Environmental Factor, February 2008, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Durham Careers in Science Consortium Meets at NIEHS
By Eddy Ball
Finding ways to augment science curriculum and activities - and consequently turn young people on to careers in science - is the goal of a diverse group of educators, business people, scientists and community leaders who gathered at NIEHS January 14 for a meeting of Durham Careers in Science (DCIS). The meeting was hosted by Marian Johnson-Thompson, Ph.D., NIEHS director of Education and Biomedical Research Development.
Chaired by Kathy Hoffmeier, vice president of Workforce Development for the Durham Chamber of Commerce (http://www.durhamchamber.org/), the group explored the establishment of a broad-based speakers' bureau to help support science educators in the Durham Public School (DPS) System (http://www.dpsnc.net/).
As Hoffmeier explained at the beginning of the meeting, DCIS is an industry-driven program dedicated to supporting science education in grades K-12. The program's goal is to enhance both General Science and Career and Technical Education Science standard courses of study through the active involvement of local businesses. Hoffmeier said she envisions modeling the DCIS resource on the Environmental Protection Agency's EPA-RTP Speaker's Bureau (http://www.epa.gov/rtpspeakers/), but with an emphasis on the private sector.
"The bottom line is business connecting with the kids and getting involved," Hoffmeier told the group. "I think in the long run what you do with a committee like this is going to make a big impact."
Two DPS administrators, Director of Science Janet Scott and Director of Career Technical Education Bob Gant, gave the group an overview of the middle-school and high-school science curriculum. As Scott described the benefits for students, visiting speakers, hands-on activities and field trips can help young people better understand the connections between science and real-world careers for themselves. Speakers often can bring to the classroom an expertise that the teacher may not have.
Gant reinforced the schools' need for real-life science experiences and pointed to the need for young people to develop more realistic career expectations than the common aspiration to succeed as a professional athlete, which was the number one career choice in a recent survey of eighth graders. "We want to say 'Go ahead, have that dream. But, just in case, what are some other things you're interested in doing?'" he said.
As the meeting turned to brain-storming about how to go about creating the speakers' bureau, several of the six NIEHS scientists and administrators in the audience had suggestions. Sharon Beard and Joan Packenham, Ph.D., expressed concerns about the time-consuming vetting process for school volunteers who have direct contact with students. Liam O'Fallon, chair of the Environmental Health Science Education Committee, suggested that high school science courses introduce students to the gene-environment interaction model of human disease. Most of the other group members who commented agreed that the system for linking speakers and teachers should be as direct as possible.
In addition to the Durham Chamber and DPS, representatives of the City of Durham, Durham Technical Community College, North Carolina Central University (NCCU), Duke University and several Durham non-profit organizations that offer educational programs, such as Futures for Kids (http://www.f4k.org/) and the Shodor Education Foundation (http://www.shodor.org/foundation/whats/), attended the planning meeting. The federal sector was also represented by scientists from the U.S. Army Research Office and Environmental Protection Agency. Private workplace representatives attended from Biogen Idec, GlaxoSmithKline and EMC Corporation.