A letter to F21 leaders

An essay of tremendous importance

Dear Faculty for the 21st Century:

I am privileged to write you from the ExxonMobil Foundation. Our partnership has continued for almost ten years, and your efforts in F21 continue to be a central component of the ExxonMobil Foundation's strategy to foster improvement in teaching and learning for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The challenge for college and university faculty in the next few decades is daunting. The educational needs for a "science savvy" citizenry, properly prepared K-12 teachers, and a high-tech workforce can only be addressed if academic leaders with vision rise to the occasion. Please reflect on your place within the educational community and let me ask a question. Does your department, institution, or disciplinary society have a culture conducive to student learning, that will positively and adequately impact the needs mentioned above? If the answer is no, then your leadership is more required than ever. If yes, then I challenge you to look for additional ways to improve. Continuous improvement requires that we must challenge some antiquated systems and never accept the status quo.

A nationally known educator told a colleague of mine recently, "We have defined the top ten things that a new faculty member must do to be successful, and teaching undergraduates is not in the top five." I know that this educator speaks the truth, but I believe this type of archaic thinking will not be adequate to serve students, science, and society in the future.

Leadership requires one to develop a position and take a stand. Successful leaders I know have passion. Their passion is a commitment to a cause, an idea, a truth, or goal that makes them unique. This passion includes a conviction so strong that it gives one the courage to accept the risks involved in doing the right thing.

As a member of the F21 network, you have a tremendous opportunity to continue to shape the future of undergraduate STEM education for decades to come. I believe that you have the knowledge and the vision, and with almost 1,200 members representing 500 institutions, yours can become a powerful call for change. Make your voices be heard.

Ed Ahnert
ExxonMobil Foundation