Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Diversity in the Sciences: Is it as difficult as it appears?

Pic snapped of the Jolly Giant Commons while b...Image via Wikipedia

I am still digesting my notes from the Institute for Diversity in Learning and Teaching that was held at Humboldt State University on May 20th and 19th. Our Thursday morning keynote speaker was Dr. Tuajuanda C. Jordan. Jordan has devoted much of her professional career mentoring students and working with programs designed to retain underrepresented minorities in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) disciplines. She talked about Xavier University and how why are #1 at getting African American students into medical school. Students have to not only learn to be students but learn to see a career in the sciences as a viable option. She stressed that instructors have to present the human side to science and scientists.

She showed us some real problems in science education in America. There is only a small percentage of students in the U.S. is graduating the 12th grade at the "proficient" level in science (able to conduct simple experiments and draw conclusions). And no minorities are graduating at the "basic" level.

Minorities are underrepresented in the sciences and without differing viewpoints in science we miss new ways of looking at problems. We stifle creativity and innovation. We need a broader-based pool of potential scientists. Minority students tend to come from disadvantaged teachers. Students need more than remedial classes - they need to be non-stigmatized and they need a curriculum that has real science research and experimentation built into it - not "cookbook" science classes where all the experiments succeed. Jordan has started programs that incorporate real research along with committed passionate teachers.

Jordan says that the k-12 schools need to foster the "scientific temper," minds that are creative, rational, open, and tolerant. They need to be taught problem-solving, thinking, and communication skills. Students need to meet real scientists early on in their education - they need outreach, mentoring, and counseling. We need to improve teacher training and not let people who do not care about the practice of science become teachers.

She asked that we increase access to college: it needs to be more affordable; we need transition programs that teach study skills and basics like how to talk to a professor. She discussed peer-led study groups and strong, persistent, consistent, and visible leadership on campuses.

Her presentation dove-tailed nicely into the universal design presentation from the day before. At College of the Redwoods, each online class has a visible link to our 24/7 online tutorial services. I think there is more that we can do here at C of R to promote study groups and peer mentoring.

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