At the Sciencenter, a hands-on science museum in Ithaca, NY, we watch young children learn through play. They explore, make observations and inferences, and perform experiments just like scientists. What we see every day on the museum floor has also been researched and documented at Cornell’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab and other labs around the country. Children make inferences about cause and effect and use statistical evidence to make predictions about their world (Kushnir and Gopnik 2005; Kushnir et al. 2010). The same curiosity that leads to exploratory play also leads to explanation-seeking behavior. Children ask “why” when events are unexpected or surprising (Legare et al. 2010). In other words, young children, given the opportunity to explore, do so in the same ways that scientists do.
At the Sciencenter, we have also learned that not all children have the opportunity to experience rich play environments and the freedom to explore and experiment. There is a gap between what researchers know about early childhood cognitive development and how some parents, caregivers, and educators interact with the children in their care. We see evidence of this knowledge gap every day as parents and caregivers interact with their children at our exhibits and out in the world. We see parents concerned that their children will get too wet if they play with water, or parents who move their children along to new activities when the children are engaged in repetition to see if the outcome stays the same.
Giving parents the tools and confidence to encourage their children’s scientific exploration and engaging parents and caregivers in current research in cognitive development are matters of civic importance, and time is of the essence.
Early childhood is a time of rapid development. By age three, for example, children have already learned 50 percent of what they will eventually know as adults (Landry 2005). Young brains start pruning neural connections that go unused at age four, and—remarkably—children’s brains are 90 percent fully developed by age five (Woodhead 2006). We believe that giving parents the confidence and tools to allow their children to explore like young scientists will help create the best learning environments possible for young children and set the stage for future learning.
Since 2012, researchers from Cornell’s Early Childhood Cognition (ECC) Lab have been using the museum floor at the Sciencenter as a research space. By working at the Sciencenter, ECC Lab researchers are able to recruit child participants for their studies. The ECC Lab is discovering how children think and learn while they are playing games with puppets and stickers. One recent study, conducted at the Sciencenter, looked at the effect of choice on sharing behavior (Chernyak and Kushnir 2013).
While children participate in research, their families are able to watch research in action and discuss the latest theories about how children learn with real scientists in this “living exhibit.”
The Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities-Informal Science Education (SENCER-ISE) partnership projects gave us the perfect opportunity to leverage this research partnership and engage undergraduate students in real-world learning while giving parents the tools and confidence to support their children’s explorations. As one undergraduate participant said, “In the lab, we examine children’s learning and thinking using activities and games specifically designed for a controlled lab setting…. This project examines children’s learning in the organic and messy real world to see how they learn in informal learning environments.”
As part of the SENCER-ISE project, Cornell undergraduates have helped develop and test signs to encourage parents and children to make connections between different exhibits and other areas of their lives through the use of common vocabulary. The first set of exhibit signs has the word “water” and an image of a water drop. The signs are placed on aquariums, water play areas, and a model of human blood. Undergraduate researchers from the ECC Lab are studying the kinds of parent-child conversations that arise as a result of the prompt from the signs. This is a real-world application of a theory undergraduates learn in their “Concepts and Theories in Childhood” course: children expect to find commonalities between things that are labeled with the same word. As is always true in the real world, there have been some surprises. Student researchers have found that “parents and children engaged in meaningful and purposeful play at the water exhibits.” “Parents were also likely to ask their children causal and predictive questions, as well as offer causal explanations to their children’s questions.” The results also indicated, however, that the signs did not promote conversations. In fact, “while parents and children engaged with exhibit materials, they rarely noticed the signs.” That is why in the second year of the SENCER-ISE grant, we have introduced a “scavenger hunt” to encourage children to search for the signs
In addition, undergraduate and graduate students have shared current research at workshops for parents and teachers both at the museum and at Head Start sites in the county. Since 2014, over 460 adults have attended these workshops, which highlight some of the research into early childhood cognitive development and provide tools to support their children’s science exploration. Early childhood teachers have learned that even young children can and do use science and science skills and have practiced science process skills. Through these workshops, undergraduate researchers have had the opportunity to apply their theoretical learning about early childhood cognition in an informal setting, creating richer learning experiences for them as scientists and students of children’s learning.
As a result of the SENCER-ISE project, we are confident that the undergraduate students see the topic of early childhood development not only as something they are researching, but as an issue of civic importance. They experience the real-world applications of their theoretical learning and see the differences between learning environments and parenting styles firsthand.
In turn, we at the Sciencenter have access to current research and expert advisors so that we can continue to integrate research into exhibits, programming, and our outreach efforts in ways that improve the learning environments for the young children in our community. We have been honored to be a part of the SENCER-ISE project and look forward to continuing this work.
About the Authors
Michelle Kortenaar serves as the Director of Education at the Sciencenter, a position she has held since 2011. Ms. Kortenaar has a formal science education background, both as a master teacher and as a department head at the middle and high school levels, as well as 6 years of informal science education experience. She has a master’s in education from Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada.
Allison Sribarra has been the Grant Administrator at the Sciencenter since 2012. She has worked closely with Sciencenter educators on early childhood programming. She has a decade of experience working with non-profit grant management and administration and holds a master’s of public policy from the University of Maryland.
Tamar Kushnir is Associate Professor at the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University. She received her M.A. in Statistics and Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and was a Post-Doctoral fellow at the University of Michigan. Dr. Kushnir’s research examines mechanisms of learning in young children. She continues to explore the role that children’s developing knowledge – in particular their social knowledge – plays in learning, a question with implications for the study of cognitive development as well as for early childhood education.
Kushnir, T., F. Xu, and H.M. Wellman. 2010. “Young Children Use Statistical Sampling To Infer Preferences of Others.” Psychological Science 21 (8): 1134–1140. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/21/8/1134 (accessed May 9, 2015).
Kushnir, T., and A. Gopnik. 2005. “Children Infer Causal Strength from Probabilities and Interventions.” Psychological Science 16 (9): 678–683. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/16/9/678 (accessed May 9, 2015).
SENCER offers a model for integrating aspects of formal and informal learning. This article explores their intersection in the SENCER context, emphasizing the common learner focus and role of relevance in stimulating interest. The SENCER-ISE project further strengthens connections through Higher Education-Informal Science Education partnerships that can bring complementary expertise as well as greater access to the community through public settings and audiences. Applying the lessons learned from the planned evaluation studies will be critical to identifying effective practices and achieving impact at increased scale.
This article explores connections between SENCER and informal science education (ISE), expanding on a talk that Alan Friedman invited me to present at the Fourth Annual Science Symposium co-sponsored by SENCER, the National Center for Science & Civic Engagement, and Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Liberal Arts and Society (Ucko 2009). At that time, I served as deputy director of NSF’s Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings and had known Friedman for many years, since we both had spent most of our careers in the science center field. I had been impressed by similarities between the SENCER approach to aspects of informal learning (and was the “fellow at the National Science Foundation” [Burns 2011a, 2] who helped make a connection). Friedman was instrumental in organizing the subsequent SENCER-ISE invitational conference, which in March of 2011 brought together representatives from both communities to discuss potential synergies. Funding was provided by NSF, and Friedman helped to obtain a Noyce Foundation grant for the conference and then for an initial 10 Higher Education-ISE partnerships. I currently serve as an external advisor, along with Marsha Semmel, on the SENCER-ISE project built upon his legacy.
Informal learning can be defined in a variety of ways (Ucko and Ellenbogen 2008, 241). In general, it is “free-choice,” self-directed, and socially mediated. Table 1 lists various attributes of informal learning in contrast with those of formal learning, to identify key differences. Although context dependent and realized to varying degrees, the extremes are represented here in order to accentuate distinctions. This caveat applies both to the “informal” and to the “formal” descriptors, particularly as they relate (or not) to varying modes of higher education.
TABLE 1.Contrasting Attributes of Formal and Informal Learning
Voluntary; “free choice”
Ubiquitous; museums, media, etc.
