Remembering Alan J. Friedman

Ellen F. Mappen,
National Center for Science and Civic Engagement

I am honored but saddened to write a brief introduction to this section that includes remembrances from a number of Alan J. Friedman’s colleagues. Alan was the inspiration behind the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement’s SENCER-ISE initiative, a project to encourage cross-sector partnerships between informal science and higher education institutions, and was also its founding project director.

Wm. David Burns, in his introduction to this special issue of Science Education & Civic Engagement: An International Journal on informal science education, notes that he “saw Alan as a humanist and scientist.” Certainly the selections that follow from Alan’s colleagues bear witness to the multifaceted nature of his interests, experiences, ideas, and lasting contributions to the field of education, science, and literature and to the impact he had on the lives of the many colleagues who knew him. Alan’s interests were wide ranging and included not just a desire to communicate science to the general public, students, and teachers but also to examine cultural influences on science and technology.

In an interview published in these pages in the Summer 2011 issue, Alan described how he came to the field of informal science education. He was a solid-state physicist by training and in 1973 held a visiting professorship at the University of California, Berkeley. He mentioned how he had wandered into the Lawrence Hall of Science, one of the pioneering public science-technology centers. This experience changed his life and he ended up spending twelve years at that institution, primarily as the Director of Astronomy and Physics, with a short leave to serve as the Conseiller Scientifique et Muséologique at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in Paris from 1982–1984. In 1984, he became director of the New York Hall of Science, a position he held until he retired in 2006. At NYSCI, he revitalized the moribund institution. A description of what he found in 1984 (“zero attendance the year before he arrived”) compared with what NYSCI had become by 2006 when he retired can be found on the NYSCI website: 447,000 visitors with over 90 full-time staff and 150 high school and college students who served as Explainers in the Science Career Ladder program, one of Alan’s lasting initiatives. In his retirement years, Alan was a Museum Development and Science Communication Consultant and a cherished scholar at the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement.

To open this section, Sheila Grinell shares her memories of Alan’s last trip abroad, to Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, and of her long working relationship with him. In relating her conversation with Alan that took place before their meetings started, she mentions his goal of using SENCER-ISE to bring together educators who have different “institutional perspectives” and also gives us a “Reader’s Digest” version of what they discussed. From Eric Siegel, we learn about how Alan always explored the “intersection of science with the arts and humanities” and wanted to understand “the impact of science on society,” and we learn much about Alan’s intellectual interests and pursuits that ranged well beyond directing a major science center. Alan Gould’s brief remembrance highlights how much he learned from Alan Friedman about planetarium presentations and how best to engage audiences in this exciting experience. Priya Mohabir focuses on Alan’s contribution to the education of high school and college students and his vision to empower them as science communicators while they themselves learned science. David Ucko’s “SENCER Synergies with Informal Learning” gives us an overview of how David Burns and I came to collaborate with Alan in our efforts to work across different educational sectors. David Ucko also provides us with an understanding of the differences between formal and informal learning and his thoughts about SENCER as “a model for synergistically integrating aspects” of these different modes of education. We end this section with a reissuing of “In Memoriam,” David Burns’ memorial tribute that he wrote on May 5, 2014, the day after Alan’s untimely death.

We have lost Alan Friedman and greatly miss his wisdom and friendship. But as Alphonse DeSena, our Program Director in the Division of Research and Learning at the National Science Foundation (NSF), wrote recently,

Over several decades of service to education and science, Alan Friedman’s ideas, actions, and accomplishments were many, insightful, and significant.   His contributions in varying capacities to NSF’s mission and programs were frequent, critical, and game changing.  We at NSF and in the informal science education field cherished him as a colleague, as (in my case) a mentor, and as a friend. His legacy will continue for years to come.


About the Author

Ellen F. Mappen is a senior scholar and current director of the SENCER-ISE initiative at the National Center for Science & Civic Engagement. She was the founder and long-time director of the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science, and Engineering at Rutgers University and was the director of Healthcare Services at the New Brunswick Health Sciences Technology High School. In these positions, she has worked to provide opportunities that encourage women and students of color to enter STEM fields. She served as SENCER coordinator for SENCER-ISE. She holds a Ph.D. in history from Rutgers University.


Author: seceij

Chuck Gahun is the content manager for the SECEIJ website and technical consultant for NCSCE

Leave a Reply