This report on reports presents valuable perspectives on the past, present, and future of undergraduate programs in mathematics, technology, and the various fields of science and engineering.
For one we see a remarkable consistency of vision in these seventeen years of reports– one that is not modest and that calls for more than tinkering around the edges. The vision is of an environment in which all American undergraduates have access to learning experiences that motivate them to persist in their studies and consider careers in these fields; it is of an environment that brings undergraduates to an understanding of the role of science and technology in their world. It is a vision that calls for attention to practices and policies that affect shaping the curriculum and building the human and physical infrastructure to sustain strong programs. It is a vision that calls for collective action.
The consistency of vision is notable, in part, because of the diversity of sponsors– from government agencies and formal task forces of national associations to informal working groups such as those convened by PKAL. Certainly, the similarities derive from a common conviction of the authors that current and anticipated national needs can be addressed only by strengthening the learning of students– at all levels. The consistency also proceeds from the fact that these reports were shaped by the experiences of visionary leaders in the trenches– persons actively exploring how educational programs might serve 21st century students, science and society more creatively.
Another perspective we gain from reading these reports is of the progress made toward reform in the past decades. Campuses across the country are shaping and reshaping faculty roles, curricula, and spaces for science with an understanding of what inquiry-based, research-rich learning for all students means for that particular community in the context of 21st century challenges and opportunities.
These visions, recommendations, and the current momentum toward reform are only a foundation for the future. They provide a perspective both on what yet needs to be done and how to proceed. The process by which these reports were developed is one example of how to proceed: gathering leading agents of change to ask what if and why not about policies and practices within their spheres of influence and to define a vision to drive their planning and work. In looking at campuses effectively implementing the recommendations cited here, we see a similar approach: identifying and supporting a leadership cadre to explore and implement visionary plans that makes sense for their circumstance, mission and identity.
The literature on leadership speaks to the essential role that vision plays in the capacity of leaders to make a difference. The vision presented in these pages can be a resource for present and future generations of leaders. The recommendations cited here can become part of a leadership tool kit of ways and means to realize a vision. It is now time for all of us to take responsibility for leadership.