Children & youth
All ages, lifelong
Extended time periods
Episodic; often brief
Large peer group setting
Individual, family, or small group
No tests or grades
Contructivist; personal meaning-making
Experimental; hands-on; interactive
Favored learning style
Flexible learning styles
Enjoyable; engaging; fun
Constrained by curriculum
Unlimited; open-ended; flexible
Predetermined content or focus
Any content or focus
May appear irrelevant
Connections with Informal Learning
In reviewing outcomes of the SENCER-ISE conference, Friedman and Mappen note that the emphasis on civic engagement provided the “glue” that brought the two communities together (2011, 33). That focus takes advantage of certain strengths of informal learning, several of which they identified, based on an abridged table from the 2009 presentation and the “strands” of the Learning Science in Informal Environments report (NRC 2009). The discussion that follows extends that analysis through comparison with key features of SENCER. (It cannot capture all points of intersection with informal learning, however, since it is likely that the diversity of SENCER courses and settings create additional connections beyond those identified here.)
“‘Interest’ is a driving force in the SENCER ideals” (Burns 2011b, 9).
Because informal learning is generally voluntary and self-directed, it is motivated by personal interest. The SENCER approach offers a similar means to stimulate student interest and engagement by making connections to “matters that are real, relevant and of vital interest to citizens in a democracy” (Burns 2012, 7). A number of the SENCER-ISE partnerships, for example, involve students in citizen-science activities in which they gather and analyze data related to local, national, or international issues.
“They [SENCER courses] are essentially interdisciplinary, so they are more like the world itself than a typical undergraduate curriculum” (Burns 2011b, 8; see www.sencer.net/Resources/models.cfm).
In general, informal learning experiences are similarly interdisciplinary, since they tend to emphasize real applications and issues rather than particular disciplinary content. Even “Exploratorium-type” science exhibits may involve multiple disciplines, because they are phenomenon based. (For example, the Heat Camera, which reveals the infrared radiation emitted by a visitor’s body, demonstrates aspects of both physics and biology.) Like SENCER activities, they are typically “authentic experiences” (Burns 2011b, 8).
“SENCER courses and projects that have been designed with students helping all the way just tend to be better. They are more likely to capture something that truly matters to and interests students…. Students can make vital and valuable intellectual contributions to course content and design, development, and refinement” (Burns 2012, 9).
This aspect of SENCER emphasizes its focus on the learner and the value of involving the target audience in the planning and implementation of the educational activities. That same focus is central to developing informal learning experiences that successfully engage their target audiences and achieve the intended impacts.
“It helps to tie assessment to pedagogy (including reflection on course activities like service learning, research, etc); assess frequently and at intervals short enough to enable you to make ‘repairs’ and mid-course corrections…” (Burns 2012, 10).
Although informal learning is not assessed as in formal education, evaluation plays a related role. Front-end evaluation seeks to determine audience background and interests to guide the planning of the informal learning experiences. Formative evaluation, through such activities as testing prototypes or a pilot program, obtains feedback at early stages of development when changes are relatively easy to make. Summative evaluation seeks to determine the outcomes and learner impacts of the experiences, whether intended or not. The results can help to improve future development and to address institutional or funder needs. Remedial evaluation is sometimes carried out after completion to make improvements in ongoing programs or exhibits.
SENCER offers a model for synergistically integrating aspects of formal and informal learning to take advantage of the strengths that each offers. The formal course component, for example, brings greater depth than may be possible in informal settings, along with more extended periods of time for the learning activities. In the SENCER-ISE project, formal-informal connections are further enhanced through the active participation of ISE-related organizations that partner with faculty members at a college or university (Table 2).
TABLE 2. SENCER-ISE Partner Organizations
Higher Education Partner
Glen Helen Outdoor Education Center
Brooklyn College – CUNY
Gateway National Recreation Area
Wildlife Conservation Society
Hamilton, Hope, and Oberlin Colleges
Green Science Policy Institute
New Mexico EPSCoR
New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science
Paul Smith’s College
The Wild Center
Raritan Valley Community College
New Jersey Audubon Society
St. Mary’s College of California
Lindsay Wildlife Museum
University of Connecticut
Connecticut Science Center
In addition to bringing expertise in communicating with the public, partners can also provide a setting and access to an audience and larger community.
Typical higher-education-based ISE relationships focus on communicating aspects of current research to the public through museum programs or exhibits, citizen science, science festivals, science cafés, and other informal learning experiences. Examples range from outreach efforts by individual scientists to national initiatives such as the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network. Because most of the SENCER-ISE partnerships add a course component, they also create the opportunity to transform undergraduate instruction by strengthening the learner focus through the means previously described. Movement between the different settings and cultures of the formal and informal partners may further enhance student learning through the process of boundary crossing (Akkerman and Bakker 2011). For example, carrying out research that traverses both Cornell’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab and the real-world Sciencenter can provide students with a perspective not possible within either domain alone.
In addition, these partnerships offer valuable professional development to the participating faculty and ISE participants, as well as introducing new college student and public audiences to ISE institutions (Friedman and Mappen 2012, 137–139). Perhaps most importantly, they can impact the community in meaningful ways through the activities carried out by students. For example, the Antioch College/Glen Helen project will help reforest a public nature preserve, while the Paul Smith’s College/Wild Center will address regional climate change issues by targeting gatekeepers.
Each partnership will carry out its own evaluation to assess the process and outcomes. In addition, a summative evaluation conducted for the project overall will focus on lessons learned from the collaboration between formal and informal partners. Longer-term success will be determined in part by the extent of institutionalization of programs and relationships that lead to sustainability. Findings from these and other studies will be critical to identifying effective practices and steps necessary to increase the scale of this initial undertaking and to amplify its benefits. Addressing SENCER, Wm. David Burns has suggested that “creating and sustaining a community of practice is entirely within our capacity and is necessary to achieving larger scale reforms” (2012, 8). Such a community would benefit greatly from including informal-learning practitioners and researchers among its members. Alan Friedman would have been the first to participate.
About the Author
In addition to consulting at Museums + more; David Ucko co-chairs a National Research Council study on communicating chemistry in informal settings and serves on the Visitor Studies Association board. Previously, he was deputy director for the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings and head of Informal Science Education at NSF, founding president of Kansas City’s Science City at Union Station, deputy director of the California Museum of Science & Industry, vice president of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, and a chemistry professor at Antioch College and City University of New York. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry from M.I.T. and his B.A. from Columbia College.
Akkerman, S.F., and A. Bakker. 2011. “Boundary Crossing and Boundary Objects.” Review of Educational Research 81 (2): 132–69.
Burns, W.D. 2011a. “The SENCER Context.” In Proceedings of Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities-Informal Science Education Conference. Jersey City, NJ: Liberty Science Center, March 6–8, 1–3. http://www.ncsce.net/initiatives/documents/sisefinal.pdf (accessed April 13, 2015).
———. 2011b. “‘But You Needed Me’: Reflections on the Premises, Purposes, Lessons Learned, and Ethos of SENCER, Part 1.” Science Education & Civic Engagement 3 (2): 5–12.
———. 2012. “‘But You Needed Me’: Reflections on the Premises, Purposes, Lessons Learned, and Ethos of SENCER, Part 2.” Science Education & Civic Engagement 4 (1): 6–13.
Friedman, A.J., and E. Mappen. 2011. “SENCER-ISE: Establishing Connections Between Formal and Informal Science Educators to Advance STEM Learning through Civic Engagement.” Science Education & Civic Engagement 3 (2): 31–37.
———. 2012. “Formal/Informal Science Learning through Civic Engagement: Both Sides of the Education Equation.” In Science Education and Civic Engagement: The Next Level, 1121:133–43. ACS Symposium Series 1121. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society.
National Research Council (U.S.). 2009. Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits. Committee on Learning Science in Informal Environments. P. Bell, B. Lewenstein, A.W. Shouse, and M. Feder, eds. Board on Science Education, Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.
Ucko, D.A. 2009. “Informal Learning & Synergies with Formal Education: NSF Perspective.” Presented at the Fourth Annual Science Symposium, Preparing Undergraduates of Tomorrow: How Informal Science Education Experiences Can Improve College Readiness, Franklin & Marshall College, Center for Liberal Arts and Society, Lancaster, PA, October 17. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/an-nsf-perspective-video/id480218717?i=105513834&mt=2 (accessed April 13, 2015).
Ucko, D.A., and K.M. Ellenbogen. 2008. “Impact of Technology on Informal Science Learning.” In The Impact of the Laboratory and Technology on Learning and Teaching Science K-16, D.W. Sunal, E.L. Wright, and C. Sundberg, eds. Research in Science Education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 239–266.
