The future of science depends on you...

Author:  Falishia Sloan

Institution:  Eastern Virginia Medical School
Date:  June 2007

In a commentary featured in June's Nature Chemical Biology, a professor from Brandeis University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) recognizes the somewhat bleak outlook that the future of science has for students in the United States due to college students' decreasing interest in the subject.

Dr. Irving Epstein, who received $1 million from HHMI last year in order to address this very problem by reconstructing Brandeis University's introductory chemistry class, states that this attitude towards science by undergraduates, particularly disadvantaged undergraduates, has something to do with the fact that there are a lot of students who simply find introductory science classes difficult.

"We need to ask ourselves why science is unattractive to so many students," Epstein wrote, "particularly (but by no means exclusively), to underrepresented minority students."

Epstein also notes that professors who teach introductory courses are no strangers to a new student's reaction to such science classes. "Anyone who teaches an introductory science course at one of this country's elite universities is familiar with the sea of white faces he or she encounters, and the tendency of that ocean to whiten even more as the semester progresses and as one moves up the ladder of courses."

To fix this impending problem, Epstein suggests that colleges around the country spice up their introductory science courses, giving students a taste of the potential of science from the start and inspiring students to take an open, positive approach to the field.

Epstein stated strategies that would increase and utilize to the highest degree the interaction between student and teacher and incorporate learning from a variety of sources, such as video games. "If we can succeed in making chemistry more appealing to students by reawakening their instinctive curiosity about the world, and attract and retain more disadvantaged students in chemistry, the impact will be felt well beyond a single discipline, a single university, and a single nation," he wrote.

With the money he received from HHMI, Epstein is implementing his own ideals by working with the Posse Foundation to seek disadvantaged students chosen for their academic and leadership abilities. He plants to utilize the prominence and power of the Posse program while creating a focus on science in order to make a difference, with features such as paid jobs that allow students to work in a lab and a two -week pre-Brandeis program.

Written by Falishia Sloan