This is the first in a series of posts on a topic I've decided to investigate further…Making Science Sexy! (Or at least sought after in a PG-13 or G-rated, age appropriate sort of way.)
Science needs a Madison Ave makeover. All the Fortune 500 companies - technology companies, lifestyle brands, you name it - they all have fancy marketing campaigns and spend millions of dollars to get their product out front in the face of consumers. Currently, those companies, manufacturing corporations and even investment banking firms have the whiz kids they need to produce brilliant products. But will they always? If we’re approaching the fiscal cliff, when will we fall off the STEM cliff? At what point will kids no longer care to understand and pursue science? Shortly after, we will surely see companies and governments affected – unable to meet supply and demand. How do we STEM this?
Sure, you're probably thinking, how can we possibly fund STEM initiatives when we are careening out of control and over the fiscal cliff?! How, pray tell?! Well, it takes money to make money. And the UK gets this. Last week, Chancellor George Osborne announced a huge gift to Britain's science community. £600 million dedicated to capital investment in science over the next three years. That's about $961,740,000.00 in US dollars. Granted, that sum may pale in comparison to the US's National Science Foundation (NSF) FY 2013 budget request of $7.373 billion. But the British understand their resources and constraints and are planning for the future, even though times are tough. Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering stressed the importance of establishing Britain as a center of excellence for synthetic biology and energy-efficient computing. The NSF laid out some pretty generic ways research could contribute to addressing national challenges:
- Fostering the development of a clean energy economy.
- Supporting future job creation through advanced manufacturing and emerging technologies.
- Protecting critical infrastructure.
- Promoting multidisciplinary research in new materials, wireless communications, cyberinfrastructure, and robotics.
- Developing the next generation of scientific leaders through support for graduate fellowships and early career faculty.
- Advancing evidence-based reforms in science and mathematics education.
I know I've heard those somewhere before... So how do we get from point A to point B? What needs to change? Because you can’t fly a plane; can’t manufacture an iPhone; can’t produce a movie or a music record or build a sports stadium without science and math. How should we promote science and math to ensure the future of our own existence? Here, I'll lay out just a few ideas I've been tossing around.
Science Camps, Field Trips and Scholarships
There has to be a stronger connection between higher education and primary schools. Perhaps there is an opportunity for grade schoolers to use university facilities when not in use. Teaching assistants to science professors or teachers in training could assemble programs for the kids that address basic science concepts and start to explore the world of research and development.
If we brought together a knights of the round table, so to speak, one dedicated to advancing the cause of science for all ages, maybe we would be on the right path. There are pockets here and there across the country where outstanding examples of science education are on display: The Natural Museum of History in New York City; The Magic House, The St. Louis Science Center and The St. Louis Zoo - yes, all in St. Louis, MO; The National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD. I'm by no means going to make this an exhaustive list. The point is that gems of science education are not available to all students across the country. And that needs to change. Every child in every school district should have access to first-rate, world-class, science and technology learning environments - in the classroom or in their communities. This is a must if the US wants to maintain its global competitiveness.
Be it a science camp, a science club or a field trip, kids need hands-on learning experiences that present science as a fun and rewarding path, whether it’s a career or a pastime. And if for a career, we need to find a way to increase scholarships. Given the student loan crisis in this country, students need assistance to pay for university training. All the work on the front end in encouraging science in early childhood will be useless if it can't be pursued financially later in higher education.
Nonprofits Collaborating with For-profits
DonorsChoose.org, and online charity dedicated to helping students and teachers in the classroom succeed, has really taken great strides to get kids on the STEM path. One of their corporate partners, Chevron, held a Fuel Your School initiative. When customers filled up at a Chevron gas station, $1 was donated for textbooks and technology that teachers requested. Through this program, Chevron has donated more than $3.5 million to fund STEM projects across the country.
Public Awareness Campaigns
Perhaps a Hollywood marketing style trailer is needed to perk up interest in science. Imagine it - Teachers engaging kids in scientific discovery, kids wanting to know why the lava in the volcano erupts violently, or the mechanics that equips the cheetah to run so fast, or how an airplane stays in the air. Learning is taking place, kids are advancing through the ranks till they are designing and building our future modes of transportation, our units of dwelling where we lodge, and how our food is grown given the constraints placed on the planet due to climate change. If you can envision it, you can do it.
We have a lot of good ideas out there. We have to elevate those ideas to the next level. We need an awesome public awareness campaign for science! Stay tuned.