Youth Scientific Literacy and Nonformal Education Programs
Science is a driving force of twenty-first-century society. As a consequence, related public policy issues (e.g., stem cell research, global warming, food safety and security, water quality and distribution) require informed choices made by a population that is scientifically literate (Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy 2007; Hobson 2008). However, scientific literacy among the adult population in the United States is considered low (Miller 2006), and data from standardized assessments of K–12 youth in recent years have shown poor achievement in science at all three grade levels tested—fourth, eighth, and twelfth (e.g., Fleischman et al. 2010; Gonzales et al. 2008; National Center for Education Statistics 2011).
While improvements in school-based science education represent one way to address the low levels of academic achievement in science among K–12 youth (Smith and Trexler 2006), a growing body of literature suggests that nonformal science programs can help attend to the issue, in part because they emphasize three cross-cutting characteristics of learning: people-, place-, and culture-centeredness (Bell et al. 2009; Fenichel and Schweingruber 2010; Kisiel 2006; Kress et al. 2008; National Research Council [NRC] 2009). Specifically, research findings have shown that out-of-school time (OST) science programming can increase youths’ science content knowledge and process skills; additionally, such programs can have positive effects on youths’ confidence and interest in science (National Research Council 2009; Stake and Mares 2005).
The 4-H Youth Development Program and Youth Scientific Literacy
The 4-H Youth Development Program is a national nonformal education organization for individuals aged 5–19. Programmatically, 4-H focuses on advancing positive youth development through hands-on educational opportunities that include civic engagement. Complementing its century-long history of offering science projects and programs ranging from geology and minerals to soil conservation, forestry to wildlife and fisheries, and computer science to animal and veterinary science (United States Department of Agriculture 2003), National 4-H established the 4-H Science Mission Mandate in an effort to expand and strengthen 4-H science education efforts through state-based 4-H programs (Schmiesing 2008). The California 4-H Program responded to the National 4-H Science Mission Mandate by commencing a statewide 4-H Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) Initiative (University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources 2008). This effort focuses on science programming, educator professional development, and evaluation in California 4-H SET, with an emphasis on scientific literacy as it relates to key statewide needs in the areas of natural resources, agriculture, and nutrition (Regents of the University of California 2009).
Defining Scientific Literacy to Advance 4-H Science Programming
To develop a framework, researchers and program staff began by asking the question: What does it mean to be scientifically literate within the context of California 4-H? However, despite a plethora of existing definitions of scientific literacy (Roberts 2007), there was no consensus about the meaning that allowed us to answer this question. This is a critical first step: a definition for the construct of scientific literacy is necessary to develop and advance science programming (Roberts 2007). Thus, our efforts to advance science programming in California 4-H began by framing a definition of scientific literacy (Smith et al. 2015).
A review of the literature revealed that most existing definitions of scientific literacy are not contextualized; rather, they focus on a broad array of science concepts and processes considered important to scientists (Falk et al. 2007; Laugksch 2000; Roberts 2007) but ignore “the social aspects of science and the needs of citizenship” (Lang et al. 2006, 179). In contrast, when viewing science learning as being contextualized, referred to as a “focus-on-situations” approach, programming places an emphasis on authentic science-related issues that individuals may encounter (Roberts 2007). Because of the contextualized nature of 4-H, we concentrated on developing a definition of scientific literacy that would accommodate relevant science programming across multiple contexts and include civic engagement, a hallmark of the 4-H experience (Brennan et al. 2007; Hairston 2004). By considering the construct of scientific literacy from this perspective, the definition developed for the California 4-H Program includes four anchor points: science content, scientific reasoning skills, interest and attitude, and contribution through applied participation. The four anchor points are described further as follows:
Anchor Point I: Science Content. Content knowledge is an important component of any definition of scientific literacy (NRC 2007; NRC 2009; Roberts 2007). A “focus-on-situations” approach places the emphasis on science-related content relevant to the citizens of California (e.g., water resource management, sustainable food systems, sustainable natural ecosystems, food safety and security, management of endemic and invasive pests and diseases, energy security and green technologies, and nutrition education and childhood obesity) that have been identified as germane to the state’s citizens (Regents of the University of California 2009).
Anchor Point II: Scientific Reasoning Skills. The advancement of scientific reasoning skills encourages learners to become more proficient in the practices of science by asking questions, developing and using models, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, constructing explanations, engaging in argumentation from evidence, and obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information (NRC, 2012). Referred to by Colvill and Pattie as the “‘building blocks’ of scientific literacy” (2002, 20), scientific reasoning skills provide learners with the necessary abilities to participate in scientific investigations, challenge conclusions, and question understanding.
Anchor Point III: Interest and Attitudes. Enhancing interest in and attitudes toward science can influence individuals in a variety of ways: it can stimulate their interest in science careers, help guide their responses to science-related situations in their everyday lives, and enhance their motivation to become involved in science-related issues in meaningful ways as citizens (Bybee and McCrae 2011). This is especially germane to audiences that have had limited educational opportunities in science, including women and ethnic minorities (Else-Quest et al. 2013; Scott and Martin 2012).
Anchor Point IV: Contribution through Applied Participation. The application of knowledge and skills in authentic contexts helps individuals gain a deeper understanding of scientific concepts and develop their abilities to think critically (Jones 2012). Furthermore, Anchor Point IV is particularly relevant to 4-H youth and the development of citizenship and life skills through civic engagement opportunities. Specifically, youth apply new knowledge and skills in ways that help address authentic community needs they have identified as important (e.g., Smith 2010).
Twenty-first-century society requires a scientifically literate citizenry (Hobson 2008; Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy 2007). Scientific literacy among youth populations is low (e.g., National Center for Education Statistics 2011), and nonformal science programs can help attend to this issue (e.g., Fenichel and Schweingruber 2010). However, to accomplish this, a definition of scientific literacy is needed (Roberts 2007). In California 4-H, we developed a definition of scientific literacy that includes the engagement of youth in science-related issues at the community level. Involving youth in service opportunities results in contributions to the community and advances the youths’ development (Brennan et al. 2007). Furthermore, by engaging youth fully in community-based change efforts they learn to function effectively in society (Nitzberg 2005).
Organizationally, California 4-H science programming is grounded in constructivist-based pedagogical strategies. Specifically, learning opportunities utilize guided inquiry-based instruction embedded in a five-step experiential learning cycle that places an emphasis on the authentic application of new knowledge and skills—the point where civic engagement intersects with 4-H science programming. To date, however, California 4-H has lacked a coherent framework to guide the key elements of science programming—the development of new curricula, the adaptation of existing curricula, educator professional development, and assessment efforts—in a manner that, by design, includes civic engagement.
The definition of scientific literacy that was developed will provide a programmatic structure for all elements of science programming in California 4-H; it will also afford a consistent, systematic strategy that will allow for the comparison of 4-H science programs within and across contexts (e.g., 4-H clubs, camps, afterschool programs), the evaluation of pedagogies, and assessments of targeted learner outcomes (Roberts 2007). Furthermore, the definition of scientific literacy in California 4-H intentionally includes the social aspects of science by engaging youth directly in relevant community issues. Such civic engagement is a key component of 4-H programming; in a larger context, however, it is essential to helping develop an informed public that is faced ever more frequently with decisions on science-related public policy issues.
About the Authors
Andrea Ambrose, who serves as the acting director of the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Development Services, has thirty years of professional experience in the out-of-school education field including more than twenty years as an art and science museum educator, program developer, and fundraiser for organizations in Colorado, California, and West Virginia. She has taught standards-based science and art workshops for K–12 students, conducted professional development programs for K–12 educators, worked with and managed youth and adult volunteers, and secured significant funding from corporations, foundations, and public agencies for programmatic and capital projects. Her efforts to elevate the quality of out-of-school time programs for young people continue as she works to facilitate strong programmatic and funding partnerships on behalf of the University of California 4-H program and the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. She holds a B.A. in Studio Art and Art Education from Colorado State University and an M.A. in Art History from the University of Oregon.
Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty works as a county-based faculty member for the University of California Cooperative Extension and serves the geographic region of Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito Counties with youth development programming in nonformal science. Her scope of work is focused on developing multidisciplinary and integrated approaches to addressing California’s and the nation’s decline in youth science performance and achievement. This is accomplished by conducting applied research, education and programs with nonformal educators utilizing effective professional development models, curricula, and deliveries, to engage youth in self-directed learning and discovery.
Schmitt-McQuitty graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point in 1987 with a B.S. degree in Elementary Education with an emphasis in Outdoor Education, and obtained her M.S. degree in Outdoor Education in 1991 from Northern Illinois University.
