PKAL Volume IV

What [President] Wilson meant by the wholly awakened person who should be the ideal product of American higher education is a person awakened through the power of the imagination to a consciousness of possibilities.... James Bryant Conant assures us that scientific discovery begins not in the finding of the laboratory but in the glimpses of the imagination...that the true scientist takes off, as the true poet does, not from the notes on his desk, but from a hunch, a fell in the bones, in intimation. If that is true, Mr. Wilson' whole person will make the better scientist, as s/he will be the better citizen of a free nation.
-- Archibal MacLeish. Education in the Nation's Service. 1959.

The potential shortage of skilled workers could have devastating consequences for the future. Since it takes many years to train a scientist or engineer, we must invest now to guarantee the availability of a skilled and competent workforce for the 21st century.

... Based on a tight global ST&E workforce, changing demographics, and projected growth in ST&E jobs, it is in the national interest to vigorously pursue the development of domestic ST&E workers from all ethnic and gender groups. We should pay special attention to groups that are currently under-represented in the ST&E workforce, because it is with these groups that much of our nation's growing talent pool resides.

... And it is a fundamental responsibility of a modern nation to develop the talent of all its citizens.
- Report from the National Science and Technology Council "Ensuring a Strong U.S. Scientific, Technical, and Engineering Workforce in the 21st Century", April 2000

PKAL is announcing a new publication on what works, what matters and what lasts in the process of enhancing the quality and character of student learning in STEM fields. Initially the stories and essays included in this publication will be posted on the PKAL web site, accessible for easy review, copying and use by leaders pursuing renewal of STEM programs; in months to come, materials will be available in print form. Reports are being gathered from the broader undergraduate community, as well as from PKAL-active institutions. Producing this publication electronically allows for additions, updating and comments. The current series of summaries from Keck/PKAL consultations is part of this new publication.


The intent of this publication is to capture, analyze and disseminate lessons learned from the experience of leading agents of change– institutional, organizational and individual– so to inform the work of the larger community. Since the mid-1980's there has been much expertise and energy expended in the effort to strengthen student learning in STEM fields; common themes emerge from analyzing the achievements of colleges, universities and societies making visible progress toward that end. These themes, individually and collectively, stand as directional signals by which other campuses and organizations can chart their course, as they come to understand what works, what matters and what lasts.

What Matters

From studying the work of /leading agents of change across the country, it is clear that what matters is the focus on student learning as the beginning point and driver for the work of reform.

Thus the first set of stories will be from campuses giving attention to issues such as...

  • the background and aspirations of prospective and entering students

  • the level of interest, persistence and success of their students in the study of STEM fields

  • the changing world in which students live, and in which they will live and work upon graduation... leaders work to ensure that the learning environment is designed...

  • to serve students with different learning styles, academic backgrounds, career trajectories

  • to make students a part of the natural science community on that campus, with programs and spaces, policies and practices that enable students to become engaged in "doing science as scientists do science" within a supportive community

  • to prepare students to be responsible citizens and contributing members of the workforce in a society increasingly influenced by science and technology.

What Works & What Lasts

PKAL has always focused on what works, articulating in 1991 the salient characteristics of a learning environment that serves STEM students well. We now translate the experiences of the past decade into a broader vision of what works, convinced that only institution-wide attention to student learning, as signaled in how programs, faculty, and facilities are developed, will achieve the goal of shaping undergraduate STEM programs that truly serve the future of science and society.

We hope this vision challenges all stakeholders pursuing sustainable institutional transformation to consider that what lasts is when there is:

  1. a mission statement whose vision and purpose is clearly articulated, agreed-upon, woven into institutional policies and practices, and intentionally focused on goals for student learning

  2. leadership from bottom to top in all levels of administration and faculty, with a shared commitment to the mission and vision and to providing tangible support for colleagues taking responsibility for ensuring student interest, engagement and success

  3. awareness of the world around and of their own circumstances

    • with a palpable recognition that the status-quo is no longer acceptable, given their analysis of internal and external realities and future challenges

    • of promising practices emerging within the broad national undergraduate community

    • of the need to build upon the work of leading agents of change in other settings

  4. institutional practices that provide support for

    • dissolving barriers between disciplines/divisions/spheres of responsibility

    • diverse ways of thinking through options and opportunities

    • risk-taking, valuing success and for acknowledging such efforts in the process of review and reward

  5. a commitment to action

    • to facilitating regular and orchestrated communication involving all appropriate members of the campus community, as well as colleagues and peers across the country

    • to exploring and implementing new approaches to learning, teaching and research

    • to monitoring and assessing the impact of approaches new and old on student learning, faculty productivity and on the institutional culture

  6. an openness to the future

    • with leaders persistently scouting at the frontier

    • with attention to the changing context in regard to students and science

    • with a sense of service, with leaders taking responsibility to prepare all students for leadership in a world increasingly dominated by science and technology.