About the PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century Network

Background

The PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century (F21) network emerged from discussions among the early leadership groups of Project Kaleidoscope. These groups included many of the leaders within the liberal arts community who, in the mid-1980s, were taking risks with new approaches in the classroom and lab. This was a time of great ferment in undergraduate SME education (the STEM appellation was not then current), with many people exploring ways to integrate technologies and incorporate new pedagogies into the learning environment for undergraduate students. These early leaders were a passionate group, and history will document the time and energy, the personal capital and wisdom they contributed, and how their work has made a difference for the generations of leaders that follow and for the students whose lives are touched by their work.

In the early days of PKAL, we spent much time in imagining the future of undergraduate mathematics and the various fields of science, coming to realize that the infrastructure had to be reshaped and strengthened if effective reforms were to take root and flourish over the long-term. Acting on that realization, we began to focus within PKAL on two key points of tension in the SME infrastructure- facilities and faculty. PKAL's work in setting out parameters for planning new spaces and structures for science and in facilitating networks of design professionals and academics is well-known. A significant number of the undergraduate science facilities projects currently underway have been influenced by this active network.

People are the most important asset in the learning environment, and faculty are key to ensuring the kind of programs that attract and sustain student interest. In looking at their own careers and at the challenges for the coming decades, it was clear to those initial PKAL leaders that a different kind of support system was needed to attract and sustain faculty interest in this work of transforming. They recognized the value of collegial relationships in the educational arena, relationships that mirrored those within the research community that give opportunity to learn from and build upon the work of others; they also recognized the essential need for visible and tangible administrative support for such efforts.

That, in essence, was the genesis of the PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century network. Beginning with the Class of 1994, who gathered at the Atlanta University Center for a national assembly, there are now over 1200 PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century members-representing all STEM disciplines, from over 500 colleges and universities across the country. This emerging network of leaders would not be possible without the generosity of the ExxonMobil Foundation, which shares PKAL's vision and understanding of what it takes to achieve that vision.

History

In early 1994, those in the leadership of PKAL spent time reflecting on the urgency of the work of reform and on the difficulty (based on their own experience) of sustaining the momentum of institutional renewal. In thinking about the future of PKAL, they determined that:

  • faculty were the key to building systemic and sustainable reform
  • networks of faculty with a common vision that would continue to 'own' the work of institutional transformation where needed
  • these networks had to provide persistent and formal mechanisms for connecting members to the ideas, materials and people shaping the future of undergraduate programs in mathematics, engineering, and the various fields of science
  • support of senior colleagues and national leaders in building and sustaining such a network was critical.

In a paper for a PKAL Symposium in 1994, Dr. Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences, suggested that:

"…identify gifted individuals, a few people who really want to accomplish something, who really care about something, is a key to overcoming barriers and achieving meaningful reforms. […and that] getting 'naïve' young intellects, junior faculty, involved will be critical in pushing the system into the future."

Thus, planning began for what became the PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century, an effort to build a network of those pushing the system. With support from the ExxonMobil Foundation, and with the advice and counsel of a stellar group of members, PKAL invited senior administrators on campuses around the country to identify those on their campus who were already making a difference in undergraduate science and mathematics and who were poised for leadership in the decades to come.

"Being a mentor for F21 members has been a personally rewarding experience but an inspiration about what science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education might be in the future. I have been involved in the transformation of young faculty members into leaders who are making a difference. I know of no other program which has so systemically empowered and motivated young faculty to provide leadership to improve STEM education throughout their career."
- Melvin D. George, President Emeritus - University of Missouri