The overarching goal of Martin H. Smith‘s work is to develop, evaluate, and publish effective, research-based science curricula and educator professional development models for school-based and nonformal education programs. Specifically, he focuses on educational materials and strategies that emphasize constructivism, reflective practice, and situated learning. His current work focuses on applied research related to youth scientific literacy in the areas of bio-security and water science education. He is also engaged in efforts to develop a theoretical basis for science education programming within California’s 4-H Youth Development Program, with an emphasis on defining scientific literacy, defining curriculum, and implementation fidelity. In his tenure at UC-Davis he has supervised twenty graduate fellows from science disciplines in education outreach work through the School of Education, has served on committees for graduate students (M.S. and Ph.D.), and has mentored over 450 undergraduate students involved in a wide variety of research, development, and extension efforts.
Steven Workercoordinates the California 4-H Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) Initiative, an effort to strengthen youth science education in the 4-H Youth Development Program. Worker is a Ph.D. candidate at the UC Davis School of Education and is engaged in a qualitative case study of the co-construction of design-based learning environments by youth and adult volunteers in out-of-school time.
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The Alan Friedman who telephoned to ask to be excused from working on the SENCER-ISE project for a while so that he could focus on his medical condition was the same Alan Friedman who called on numerous other occasions to say he had a glimmer of an idea or a fully imagined project in mind that would help move the work we are doing from being “nice to necessary.”
Two weeks ago, Alan reported that he had received a “very bad diagnosis” but that he had consulted with people he trusted. He expressed confidence in the people at Sloan Kettering and had hopes for a plan of attack that sounded equally audacious and arduous.
Though there was a thin curtain of sadness and apprehension in his voice, Alan’s general tone and style differed little in our last call from the many other conversations we had had about other ambitious, arduous, and audacious plans.
“I think we have an opportunity,” he would say. And then he would go on to describe an idea he had to encourage formal and informal educators to work for the common good, to strive for what some have called a “perpetual dream” to improve the human condition by enlarging what we all can come to know.
Our last conversation happened on the same day we had previously been scheduled to have lunch. We were to meet at the Century, where of course no business is conducted, so we just planned to talk about the future. Instead, we had that phone call.
On the call with Ellen Mappen and me, Alan spoke with his usual calmness, his usual clarity, in his usual cadence, and with that same curiously wonderful musicality that inhabited each one of his sentences. (Without knowing for sure its source, I have always attributed that sonority to the benefits that come to someone who is as comfortable speaking in French as in English.) He even mustered some humor.
Sensing our shock and our fear, I suspect, Alan took great pains to assure us that getting back to work on our mutual project was a high priority for him. As always, Alan exhibited more concern for our feelings and needs than he expected us to pay to his.
He said he would call us as his health permitted. He asked us to carry on and to share word of his call with only those who needed to know. We were to await further word from him before telling others.
Late last week, when “news” started to come out that Alan was gravely ill, I entertained the comforting illusion that this could have been an extremely bad example of something starting in facts—facts I knew to be true—and descending into rumor. I prayed for an e-mail from Alan bearing the subject line: “News of my demise has been greatly exaggerated.”
As the numbers of people close to Alan began to contact one another to share thoughts, tributes, and memories, my hopes grew fainter. We now have word that Alan died yesterday (May 4, 2014).
There will be times and occasions for proper memorials befitting a man of as many parts as Alan possessed and whose career spans so much intellectual space and so many phases in the history and development of informal education.
We will each have our opportunities to add our own meager contributions to what I am sure will be a panoptic body of tributes—a museum of its own, you could say.
For today, however, I only want to let you know that when we spoke that last time, just two weeks ago, I did get to tell Alan that I loved him. Indeed, Ellen was able to say the same and to let him know that Hailey and all in our community who had the great good fortune of working with him closely did so as well. We told him how much it means to us to work with him and we said we would miss him during his temporary absence from our work. We promised him that we would carry on in his absence. So now, in the face of this profound loss, we will keep that promise.
I need time to collect my thoughts, but something I don’t need time to think about is my first impression of Alan, an impression that has only grown in intensity in the several years we have worked together.
I remember the day and place I met him. Eliza Reilly had invited us to a SENCER regional meeting she had organized at Franklin & Marshall College. I did a talk, as did Alan.
I had become entranced with something called “informal science education” and had had a chat with some folks at NSF about an idea I had that they, and I am speaking of Al DeSena here in particular, had been particularly encouraging about. I liked my idea (as I tend to), but I was aware just how little I knew about the world of informal science education.
It so happened that Alan, Ellen, and I got seated next to one another at the tables at lunch. Listening to Alan’s ideas, responding to his gentle inquiries, and hearing myself reframe my thoughts in response to his, I had an overwhelming sense that an adult had finally entered our conversation!
Though I now know he was only a few years older than I am and though I am blessed to have wonderful colleagues, Alan seemed to me then as he does now to be uncommonly sage, a truly wise man.
I know I am not alone in having that sense of Alan: Alan as the adult, the wise man, the friend, the understanding and patient parent figure, the man willing to lend his luster to your unpolished idea, the man rigorous and demanding of high quality first in himself and then in others, but relaxed and comfortable in manifold and diverse social situations, and, above all, the man who was a quiet, tireless, and amazingly effective worker in the causes that had the extra benefit to be ones that he shared.
The last thing Alan would want is for our memories of him and his legacy to become enshrined or, worse yet, encased, in some old-fashioned specimen display. If ever there were an occasion for a living museum, it is the celebration of Alan’s life, his work, and his place in our lives. We will need to become the “living exhibit” of Alan’s work.
It is hard taking this in. For many of you, getting to know Alan recently—as recently as it was for me, too—seemed to be more the beginning of what we expected would be a long time of working together, not the premature and abrupt end that confronts us today.
Consolation eludes me.
Perhaps because of its title, but more for what it says to me about the human condition, as well as our need to take time to observe death and mourn, and still to keep going, I think now, not of science, but another way of knowing that was dear to Alan. I recall the words of W.H. Auden:
Musée des Beaux Arts
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
I know you will join me in extending our sympathy to Alan’s wife, Mickey, and to the remarkable family of Alan’s many friends and admirers of which we at the National Center, the SENCER-ISE project, and the SENCER community constitute another small part.
At the core of Alan’s vision for the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) was the commitment to providing the opportunity for high school and college students to develop their interests in science by sharing the experience of discovery with others. For nearly 30 years, the brilliance of that vision has been proven through the many programs Alan created and inspired, most notably the Science Career Ladder (SCL).
Established in 1986, the SCL program began as a series of graduated opportunities that enabled young people to interact with the public by helping visitors to engage with the science behind the exhibits and demonstrations. Combining youth development and youth employment, the SCL provides high school and college students with a meaningful work experience that offers growth through continuous training and peer mentoring.
The creation of the Science Career Ladder captures many of the qualities that made Alan so invaluable to the informal science field. Alan came to the New York Hall of Science when it was effectively derelict. The building was closed to the public and he often recounted how the first time he visited after taking the job there were puddles on the floor. He and his deputy Sheila Grinell had a knack for finding excellent colleagues, and they quickly pulled together a small committed team, including Dr. Peggy Cole and Dr. Marcia Rudy (who is still at NYSCI.) As the first exhibitions came together, Alan realized the need for a corps of floor staff who could greet the public, help to maintain the exhibitions, and generally enliven the visitor experience. The Exploratorium, a science center in San Francisco founded by Frank Oppenheimer, had created a program for Explainers, and that model was the core of a very smart and opportunistic synthesis that Alan and Dr. Cole created. They recruited students from nearby Queens College with interests ranging from theater to physics, and gave them sufficient training to become Explainers, thereby fulfilling an operational need.
At the same time, they recognized a broader need for expert science teachers. They started to shape the Explainer program into the Science Teacher Career Ladder (as it was originally called) and secured significant funding on the hypothesis that this kind of apprenticeship would encourage more young people to become science educators (before the term STEM was born). This hypothesis turned out to have significant value in encouraging STEM participation, and an early survey documented that over 60 percent of the early Science Career Ladder cohort went on to careers in STEM fields, the majority of those in STEM teaching.
This, in turn, helped to shape the invaluable Wallace Foundation supported Youth Alive program, which disseminated and strengthened youth programs at science centers and children’s museums. While Youth Alive was designed to foster youth development across many domains, the Science Career Ladder continued, and continues to this day, serving the dual purpose of enlivening a visit to NYSCI and fostering STEM careers among its diverse community of participants.
