Oxy to Expand Science Education Outreach Programs
Earlier this year, Intel Chairman Andy Grove told Congress that the United States was in a “state of emergency in terms of math and science education” and that without significant improvement, the American economy will suffer for lack of skilled workers.
Backed with a new $900,000 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), Occidental College is attacking this problem locally through an expansion of its innovative science education outreach programs to high schools and community colleges.
High schools from Valencia to San Pedro and from Woodland Hills to West Covina will be able to take advantage of a new training program for physics teachers and access to a mobile laboratory that will allow students to explore the laws of physics with state-of-the-art computerized scientific equipment. (See attached list of participating schools.)
At the same time, Occidental will expand its successful community college summer research program in chemistry and biochemistry by creating a research sabbatical program for community college biology and chemistry teachers.
“How do we provide the highest quality science education for all citizens? That’s the issue we are addressing here,” said Chemistry Professor Chris Craney, principal investigator for the grant. “Our society is profoundly influenced by the issue of scientific literacy, and we need to develop new models that raise the bar for all students.”
The four-year HHMI grant also will make it possible for Occidental students to conduct research with top scientists at the City of Hope; to expand the College’s science offerings by adding a molecular neuroscientist to the faculty; and to develop new interdisciplinary science courses for Occidental undergraduates.
Recent Congressional hearings and reports from two federal commissions have pointed to negative consequences of substandard high school science programs, a decline in the number of students pursuing graduate studies in science, and the low numbers of qualified minorities and women in technology- and science-related careers.
“Hands-on, experiential learning that emphasizes basic concepts communicates knowledge and the sheer excitement of science discovery in a way that reading or lecturing can’t match – and often requires equipment that many schools can’t afford,” Craney said. “Our outreach programs make this approach to learning possible.”
Since 1992, Occidental’s science outreach program – known as TOPS, or Teachers + Occidental = Partnership in Science – has allowed more than 25,000 local high school students to learn chemistry and biology using sophisticated laboratory equipment brought to their schools in the TOPS van.
TOPS allows students to study the molecular and genetic structure of fly eyes by means of thin layer chromatography, to use micro lab techniques that serve as the basis for the study of the human genome, or to use a computer spreadsheet program to visualize how a chemical reaction works.
Teachers whose classes participate in the TOPS program attend the TOPS Summer Institute at Occidental, a two-week professional development program that familiarizes them with equipment and how to integrate the lab experience into their curriculum.
The Hughes grant will allow Occidental to add physics to the TOPS program by purchasing the necessary computer-based lab equipment and allowing high school physics teachers to participate in the Summer Institute.
“The equipment we use will allow teachers to teach conceptual physics so that students can understand the basic concepts and forces at work, rather than a less easily grasped mathematical representation of those concepts,” Craney said.
“But providing the equipment is pointless if no one knows how to use it or fix it. We make this technology available with the kind of teacher training and support that makes it truly accessible,” he said.
The grant will also make it possible to expand Occidental’s award-winning community college outreach program by making it possible for a community college biology or chemistry professor to take a semester-long research sabbatical and serve as a mentor to community college students participating in Occidental’s summer research program.
Community colleges represent a rich source of potential science talent that it largely ignored, the federal Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology Development said its report on science education issued earlier this month.
Occidental is one of 53 U.S. colleges and universities to receive awards for science education from HHMI, the nation’s largest private supporter of science education from elementary school through postdoctoral studies.
Current TOPS High Schools
San Gabriel Valley
Alhambra High School (Alhambra)
Arcadia High School (Arcadia)
Crescenta Valley High School (La Crescenta)
La Canada High School (La Canada Flintridge)
Mark Keppel High School (Alhambra)
Rowland High School (Rowland Heights)
San Gabriel High School (San Gabriel)
South Hills High School (West Covina)
San Fernando Valley/Burbank/Glendale
Burbank High School (Burbank)
Burroughs High School (Burbank)
Glendale High School (Glendale)
Granada Hills High School (Granada Hills)
Hoover High School (Glendale)
Louisville High School (Woodland Hills)
Notre Dame High School (Sherman Oaks)
Greater Los Angeles
Downtown Business Magnet (Los Angeles)
Eagle Rock High School (Eagle Rock)
Mayfair High School (Lakewood)
Paramount High School (Paramount)
Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian High School (Hollywood)
San Pedro High School (San Pedro)
Canyon High School (Canyon Country)
Valencia High School (Valencia)