PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century
F21 Class of 1994 Statements Revisited
Question: What are the current challenges you are facing in your professional life?
Answer: One of the challenges that I faced in 1994 continues: convincing students in nonmajors' courses that it is important to know about science, and to deal with their inadequate academic preparation for college work. Despite the reforms instituted by NCLB, most of our students (at an open-enrollment rural public state university in Oklahoma) are not ready for college work. My greatest challenge as an educator remains the preparation of new generations of scientifically literate citizens. In 1994, I wrote of balancing the time among many opportunities while facing the unstable financial climate of higher education. Since receiving tenure and becoming a more senior faculty member, I am less vulnerable than before to financial challenges that higher education may face in the future. However, tenure has brought an increase, not a decrease, in opportunities and responsibilities (see below). .
Question: What do you view as your most promising options and opportunities for the future?
Answer: As in 1994, I continue to use each class as an opportunity to help students make connections between science and the important events in the world, in the classes that I teach. Also as in 1994, I continue to participate in a network of nationwide contacts with other educators by contributing or going to several professional meetings each year. Also as in 1994, I have continued writing, not just research and educational articles, but books (my Encyclopedia of Evolution will appear in November 2006). My writing also emphasizes topics currently important to society (evolution, ecology). I see writing as my principal opportunity for the future. The academic environment is the ideal place to do this, since what I write overlaps greatly with what I teach, and I want readers to realize the same things that I want my students to realize. Though I have accumulated some additional responsibilities (small grant administration, coordinating a small graduate program), I do not think I would be able to give any administrative duties the zeal that they would require. Rather than to develop new programs, I think my colleagues and I need to use the opportunities we have within existing courses, and with the students we already have. .
Question: What will undergraduate STEM be like in 2016, given the urgency of new challenges and opportunities facing our nation?
Answer: I and many others believe that the public in general, and government and business leaders in particular, do not understand enough science for our civilization to survive indefinitely into the future. I think it is more important for my botany students to know where the oxygen in the air comes from, rather than knowing what a gametophyte is. Students and future leaders need to understand that ecology is not optional; nature is (among many other things) not an externality but the provider of essential ecosystem services. They need to understand that the world in general, and humans in particular, are the products of biological evolution. They also need to understand that continued scientific research is essential. As Danny Goroff memorably pointed out to us in 1996, the government and business leaders of the future are the students we have today in our nonmajors' classes! By 2016, very few if any science instructors will be doing what some do today: teaching their subjects as if their application to world issues did not matter. This is in addition to the problem of producing enough qualified scientists to meet the growing demand. The biggest difference in science education between today and 2016 will be technological. Most courses will be primarily online, although there is not now and may never be a satisfactory online replacement for laboratory experiences or classroom dynamics. We need to understand how to use technology for what it's worth, for example PowerPoint as a true educational tool rather than as just a fancy blackboard.