The SCL has become not only a highly recognized program that other institutions have modeled, but also an integral part of NYSCI. The Explainers are the diverse face of our museum, supporting the exploration of science with a range of skills and activities. The SCL’s mission is to encourage young men and women from across New York City to pursue STEM careers. Students participating in the SCL demonstrate enhanced science content knowledge, confidence in oral presentations, and strong problem-solving skills, and they show significant growth in communication abilities, interpersonal skills, and leadership.
In its current form the SCL reaches between 120 and 160 young people a year, with about 85 percent coming from a minority background. As the SCL has evolved, so have the programmatic supports that are offered to participants to expand their skill sets, better preparing them for their next academic and career steps. From career development workshops to opportunities to connect with STEM professionals, the program exposes its participants to a wide range of options that are there for them to pursue.
To honor Alan’s contributions to NYSCI and the field at large, NYSCI has established the Alan J. Friedman Center for the Development of Young Scientists through a generous founding grant from the Noyce Foundation. The Friedman Center will encompass the Science Career Ladder program and will create opportunities for high school and college students across New York City to explore their prospects in science, technology, engineering, and math fields. The goals of the Friedman Center are to develop NYSCI as a place where youth and community organizations can learn about STEM opportunities, with multiple pathways for engaging youth in the STEM career pipeline. As it develops, the Friedman Center will make strategic investments to develop, pilot, and roll out new events and opportunities that broaden our reach to youth in New York City. Alan’s memory will continue to be honored and his legacy will live on.
About the Author
Priya Mohabir has been with the New York Hall of Science for the last 15 years, starting as an Explainer herself. In her various roles in Education and the Explainer teams, Priya has led numerous projects developing and leading professional development for diverse audiences. As the new Director of the Alan J. Friedman Center for the Development of Young Scientists, Priya will lead the Science Career Ladder as well as the Science Career Ladder Institute. Working with the Explainer leadership team she will continue to develop new and interesting opportunities for the Explainers and Residents. We expect to add additional programs to cultivate the interests and careers of young scientists in ways we can now only imagine.
As an alumna of the Science Career Ladder (SCL) program, the I have had invaluable support all along the way. From the motivation to challenge myself to the network of colleagues with whom I share this experience, the SCL has supported my professional growth and has introduced me to some great friends.
Alan Friedman was my boss (from 1974-1986), my mentor, and my friend ever since. He was also my ideal example of a true gentleman. Evidence of this came almost every time he would say something. When he was being honored at the 40th Gala Anniversary of the Lawrence Hall of Science, I was struck by how he spoke in his opening words not of himself, but of all the other people who he felt had made important contributions to our collective work.
The first planetarium show I learned to present at the Lawrence Hall of Science was “Stonehenge,” and that creation of his still stands among the best audience participation shows I know of. He was so creative and responsive to new ideas. When I came to him with feedback from my audiences, who wanted to see and hear more about the constellations, he went right to work on a new idea that became one of our most successful and replicated shows: “Constellations Tonight.” I always use that one as an iconic example of audience participation. Instead of the presenter pointing out constellations and spewing out facts and stories, we start by simply handing out star maps to all the audience members and teaching them how to use them.
I’m proud and honored to be part of the team at the Hall that carries on the legacy of audience participation planetarium shows that Alan pioneered in the Participatory Oriented Planetarium (POP) workshops and the Planetarium Educator’s Workshop Guide, which evolved into Planetarium Activities for Successful Shows (PASS; now at http://www.planetarium-activities.org/). To this day we encourage other digital planetariums to include live audience participation in their repertoire of shows, and not to rely simply on recorded programs.
When Alan was President of the International Planetarium Society (1985-1986) I heard him say in a speech that the uniqueness of a planetarium experience comes in no small part from the feeling of community the audience can get by all being together and sharing the experience under the dome. And I’ll never forget one of the many things he taught me that comes up again and again. He said that when presenting a planetarium show and deciding what to include, we should always leave the audience wanting more, rather than trying to squeeze every idea and related fact into the show. Getting them excited is more important than cramming their brains with stuff they’ll forget anyway. I have found this wisdom to be applicable far beyond planetarium shows, including another expression related to this same idea: that students are not just empty vessels into which teachers should pour their knowledge.
I’m so lucky to have known Alan!
About the Author
Alan Gould was Director of the Lawrence Hall of Science Planetarium (UC Berkeley) from 1998-2009. He has over 36 years of experience developing and presenting hands-on science activities and 22 years of experience organizing and leading teacher education workshops. He was also Co-Investigator for Education and Public Outreach for the NASA Kepler mission (2000-2015), Co-Directs the Hands-On Universe project, and is co-author of Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) teacher guides. Currently he works on the Full Option Science System (FOSS) middle school course revision team and directs the Global Systems Science high school curriculum project at Lawrence Hall of Science
Dr. Alan Friedman was a brilliant science educator with whom I worked closely for about a decade. Early in our collaboration, he described how the best ideas are found at the intersection of science with the arts and humanities. Throughout his career, Alan explored that intersection, and he was always excited by projects at the New York Hall of Science and elsewhere that drew from the best of the sciences, the arts, and the humanities. In his lifelong exploration of this juncture, he presaged more recent efforts to integrate science with the arts under the banner of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math). This short article will explore some of Alan’s published work in which he very systematically examined the mutual influence among science, art, and the humanities. I will also connect his engagement with the arts and the humanities to his museum work.
Early in Alan’s career, he demonstrated a predilection for creating his own path and framework for understanding the impact of science on society. After a successful career as an experimental physicist—he used to describe with relish how he loved putting together experimental apparatus from the kinds of random equipment he found around the lab—he received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities Basic Research Program. This represented a radical turn away from the career path of his research peers who were pursuing academic positions, post-doc fellowships in physics, and National Science Foundation grants.
The fellowship supported a collaboration with literary critic Carol C. Donley that resulted in a book published in 1985 called Einstein as Myth and Muse (Cambridge University Press). Donley and Friedman wrote about how “Einstein’s exciting ideas established him as a muse from science, inspiring and supporting interpretation in the arts…. With the explosions of the atomic bomb of 1945… Einstein suddenly came to represent a contemporary version of the Prometheus myth, bringing atomic fire to a civilization unprepared to handle its immense powers.” Einstein, they write, is a uniquely central character in the twentieth-century imagination, as he “did not merely move with the flow of cultural history, but cut a new channel across the conventional separations of science and the humanities” (Preface, ix–x). This invites speculation that Alan was inspired by Einstein not only in his scientific endeavors, but also in his desire to “cut a new channel across the conventional separations of science and the humanities.”
In the ensuing several years, Alan devoted his energies to the building of programs, audiences, and entire museums, first at the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, then at Cité des Sciences in Paris, and finally at the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI). His signature programs, such as the Science Career Ladder at the NYSCI were notable for how they put human and social concerns at the heart of the STEM learning enterprise. The first permanent exhibition at the NYSCI was called Seeing the Light and was created by the Exploratorium, a science museum in San Francisco that has been the locus of art and science collaboration since the 1960s. Much of that exhibition was created by artists, so from NYSCI’s inception, art was at the core of the visitors’ experience. Alan also invited collaborations with artists and artists groups such as Art & Science Collaborations, Inc. (ASCI), resulting in a series of commissions, competitions, and installations.
The integration of art into the visitor experience at science centers had a specific focus at NYSCI. Alan’s vision, central to NYSCI’s mission, was always to make science accessible to diverse learners from different backgrounds. As Dr. Anne Balsamo wrote in her introduction to a catalog of NYSCI-commissioned artwork: “Located as it is in the nation’s—and the world’s—most ethnically diverse county, [NYSCI] is focused on addressing the diverse learning styles manifested by different visitors…Just as there are people who learn best from a linear and explicit display of scientific phenomena, there are others who draw important insights by contemplating the beauty and suggestiveness of a piece like Shawn Lani’s Icy Bodies” (Intersections: Art and Science at the NY Hall of Science 2006).
