science Foundation ($967,620) aims to create and understand a model learning environment that integrates interdisciplinary computational making practices and cultural and expressive practices from hip hop. Implementations are taking place in community-facing organizations that serve middle school youth from communities of color in Gary, Indiana; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Youth meet online and at community-based sites (i.e., makerspace, arts-based space, community center) to explore a range of interdisciplinary STEM topics will be covered including science principles (i.e., physics), mathematics, engineering, computer programming, digital media, and cross-platform product planning and development through the lens of hip hop and computational making practices. Youth work collaboratively to develop and design their own interdisciplinary STEM-based computing projects using hip hop as a basis. We are exploring several salient research questions, including how middle school youth appropriate, resist, and/or transform ecologically situated resources and practices as they a) learn computational making practices and b) construct pluralistic computational making identities and within different learning environments.
  • Embodied Physics for Underrepresented Youth in Multiple Settings: This is a three-year NSF-funded project ($1,483,702) that will establish an approach to physics learning, identity development and engagement through dance for Black and Latinx youth in informal settings. The project's goals are two-fold: 1) to understand, characterize, and define the relationships between physics learning, identity, and engagement in environments that utilize creative embodied learning approaches; and 2) to develop a robust model for informal STEM learning that provides opportunities for youth to engage with key ideas in physics through dance and embodied activities and culturally responsive participation structures.  We will achieve these goals by implementing activities from our developing learning lab model across a variety of strategically-chosen contexts through an iterative design-based research process. 
  • Choreographing Science: Choreographing Science is a 3-year NSF-funded project ($861,391) that aims to examine the impact of having youth, choreographers, and scientists engage in the collaborative embodied exploration of complex scientific systems and phenomena. Utilizing agent-based modeling and choreography, participants will work together to develop scientific and choreographic models for problems that are authentic to the scientists’ field. The intervention will be implemented in across two cycles of research in Gainesville, FL and Boston, MA.  Implementations will take place in community-based centers, spaces not typically considered as science research spaces, broadening perceptions of what science research looks like and can be.  Scientists will bring in scientific ideas from their area of expertise that are not yet settled. Choreographers will provide tools for engaging in movement-based exploration. Our research questions focus on (1) how engaging in the process of creating embodied and agent-based models of complex systems contributes to new ways of understanding science, de-settles ideas about the process of how science gets “made”, and impacts understanding of the role of the body in making science; and (2) how arrangements of bodies and modeling tools can work together to support understanding of complex systems. We will recruit youth and scientists from communities who are underrepresented in STEM, broadening participation through increased access and exposure to science practices and scientists, as expanding views of who can practice science for youth. The project will provide youth with opportunities to reason through mechanics of a phenomena by using their bodies and agent-based modeling, helping them to see science as ongoing and unsettled and see themselves as contributors to science; and expand scientists’ epistemological ways of thinking about how unexplained scientific phenomena can be approached. 
  • The Baobab Tree Project:A Framework for Radical Healing through the Arts:  Developing a framework for Radical Healing through the Arts based on work that dance educators and youth did in the making of The Spirit of the Baobab Tree, a youth-performed dance-umentary that tells stories of over 500 years of African and African American history using music and dance. Baobab Tree was developed to relate the timeline of historical events to the issues and traumas that Black youth are dealing with in the present day. It is community dance studio production created to be a teaching tool for dancers, as well as for audiences. It includes a dance performance, a children’s book and curriculum guide. The production utilizes multiple genres of dance and music to portray scenes from historical periods including ancient West Africa, the middle passage, slavery and abolition, Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights era, and present day. The story is not necessarily focused on individual historical figures, but on collective struggle and the things that allow us to overcome - hope, unity, education, community. The scenes were constructed to highlight these elements in relation to specific struggles and traumas - to highlight pain, but also joy. The musical soundtrack supports the telling of the story. Analysis of interviews of past and present cast members has shown individual and overlapping processes that occur in the construction of the production that, when taken together, lead to the development of: Self-Awareness (that leads to an actionable self), Critical Consciousness, Positive Black Identity, and Radical Hope, critical elements required for Radical Healing.
  • SPARC352: A Space for People, Art, Research, Community, Creativity, and Collaboration: SPARC352 is a community development project to create a space in downtown Gainesville for collaborative work with community at the intersections of creativity, health, entrepreneurship, and STEM education.  The overarching purpose of SPARC352 will be to enhance health, wellbeing and social cohesion in our community by delivering programs and services, offering a physical space to work, and promoting collaboration among community stakeholders to co-create and build partnerships which enhance community assets and building capacity.


