WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2010 - The American Chemical Society (ACS) today commended a new report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) that says the national imperative to improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education will not truly be effective unless we inspire students.
Educators and policy makers have long known that improving STEM education is essential to our country's economic renewal as a world leader in scientific discovery and technological innovation. But to convince students to make these disciplines their life's work they must feel a fascination for science and engineering.
"The drive we know as scientific curiosity, that fire, that inspiration, has always been ignited by teachers and mentors sharing their excitement for discovery and investigation," said ACS President Joseph S. Francisco, Ph.D. "I am heartened to see the PCAST report correctly places the responsibility to inspire our next generation of scientists in the hands of those who can be most effective: Well-trained teachers and scientists themselves."
There are about 20 million people in the U.S. with degrees in STEM and healthcare disciplines, a "potentially tremendous asset to U.S. education," according to the PCAST report. In a March 3, 2010, letter, the STEM Education Coalition which is co-chaired by ACS, recommended to PCAST advisors that federal researchers should play a mentoring role through the STEM education process. "They can provide students and educators with hands-on research and experimental learning opportunities with world-class scientists."
President Barack Obama has made improving STEM education a top priority. Last week, President Obama announced a new, independent initiative, "Change the Equation," that will bring business leaders together to help solve STEM education needs. Likewise, the council of 20 of the nation's leading scientists and engineers, PCAST, was appointed in April 2009 by President Obama to advise him on STEM education and other science and technology issues. In the September report, Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America's Future, PCAST advised the federal government to:
- Recruit and train 100,000 great STEM teachers over the next decade capable of preparing and inspiring students.
- Recognize and reward the top 5 percent of the nation's STEM teachers by creating a STEM master teachers corps.
- Create 1,000 new STEM-focused schools over the next decade.
- Use technology to drive innovation, in part by creating an advanced research projects agency for education, modeled on the highly successful and innovative Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
- Create opportunities for inspiration through individual and group experiences both within and outside of the classroom.
"ACS has long held this point of view, and thousands of our 161,000 chemists mentor students, volunteer in classrooms and open our laboratories to school tours," said Francisco. "And in 2011, to celebrate the International Year of Chemistry, ACS will make even more of an effort to get chemists into classrooms!"
The ACS Chemistry Ambassadors network pairs chemists with school teachers. Chemists provide chemistry demonstrations, mentor students who want to participate in science fairs, present current research to high school students and engage youngsters in hands-on science experiments.
During National Chemistry week, Oct. 17-23, 2010, and National Lab Day, held annually in May, chemists bring science into classrooms and also invite students into professional and academic laboratories so they can see and ask questions about ongoing experiments.
ACS' newest initiative, Science Coaches, will take mentoring a step further by creating commitments between chemists and teachers. Science coaches will volunteer in classrooms for an academic year, supporting teachers by sharing their expertise in science, working directly with students in classes, organizing laboratories, writing grants for materials and many other capacities.
ACS has also maintained very successful secondary education programs. Since its inception in 1999, the ACS Scholars program has provided college scholarships to more than 2,300 minority students majoring in the chemical sciences. Project SEED, which was initiated in 1968, provides summer internships in chemical research to economically disadvantaged high school students; in 42 years, over 9,000 high school students have participated.
"Every chemist knows that to transform a substance you need a reaction," said Francisco. "It's the same way with education: You've got to inspire students, you have to fuel their imagination."