In 1997, Alan wrote a kind of credo about his belief in the mutuality of science and art, and why they are both critical for addressing his principal commitment to public education in science. Published originally in 1997 in the journal American Art (11 : 2–7), the article begins with a deep and subtle reading of a pre-Hubble photograph of a cluster of galaxies. To the uninformed eye, particularly one jaded by the dramatic colorized images from the Hubble telescope, the picture has no particular drama. It is a series of small spirals, slashes, and dots of light in a reddish monochrome. Alan systematically uncovers the thrilling nature of discovery embodied in the image. Revealing that there are “trillions of suns” in the image, he systematically walks the reader through the distances involved, which are so great that they are not measured in kilometers, but in light years. The images we are seeing originated several hundred million years ago, and it has taken light all that time to reach us.
He then deftly connects the image to a profoundly contemporary phenomenon, the plasticity of space and time. He writes,
Einsteinian space-time tells us, among other things, that this particular arrangement of these galaxies in space and time cannot be thought of as a simple universal image. This photograph is valid from our own place in time and in space, but as seen from other locations in the universe, or even from within the Hercules Cluster itself, these galaxies would never have had this particular arrangement. Infinitely many valid descriptions of the cluster are possible, all different but all related precisely to each other by the equations of Einstein’s relativity theory.
Simultaneity is one of the most profound casualties of the new Einsteinian view of the universe. Simultaneous events are strictly a local phenomenon, not a universal one. There can be no single snapshot of this cluster of galaxies which is uniquely “correct,” because there is no such thing as a “moment in time” for the universe as a whole. We can continue to think of our own time and our own planet as having moments, but we must learn that thinking about the whole universe requires different, less familiar organizing principles and metaphors (2–3).
Alan is clearly thrilled by the implications of this shift in perspective and wants all of us, young and old, to share that thrill. And this impetus leads him to a surprising turn. “Like most science educators I have thought long and hard about what is wrong with science education in this country. I have concluded that the solution is not just more good science teachers and good science curriculum, but also more and better arts education [my emphasis]. That is because what it takes to be astonished and moved by this photograph is not simply learning the names and numbers that go with the image, but understanding how those facts are part of the larger story of our history, cultural accomplishments, and aspirations” [my emphasis].
Because Alan was such a lucid and precise explainer, there is no way to summarize this seminal article that is shorter than the article itself. Suffice it to say that the essay draws deeply from poets, novelists, playwrights, and composers past and present to demonstrate the power of the arts not only as a way of understanding science, but as a critical perspective for understanding and constructing reality and a life full of interest and engagement. While he was passionate about the value of the scientific world view, “looking around at my colleagues…I would have a hard time proving that scientists are happier, have more stable marriages, vote more intelligently, or are more effective participants in their broader communities than are people with similarly deep professional commitments to the arts or the humanities.”
In 2000, a major essay on the life and work of Remedios Varo written by Alan appeared in a catalog raisonné of the work of this mid-century Mexican artist, who was closely aligned with the surrealist movement in Europe and Mexico. In this essay, he notes that the contemporary rediscovery of her work has taken place among both the science- and art-interested public. Through a close reading of her paintings, Alan carries through his theme of the explanatory power of imagination and the mutual inspiration offered between the arts and the sciences. Varo came of age during the great scientific revolutions of the twentieth century, and Alan’s research demonstrates that she read widely among the classic popular science writers of the time such as Fred Hoyle, a particular favorite of both Varo and Alan.
Through this reading, Varo connected the formation of the universe, all its elements, and human beings. Life is built on the elements created during the cataclysms of the early universe. Alan acknowledges that, on the surface, Varo’s paintings appear to be influenced by more imaginative worldviews, such as the world of alchemy and magic, but his ability to read the paintings empathetically with the eyes of a scientist and a humanist reveals the deep interweaving of scientific understanding. Alan is an excellent art critic in the Varo catalog, revealing new science-informed richness in the paintings while honoring the centrality of imagination, of beauty, and of the complexity of Varo’s worldview. The final paragraph of the essay is resonant and revealing: “The world doesn’t have to make sense; but scientists bet their careers that it does. That is their ultimate act of faith. It sometimes makes scientists feel lonely, particularly in cultures where ‘bad luck’ is a more common explanation than a painstakingly crafted, if only partially successful, model. But scientists believe that the universe is ultimately understandable. I think Remedios Varo shared that faith with us.”
A few times a month, I would drop into Alan’s office next to mine and ask him to explain some bewildering aspect of contemporary science that I had encountered in my reading— the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal; “Spooky Action at a Distance” (quantum entanglement); the multiverse; string theory; the twentieth century’s panoply of counter-intuitive theories that are only distantly comprehensible for laypeople. Alan would patiently walk me through a vastly simplified explanation with no hint of condescension and a sense that there was nothing he’d rather be doing. I was edified and changed by these discussions and I know thousands of others had similar experiences over Alan’s lifetime. The breadth of his understanding was reflected in his engagement with the arts and humanities, and his ability to bridge between C.P. Snow’s famous “two cultures” is one his great legacies.
About the Author
Eric Siegel is Director and Chief Content Officer at the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI), where he leads the program, exhibition development, research, and science functions. Eric has been in senior roles in art and science museums for more than 30 years and has published extensively in the museum field. He has taught on the graduate faculty of the New York University Museum Studies program and Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) and as invited lecturer throughout the country. He has served as President of the National Association for Museum Exhibition; Board Member of Solar One, an urban environmental organization in NYC; and Chairman of the Museums Council of New York City.
I last took a long walk with Alan on February 3, 2014, along the corniche in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, where we had gone to teach 18 Saudis how to run science centers. This workshop would be our last joint gig, after 40 years of parallel careers and many shared projects. We had half a day before the workshop was to start, and so we strolled beside the Persian Gulf and chatted.
Not then but in earlier conversations, Alan had told me about SENCER-ISE, and how gratified he was by its progress. He had worked hard to bring together people with differing institutional perspectives, and he was optimistic about the future. No Pollyanna, he knew both sides would have to bend. He said—not in so many words but this is the gist of it—that the universities would have to deal with real people as opposed to an amorphous “general public,” and that the science centers would have to up their content game. But there was so much to be gained. He envisioned many more cross-sector projects, and, if he were still with us, he would have inspired collaborations to help them flourish. Everyone at SENCER-ISE knows Alan had the desire, the imagination, and the political acumen to make it happen.
SENCER-ISE was not the first time Alan worked across sectors or disciplines. As an undergraduate he had contemplated majoring in English, but even after physics won out, he continued to relish literature and art. Early in his career, he wrote about connections between science and literature. Later he experimented with theater in the science center: at the New York Hall of Science he commissioned and produced a one-act play dramatizing disagreement between two scientists about quantum mechanics. And for more than 40 years, he delighted in his wife’s career as a columnist and mystery writer. Alan was a connoisseur; he could talk eloquently about so many things—and he would go on and on, unless you stopped him. Which brings me back to our conversation beside the sea.
I asked Alan why he hadn’t brought one of his beloved radio-controlled helicopters to Saudi Arabia—for years he flew them at all sorts of meetings to illustrate points and for fun, because fun is a terrific teacher. He explained that since he had had to bring two sets of light sources and adapters for a demonstration—our students would be segregated by gender in adjoining rooms—there was no room in his luggage. I asked how large his ‘copter collection had become. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of what followed:
The best piece in his small collection of scientific instruments was a sixteenth-century, orrery-like device that maps the motions of Jupiter. His wife, Mickey, had spotted the curiosity and they took it home, later to discover its meaning and rarity. (Alan respected the work of all scientists, even ancient ones. He wanted everyone to appreciate science as he did, and he believed that, given the right tools, everyone could.)
Speaking of Mickey, she had just finished re-issuing seven mystery titles in e-book form. Alan said the moral of the story was “be sure to get electronic rights for anything you publish, and guard your name.” It seems there was another (male) Mickey Friedman who wrote mysteries, which screwed things up for a while. (Ever the raconteur, Alan made a frustrating escapade in electronic publishing sound downright funny.)
Speaking of family, Alan asked, “How’s Michael now that he’s a married man?” He had last seen my son at age eight, but he always seemed to know Michael’s actual age and stage of life. Other colleagues might ask after my “little boy,” but Alan would keep track. He was my friend as well as my colleague, so he cared about what I cared about.
Speaking of kids, Alan worried that the New York mayor’s single-minded pursuit of extended kindergarten was siphoning support from other important endeavors, like the cultural organizations Alan had worked so hard to defend. (Some years ago, he led the fight against retaliation by the former mayor’s office against the Brooklyn Museum for exhibiting scatological art—and won.)
