Massachusetts Science Corps: Executive Summary

 

It is well known that:

• The future of the biomedical sciences in the United States and in particular the biotechnology community in Massachusetts is threatened by an alarming lack of identifiable future scientists in the present K-12 student population;

• Generally, K-12 students are not aware of the excitement and opportunities in science; this is especially evident in the disadvantaged communities;

• 58% of eighth grade students in Massachusetts did not score in the proficient range in science on the National Assessment Educational Progress in 2000 (NAEP, 2000);

• Weaknesses in science education, especially in the early years, jeopardize the potential for the creation of an estimated 100,000 jobs and more than $1 billion dollars in cumulative personal income tax revenues by 2010 (MassBiotech 2010)

The Need

The Executive Summary of the MassBiotech 2010 report recommends:

If the state’s political, business, and academic leadership does not respond, the Massachusetts biotech industry will continue to grow, but it will represent an ever diminishing share of biotech jobs. Alternatively, if the state mounts a concerted effort now, by 2010 the industry could expand its share of employment, create nearly 100,000 additional in-state jobs (approximately one third in biotechnology and two thirds in service and support industries), and raise more than $1 billion in cumulative personal income tax revenues.                                    

The MassBioTech report calls on the governor and the state legislature to “Invest in strong science education, so Massachusetts citizens can take advantage of the opportunities the life-sciences cluster will create.”

 

The Proposal

We at Boston University believe that our program, known as CityLab, has addressed many of these concerns and has had extremely positive outcomes. CityLab has been in existence for over 12 years. It was developed with support from the NIH, NCRR and the H. Hughes Medical Institute. It provides hands-on modern biology experiences for teachers and their students. The School of Medicine has set aside modern facilities to carry out the program and CityLab has developed a tried and true curriculum to accompany these experiences. More than 40,000 students and their teachers have participated in CityLab experiences at our medical school. In 1998, we put into service the first mobile science laboratory for Grades 7-12. It is a 40-foot modern facility that goes to the school instead of students and teachers coming to CityLab. It has been an overwhelming success. We are booked solid for this coming year and requests for the academic year 2004-2005 have already begun. Approximately 5000 students are able to participate in MobileLab activities annually. The Boston University MobileLab has also been replicated throughout the country. North Carolina, Connecticut, Maryland and South Dakota are now operating mobile laboratory programs while similar programs are being developed in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Texas. All are modeled on the MobileLab program pioneered at BUSM.

We believe that the MobileLab concept can serve as the foundation for establishment of a Science Corps in Massachusetts and ultimately in the United States. This Science Corps would enroll young science and math teachers and newly graduated PhDs from Massachusetts’ colleges and school systems looking for an enriching volunteer experience supporting a statewide mission. The teachers would be paid a modest stipend similar to that of Peace Corps and Teach for America recruits to travel throughout the state in a fully equipped mobile laboratory introducing teachers and their students not only to the excitement of science as a potential career goal but also to the impact that science has on our everyday life. They would serve for one to two years. The goals of Science Corps would be ambitious but attainable with adequate resources, Congressional support and teamwork among science and education communities nationwide:

• To Promote the excitement and success of the natural and biomedical sciences;

• To Build a statewide organization that will use the MobileLab to visit school systems throughout Massachusetts introducing materials, training programs and laboratory experiences to every community, student and teacher in the state;

• To Encourage professional development of science teachers, providing them with tools to improve their science inquiry skills.

• To Motivate more scientists and educators to be interested in K-12 teaching.

• To Bring state science education up to the level of the nation’s pioneering researchers.

• To Establish supply local depots of materials and supplies to facilitate the process of learning;

• To Create a greater number of young Massachusetts students considering a career in science;

• To Generate innovative models to improve science and education, these may have regional influences i.e. Use marine biology in areas where the economy is driven by the fish industry or the use of plant biology where farming is the economic driving force;

• To Encourage social conscience and volunteerism, beginning with signs posted on the Mobile vans reading:

“Massachusetts Science Corps”

As is currently done with the MobileLab, the Science Corps visit to a community would engage parents, school administrators and citizens interested in improving educational opportunities for local students. Key to the Science Corps mission would be broad outreach, ensuring exposure to underserved regions of the state: rural, suburban and inner city.

Summary

A state Science Corps initiative has the potential to inspire excitement about science among students not seen since U.S. astronauts reached the moon. With science and math proficiency levels declining at a time of dazzling opportunities for advances in bioscience and biotechnology, this is the opportunity to energize new graduates and young professionals to serve brief tours as champions of science. The state’s need could not be greater. As the National Science Foundation summarizes: “In the new global context, a scientifically literate population is vital to the democratic process, a healthy economy, and our quality of life.”

References:

MassBiotech 2010: Achieving Global Leadership in the Life-Sciences Economy. David Matheson and Martin B. Silverstein, M.D. Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MBC) and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). 2002

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2000 Science Assessment. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics. 2000

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of BU School of Medicine