PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century
Liz U. Gron
F21 Class of 1996 Statement
Americans find science fascinating and exciting; consider the circulation of Scientific American or the popularity of science-based television shows. On any given evening, you can spend several hours watching Crossing Jordan, CSI: Crime Scene Investigations, or Numbers, to name a few. While telling stories about people, these shows hold science: medicine, analytical chemistry, fundamental biology, and mathematics at their core. Based on the apparent attractiveness of these entertainments, STEM enrollments should be huge, but these viewers fail to appear as students in high school or college courses. Studies suggest that students fall away because higher-level science, beyond being difficult, has ceased to be relevant. This places an obligation on the SMET teaching professionals to help students find the connections between the classroom material and their “real” lives.
At Hendrix College, the Chemistry Department is using green chemistry as a tool to create and maintain student interest. Green chemistry is an attitude that places value on the environmental consequences of an experiment in conjunction with, but not in place of, the quality of the chemical results. In the last four years we have reworked the introductory course laboratories, general and organic chemistry, to apply green ethics while including students in the discussion of what is or is not green. Green chemistry intrigues the students and creates an environmental connection to all the topics in the courses, whether formally considered as an environmental topic or not.
While green chemistry interests the students, green education is important in its own right. Green Chemistry is vital for the evolution of our profession and society. Chemists have a growing ability, and responsibility, to tailor chemical reactions to reduce or eliminate wastes. We must teach our future scientists to consider the environmental consequences of their actions, and educate citizens to demand that they do so, in order to ensure that the world’s resources can serve the future as they have served the past. Locally, our green chemistry programs have significantly changed what we expect of our students, and what our students expect of us. Beyond the planned conversations about chemicals and techniques, our students have begun to quiz us in return about the use of disposable items and solvent volumes. Green chemistry is important and interesting. It is an example of how to increase the number of students taking STEM courses and retained in the STEM fields. Citizens with more STEM education will be better able to request and demand that their society is based on thoughtful science.
CSI is so successful that it is on for two hours most nights and comes in three flavors: Miami, New York and Las Vegas. I covet the students’ interest in that show and I want to steal that enthusiasm for a mere 50 minutes, three times a week. Is that to much to ask?