Speaking of cities, Al Khobar appeared to be a refuge for the wealthy. The mansions were barricaded behind tall fences with elegantly crafted gates. As we walked, Alan photographed gate after gate, stopping to admire one particular gate bearing two lovebirds perched on a branch, in silhouette, in iron work against white opaque glass. It was lovely. Alan had an eye, as well as the urge to document. (In fact, his image collection—many thousands of slides and jpegs of the science museums he visited over the decades—will be catalogued by the Association of Science-Technology Centers and made available to all in late summer 2015.)
Every so often a passing car would honk at the two of us as we crossed a street. We wondered if we had failed to observe an Arabic sign. Or maybe the fact that I was wearing jeans, although my head was covered, was provoking a wolf-whistle. But I didn’t worry. Walking with Alan Friedman, I felt safe. He was a man—and a thinker, teacher, leader, and mentor—in whom everyone could have confidence.
About the Author
Now retired, Sheila Grinell enjoyed a forty-year career as a leader of science centers. In 1969, fresh out of graduate school, she joined Frank Oppenheimer to create The Exploratorium, a seminal science center widely emulated around the world, serving as Co-director for Exhibits and Programs. Later, she helped restart the New York Hall of Science, serving as Associate Director. From 1993 to 2004 she served as founding President and CEO of the Arizona Science Center, leading the effort to create a new, vibrant institution for greater Phoenix.
For the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), Sheila created a week-long professional development program for people starting science centers offered 1988-1996. While consulting for a wide range of agencies that included corporations, professional associations, museums, and public television producers, she wrote the leading book on science centers. She was elected a Fellow of both ASTC and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in recognition of her innovative work.
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.
Throughout 2013 I had the opportunity to travel to East and South Asia, to explore connections between the work of community colleges and civically engaged science. What follows is a general summary of what was learned through a combination of ethnographic observation and ongoing scholarly engagement with Sias University in China, the Asia Pacific Higher Education Research Program (APHERP) at the East-West Center in Hawai’i, and the University of Mumbai in India. The report will conclude by suggesting how these international interactions relate to a new Teagle Foundation-funded project at Kapi’olani Community College and the Community College National Center for Community Engagement (CCNCCE).
International Water Conference at Sias University, Henan Province, China
Sias University is the first solely American-owned university in Central China, affiliated with both Zhengzhou University and Fort Hays State University, Kansas. It is located in Henan Province, which was the center of a rising Chinese civilization nearly 5,000 years ago. Today, more than 100 million people live in Henan, which is two-thirds the size of Arizona. Although the Yellow River does not flow through Henan Province as it once did, the river skirts the boundaries of the Sias campus.
Dr. Paul Elsner, who for 22 years served as Chancellor of the 10-campus Maricopa Community College System, invited me to make a presentation at the Sias University International Water Conference, May 22–25, 2013. Dr. Elsner knew that Kapi’olani Community College (KCC) and the University of Hawai’i at Manoa (UHM) had developed and sustained a strong service learning and civic engagement program called Malama i na Ahupua’a (to care for the ahupua’a), which engages students and faculty in restoring ancient Hawaiian watersheds throughout the island of O’ahu.
He knew about “Kapi’olani Sustainability and Service Learning” (KSSL, our new name), through our two-decades-long partnership with the CCNCCE, an organization that he founded and strongly supported as Chancellor. Dr. Elsner is currently on the Board of Sias University and saw striking similarities between water problems in Arizona and central China.
However, Dr. Elsner did not know of my earlier anthropological work in this field and its relevance to the conference topic. In 1995 I published a report for the UHM Water Resources Research Center (WRRC) entitled, “Water: Its Meaning and Management in Pre-contact Hawaii.” This paper was developed in professional collaboration with Dr. Marion Kelly, who was an advocate for Native Hawaiian people and history and founded the UHM Ethnic Studies Department. Both the report and the collaboration coincided with the development of the Malama i na Ahupua’a program.
The WRCC report was set against the controversial theory linking irrigation with “oriental despotism” that Karl A. Wittfogel presented in in Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power (1957). Wittfogel analyzed the role of irrigation works, the bureaucratic structures needed to maintain them, and the impact that these had on society, coining the term “hydraulic empire.” This theory has led many Western archaeologists to focus on early forms of irrigation and water management.
During the late prehistoric period in ancient Hawaii, irrigation and other water management practices supported the sociopolitical evolution of a proto-state. The report used archaeological data as a point of departure to analyze the meaning and management of water in this period. An analysis of Hawaiian chants, legends, and proverbs was woven into the archaeological data in an in an attempt to better understand the meaning of water to the indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands. (I used similar data in deriving pre-contact Samoan perceptions of the meaning of “work” in my dissertation in 1985.) The report concluded that intra-island (windward-leeward) and inter-island (geological-hydrological) variation produced important localized meanings of water, and that these meanings changed over time, largely in relation to population growth, production, intensification, and increasing sociopolitical complexity. My own research in this area provided a useful context for my participation in the international discussions that took place during my visits.
The Sias International Water Conference brought together international and Chinese scholars. Prominent international researchers included Dr. Jonathon Overpeck, who served as a coordinating lead author for the Nobel Prize-winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment (2007); Dr. Sharon Megdal, Director of the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center; and Dr. Brian Fagan, with whom I studied archaeology at UC Santa Barbara in the early 1970s, and who is the celebrated author of The Attacking Ocean (2013), and other major world archaeology publications. Chinese researchers included: Dr. Zuo Qiting, Professor, College of Water Conservancy and Environmental Engineering, Zhengzhou University, and Director of the Water Science Research Center; Dr. Zhang Qiang, Deputy Director of Department of Water Resources and Environment, Sun Yat-Sen University; and Yao Tandong: Glaciologist at China’s Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research.
China is one of the most water-rich countries in the world, but water resources are unevenly distributed and overwhelmingly concentrated in the south and far west on the Tibetan Plain, which also serves as a major water source for India. Water scarcity has always been a problem for Northern China and has been increasingly so as a result of rapid economic development. Major water engineering projects have been completed, and more are underway, to move water from the south to the north, with significant implications for Tibet-India-China relations. Major conference topics included severe water scarcity in Northern China, water quality and severe pollution in both Northern and Southern China, rural and urban challenges, and the likely deleterious future impacts of climate change, mega-droughts, and sea level.
The conference also served as a showcase for Sias University’s innovative approaches to teaching and learning about water issues in China, such as a mesmerizing theatrical representation of water history in China, and their World Academy for the Future of Women (WAFW), which requires service projects as part of membership activities. Hundreds of students have gone through the Academy and created both short- and long-term projects of great value and impact. According to Dr. Linda Jacobsen, former Provost at Sias:
Some young women shared that they applied to study at Sias because of the exciting service projects the WAFW members were sharing at home on semester breaks. Projects include the installation of drinking water filtration systems, environmentally safe agricultural practices, communal water area clean-ups, and eliminating violence against women. Over the years, these projects, which started locally in the university community, have expanded to regions within China where the members live. (Linda Jacobsen, Provost, Paper for 2014 Continuums of Service Conference, Honolulu)
My own presentation at the Water Conference was titled, “Service-Learning: Social Responsibility and Caring for Our Water Resources.” The talk sidestepped the concept of “civic responsibility,” partly because it was implied by the name of the host institution, the incipient “Institute for Social and Environmental Responsibility,” but also because I was not sure whether the discourse on the “civic” was widely understood, or even acceptable in China. My presentation was the only one addressing sea-level rise and coastal water issues and it offered the GLISTEN project (Great Lakes Innovative Stewardship through Education Network) as a model for tackling major water issues in China. The paper was very well received (I’m sure the beautiful photos of Hawaiian ecosystems helped), and Dr. Jacobsen and I continue to dialog about future directions and partnerships.
East-West Center: Asia Pacific Higher Education Research Program (APHERP), Senior Seminar, at Hong Kong Institute for Education
In July 2013, I was invited to participate in a Senior Seminar entitled, “Research, Development and Innovation in Asian Pacific Higher Education,” September 26–28, 2013. The seminar was led by APHERP Co-Directors, Drs. Deane Neubauer (UH Emeritus) and Dr. John Hawkins (UCLA), and brought together 14 higher education researchers, administrators, and faculty from China, Taiwan, South Korea, Malysia, Thailand, Australia, Chile, and the United States. My participation constituted a follow-up to East West Center-sponsored seminars in Honolulu and Indonesia that focused on developments in Asian-Pacific Education with a view toward 2020.
