PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Seth Ramus

F21 Class of 2006 Statement

Seth Ramus is Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Bowdoin College.

Question: What will undergraduate STEM be like in 2016, given the urgency of new challenges and opportunities facing our nation?

One only needs to turn the television to one of the 24-hour new channels to hear the increasing disillusionment of the American people for science and technology: whether global warming is caused by emissions, whether it is really safe to inoculate your children, and whether stem-cell research is ethically sound are all being openly debated with open skepticism for scientific results. At the same time, the United States continues to fall behind in STEM education— both in the training of students planning to pursue STEM careers, and in giving basic science education to those who will not. Particularly troubling is the declining recruitment of new students into STEM careers relative to an increasing demand in science and technology-related fields.

We as scientists and educators stand at a crossroads for the 21st century. National organizations such as PKAL, the academic funding arms of the federal government, and increasingly our institutions of higher education have begun to make resources available to enhance STEM education and fantastic ideas on how to do it. While these resources are available, over the next decade it will be up to individuals to make use of these resources.

Many colleges and universities, including Bowdoin College, have initiatives in place to increase the number of students in the STEM pipeline, to increase access of underrepresented minorities and women to STEM, and to broaden access to the sciences for non-majors. At Bowdoin, we have recently re-evaluated our distribution requirements and added non-major courses that have real with hands-on laboratory experiences with the aim of giving all students exposure to the process of science. Many departments are also reforming their science curriculum— increasing the exposure of the students to real scientific experimentation inside of the classroom as well as outside through the integration of teaching with research. Additionally, we have instituted several supplemental programs for students in at-risk groups. For example, this summer we will run our first year of the Bowdoin Science Experience which is a 5-day preorientation program for incoming first-year students that will expose them to the culture, faculty, and support programs of the Bowdoin science departments.

While the resources are increasingly available to enhance STEM education, the real challenge is for the individuals who will do the actual work. These programs and changes in curricula take significant time and energy from individuals who are already suffering from tenure and publication pressures. Even in a supportive environment like Bowdoin, the added work is often so burdensome that many faculty hesitate to become even peripherally involved. So, my vision of the next decade is one of translation— how do we engage and support our faculty so that they can implement the changes necessary to "STEM the tide."