Dispelling the ,Not a Science Person‰ Myth

 

By Ruth Jacobs
 

Most kids love science. But at some point, whether it’s in grade school or college, that interest can get squelched. Particularly at risk are children in fourth and fifth grades and minority and first-generation college students. A $1-million grant to Colby from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, announced in April, will address these and other concerns in the sciences.

The grant provides funds for a multipronged approach to supporting science education. Two main components address those at-risk groups: faculty will work closely with teachers in Waterville to help develop programs to keep children passionate about science, and at Colby a new program is being developed to sustain interest among first-year students.

The Colby Achievement Program in the Sciences (CAPS) is based on institutional research about the factors that cause students to lose interest. “There are a lot of students at Colby who, because of the schools that they come from, are under-prepared for particularly the math that is involved in introductory chemistry. We were able to identify that as one of the big stumbling blocks,” said J. Warren Merrill Associate Professor of Biology Andrea Tilden. “Students would finally give up... just leave the sciences altogether.”

Part of the CAPS program is to bring enrolled minority and first-generation students with a strong interest in science to Colby the summer before their first year. They will spend six weeks taking a course that will boost the quantitative skills that apply to science. They will also serve as research assistants and be mentored by Colby faculty.

In another major component, faculty and students will join elementary school teachers to study topics such as plant life, ecology, and nutrition, and Colby students will work with kids in an after-school program. The model will be developed for statewide application.

Another minority group in the sciences—female faculty—also will benefit from the grant through funding for leadership training and workshops. Of concern are recruitment, retention, and post-tenure career development. “The number of women faculty in the sciences is relatively low,” said Tilden—nationally and at Colby. “We’re doing much better than we have in the past. There are more women in the sciences now, but we’ve still got a ways to go.”

 
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