Dr. Neubauer’s concept paper provided a focus for the seminar:
Research and development (R&D) have long been a key component of what has generally been called “research universities.” There is also recognition that in order to stay on the cutting edge of R&D, higher education institutions (HEIs) must increasingly strive for innovative R&D, and this has important implications for the structure and governance of higher education as well as numerous other factors of HE change and transformation. Furthermore, in a manner that may be unprecedented in the period of the so-called modern university, innovation, as almost a form of social responsibility, has been thrust upon the university. Interestingly and overwhelmingly, due to the role that the university is performing within the emergent knowledge society, innovation in the “knowledge transfer” functions of the university—the teaching role foremost among them—has become of increasingly greater importance.
I was invited to present a paper titled, “The University-Community Compact: Innovation in Community Engagement,” which focused on the evolution of the American community college and its essential functions: university transfer, workforce development, and educating for engaged citizenship. The paper discussed the central differences among three related concepts:
Civic engagement as the “participation of private actors in the public sphere, conducted through direct and indirect interactions of civil society organizations and citizens-at-large with government, multilateral institutions, and business establishments to influence decision making or pursue common goals” (World Bank).
Civic responsibility as “the active participation in the public life of a community in an informed, committed, and constructive manner, with a focus on the common good” (Robinson and Gottlieb, American Association of Community Colleges).
Community engagement as “the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity” (Carnegie Foundation Community Engagement website).
Significantly, all three definitions skirt the discourse on democracy, which was advantageous in this context as I was uncertain about the advisability of discussing democracy in contemporary China. The presentation also used the GLISTEN initiative as a model and explored strategies for taking civic action on major water issues in East and Southeast Asia.
Community colleges are emergent in East, Southeast, and South Asia. However, five core features of American community colleges are underdeveloped. American community colleges are
Rooted in local communities, preparing local students for successful economic, social, and civic engagement in their regions;
“Open door” institutions, with less rigorous entry requirements;
Subsidized by states, with lower tuition rates;
Focused on rigorous workforce and career development through one-year certificates, two-year degrees, and lifelong learning;
Organized to prepare students to meet the requirements of rigorous baccalaureate programs.
In-depth interactions with the 14 seminar participants enabled deep and sustained discussions on these and other topics related to innovation in Asian-Pacific-American higher education. Most of the innovations discussed were not focused on the role of higher education in fostering civic engagement. They were instead focused on innovations in technology and on research and development as drivers of economic and workforce development. This was seen as higher education’s larger social responsibility.
The seminar papers are currently being considered for publication by Palgrave-Macmillan, which will be publishing a new volume onService Learning in America’s Community Colleges later this year. Kapi’olani’s contribution to that volume is entitled, “Service Learning’s Role in Achieving Institutional Outcomes” (Yao Hill, Bob Franco, Tanya Renner, Krista Hiser, and Francisco Acoba).
Developing Community Colleges with the University of Mumbai
After the Hong Kong seminar, I traveled to the University of Mumbai for the fourth stage in discussions about establishing the University of Mumbai (UM) community colleges. These discussions have largely taken place at the level of senior leadership at KCC, UH, and UM, and had contributed to a grant proposal submitted to the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative, advocating the building of higher-education bridges between India and the United States, the world’s two largest democracies.
For three days in October, I participated in very full days of meetings. Major progress was made on the grant proposal, which focuses on the development of UM community colleges offering general education and training in Hospitality Management, Health Services, and Business.
India is determined to transform its future economic growth through higher education reform, seeking to expand access to quality workforce development programs as well as to improve employment prospects for India’s burgeoning youth population of 700 million. The U.S. community college model is increasingly seen as one of the key vehicles driving this reform across India, bringing a formal two-year associate degree, job-focused certifications and industry linkages, and broader community and societal impacts, particularly in spurring income growth for diverse communities and populations.
On the evening of October 2, the UM leadership graciously escorted me to the University’s glorious celebration of the birthday of Mohandas Gandhi. Earlier we had talked about Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and their roles in inspiring civil and civic action. We also discussed Martin Luther King’s role in the American civil rights movement, and the concurrent development of America’s community colleges throughout the 1960s. During the intensive three days we even developed a course outline focusing on the lives of these two men and Nelson Mandela, which would be used as part of the new general education curriculum to be implemented at the UM Community College at Ratnagiri.
Mumbai, with a population of 13 million, and Ratnagiri, with a population of 1.7 million, are located on India’s long western coast on the Arabian Sea in Maharashtra State. This coastal ecosystem supports millions of residents and attracts millions of domestic and international visitors annually. We had in-depth discussions on how to promote sustainable tourism in Maharashtra State, particularly in the context of sea-level rise, and water challenges throughout India. Again, the SENCER GLISTEN model provided a pattern for collaborative and civic action.
Throughout the rest of October I developed the partnership proposal, which has four objectives:
Develop a best practice University of Mumbai Community College at Ratnagiri (UMCCR) with an initial degree program in Hospitality Studies, followed by Health Studies and Business and Financial Services Programs.
Develop at the University of Mumbai, Kalina Campus, The Center for Excellence in Community College Leadership, Teaching, Research, and Development (COE).
Develop articulated degree pathways linking UMCCR, UM, and KCC and UH, initially in Hospitality Studies, and then in Health Studies and Business and Financial Services.
Develop university-private-civil sector partnership agreements to support the UM-KCC-UH collaboration now and into the future.
Fresh water-saltwater convergences, and water availability and quality, are major global issues that affect the United States and East, Southeast, and South Asia. Higher education systems in all these areas are conducting research that informs public policy development. Meanwhile these problems are intensifying at an exponential pace. Our colleges and universities need to research, educate, and partner with non-profit organizations, and with local, state, and federal agencies to reduce the severity of the impact of water issues. The community colleges are well situated to do this work in close collaboration and authentic partnership with transfer universities that share the same ecosystems.
In January, 2014, KCC and CCNCCE received a three-year $270,000 grant from the Teagle Foundation titled “Student Learning for Civic Capacity: Stimulating Moral, Ethical, and Civic Engagement for Learning That Lasts.” In this project seven community colleges in six states, New York (2), New Jersey, Louisiana, Arizona, California, and Hawai’i, are integrating the following “Big Question” into first- and second-year courses: “How do we build OUR commitment to civic and moral responsibility for diverse, equitable, healthy, and sustainable communities?”
This question is the kind of capacious, contested, and civic issue that SENCER continues to emphasize in its work on the STEM curriculum. I hope to present some answers to this question, from a community college perspective, at SSI 2015. Meanwhile, I welcome discussions on this question with university colleagues through the SENCER network as it expands to include countries around the globe.
About the Author
An ecological anthropologist, Dr. Robert Franco has published scholarly and policy research on the changing meaning of work, service, schooling, housing, and leadership for Samoans at home and abroad; health disparities confronting Samoan, Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander populations in the United States; the meaning and management of water in ancient Hawai’i; and sociocultural factors affecting fisheries in Samoa and the Northern Marianas. In 2009, he was lead editor in the publication of American Samoa’s first written history.
At Kapi’olani Community College, University of Hawai’i, he has chaired the Faculty Senate and the Social Science Department, and led planning, grants, and accreditation efforts. As Director of Institutional Effectiveness, he bridges the cultures of faculty, staff, students, administration, and community partners to shape an innovative ecology of learning. With institutional commitment and support from federal and foundation sources, the college has emerged as a leader in service-learning for improved student engagement, learning and achievement. He has authored successful National Science Foundation (NSF) grants totaling more than $13 million since 2008. He is a Faculty Leadership Fellow for NSF’s Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) initiative, NSF’s leading undergraduate science education reform program.
He is a senior consultant and trainer for national Campus Compact. He assisted in the development of the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, and was named one of 20 national “Beacons of Vision, Hope, and Action” by the Community College National Center for Community Engagement.
He is newly the national program lead for the 3-year Teagle Foundation grant to develop OUR commitment to civic and moral responsibility for diverse, equitable, healthy, and sustainable communities.
Robinson, Gail and Gottlieb, Karla, A Practical Guide for Integrating Civic Responsibility Into the Curriculum, 2002:16, AACC Press, Washington, D.C.
World Bank http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTSOCIALDEVELOPMENT/EXTPCENG/0,,contentMDK:20507541~menuPK:1278313~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:410306,00.html (accessed July 2014).
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