PhD, Northwestern University (2018), Learning Sciences, School of Education and Social Policy (SESP), Evanston, IL

Dissertation:The STEAM Dance Makerspace: A Context for Integration: An Investigation of Learning at the Intersections of STEM, Art, Making & Embodiment

(Committee: Dr. Reed Stevens (chair), Dr. Carol Lee, Dr. Shirin Vossoughi)

M. Ed., Temple University (2003), Dance Education, Boyer College of Music and Dance, Philadelphia, PA

Thesis:Dance as a key to boosting brainpower and self-confidence in African American children (Advisor: Dr. Kariamu Welsh Asante)

B.S., Florida A&M University (1998), Chemical Engineering, Cum Laude, FAMU/FSU College of Engineering, Tallahassee, FL 

Previous Experience

Founder and Artistic Director, DancExcel, Champion Center for Creative Arts Education, Gary, IN (2004-Present)

DancExcel is a creative arts center founded in the belief that movement and dance-centered learning can help children acquire the skills, discipline, and confidence to achieve academic success. As director, job responsibilities included teaching dance classes (for ages 2-adult), overseeing the staff while developing and implementing the program curriculum, create dance and arts-infused programming, and producing and directing major educational performance events. I also provided and facilitated educational workshops for area schools, teachers and administrators. 

* Creator ofThe Spirit of the Baobab Tree production, a DancExcel “dance-umentary” designed to use music and dance to teach cast members and audiences about African American history.  I co-authored the corresponding children’s story book (ISBN-10: 1436378419) and a curriculum guide based on the Indiana State Academic Standards for reading, language arts, social studies, writing and dance that are also used as supplemental teaching tools. 

Dance Educator, Roosevelt High School, Gary, IN (2008-2010) 

Dance Educator, Boston Renaissance Charter School, Boston, MA (2002-2004) 

*Massachusetts Educators License, 2003

Development Engineer, Eastman Kodak Company

Selected Publications and Presentations

Cromwell, F., Champion, D., Steele, M, and Wright, T. (2020). Embodied Physics: Utilizing Dance Resources for Learning and Engagement in STEM. Journal of the Learning Sciences (In Press)

Champion, D.N.Tucker-Raymond, E.Millner, A.Gravel, B.Wright, C.G.Likely, R.Allen-Handy, A. and Dandridge, T.M. (2020), "(Designing for) learning computational STEM and arts integration in culturally sustaining learning ecologies", Information and Learning Sciences, Vol. 121 No. 9/10, pp. 785-804. https://doi.org/10.1108/ILS-01-2020-0018 

Champion, D., Tucker-Raymond, E., Gravel, B. (2020). Exploring Computational Making through the Sounds of Hip Hop.  In R. Hall (Chair), Designs for Learning with and through Sound. Symposium conducted at the International Conference of the Learning Sciences, San Francisco, CA.

Pratt, L. J., Solomon, F. C., Wright, T., Vandana, S., Steele, M., & Champion, D. (2020, February). Exciting interest in physics and geophysics among young women of color through the medium of dance. In Ocean Sciences Meeting 2020. AGU.

Champion, D. N. (2018). The STEAM dance makerspace: A context for integration: An investigation of learning at the intersections of STEM, art, making and embodiment (Doctoral dissertation, Northwestern University).

Stevens, R., Jona, K., Penney, L., Champion, D., Ramey, K. E., Hilppö, J., ... & Penuel, W. (2016). FUSE: An alternative infrastructure for empowering learners in schools. Singapore: International Society of the Learning Sciences.

Champion, D., Penney, L., & Stevens, R. (2016). Developing and recognizing relative expertise in FUSE. In R. Stevens (Chair), FUSE: An alternative infrastructure for empowering learners in schools. In Proceedings of the 12th International Conference of the Learning Sciences, Singapore. 

Ramey, K. E., Champion, D. N., Dyer, E. B., Keifert, D. T., Krist, C., Meyerhoff, P., ... & Hilppö, J. (2016). Qualitative analysis of video data: Standards and heuristics. Singapore: International Society of the Learning Sciences.

Champion, D. & Dyer, E. (2016). Representing Context. In K. Ramey (Chair), Qualitative Analysis of Video Data: Standards and Heuristics. . In Proceedings of the 12th International Conference of the Learning Sciences, Singapore. 

Champion, D., Sonke, J., Nixon, S., and Cottler, L., (2020). Connecting with STEM through Movement and Dance. Magazine of the International Child Art Foundation (Volume 20, Issue 2, Number 60)

Champion, D., and Grant, S. (2008). The Spirit of the Baobab Tree. 

Faculty Showcase Webinar: Arts in Public Health Practice Models for Engaging Communities, presented September 15, 2020

FabLearn Panel on Hip Hop Making, presented October 11, 2020

Remote Cultures Conversation: How the Arts Build and Maintain relationships During the Pandemic, presented January 26, 2021

Panel: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Trauma and Healing through Music, Dance and Narrative, “Engaging with Racial Histories and the Traumas of Systemic Racism with African American Youth through Music and Dance, "presented February 13, 2021

UF College of the Arts Panel on Improvisation, Race, and Artificial Intelligence, presented March 25, 2021 

Contact Information
(352) 273-1488
Room #109 & 239
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Mailing Address

1357 Stadium Road
Gainesville, FL 32601