I'm preparing for what ay be the biggest teaching challenge of my hitherto untenured professorial career: Biology 1B, or Intro Bio (the diversity and evolution edition), the large lower division undergraduate course which (for pre-meds and other non-bio-majors) may be the only time that many of the students encounter the diversity of life on this planet and the mechanism that produced that diversity - Evolution. Teaching evolution in the San Joaquin Valley of California is a challenge, as I have noted before, but I've only done so at the other end of our majors' core sequence - the upper division Evolution class. Students taking that class have, by that time, generally come to terms with evolution, or at least become good at hiding their trouble with it (and don't ask me which I prefer!). I will now experience what its like to teach the E-subject at the lower division level, especially for many students who won't be taking the course to get a biology degree. Should be fun, eh?
* High school and higher education must be linked to ensure that when students graduate from high school, they are prepared for college.Tens of millions of dollars are spent each year bringing more than 50% of Cal State students up to speed in math and English, with often negligible results. That kind of waste could be significantly reduced if high schools and colleges agree on what entering freshmen should know and then work together to bring it about. That means, at a minimum, requiring four years of English and three years of math, including algebra.High schoolers also should be tested to prove they can do college-level work -- not simply to meet high school requirements. If they can't, corrective steps should be taken in high school to overcome their deficiencies. This demands collaborative relationships between high schools and colleges that don't exist now.
At most universities, freshman chemistry, a class I've taught for nearly 40 years, is the first course students take on the road to a career in the health professions or the biological or physical sciences. It's a tough course, and for many students it's the obstacle that keeps them from majoring in science. This is particularly true for minority students.
In 2005, more than two-thirds of the American scientific workforce was composed of white males. But by 2050, white males will make up less than one-fourth of the population. If the pipeline fails to produce qualified nonwhite scientists, we will, in effect, be competing against the rest of the world with one hand tied behind our backs.We've been able to survive for the last several decades in large measure because of the "brain drain" -- the fact that the most able students from other countries, particularly China and India, have come here to study science at our best universities and, in many cases, have stayed to become key players in our scientific endeavors.At many top schools, including my own, international students constitute from 30% to 70% of the doctoral candidates in math, physics and chemistry.
The situation might be tolerable, if embarrassing, were it not for recent changes in world economies and attitudes toward science and education. As a result of dramatically increased investment by other countries in science, the brain drain is not just slowing, it appears to be changing direction.International students and post-docs are returning to their home countries in much greater numbers after reaping the benefits of an American education, and many who have worked for years at U.S. companies and universities are being lured home by offers of new labs, easy access to research funding and the comforts of their native culture.
We need to ensure that American science draws on all of our population, not just selected, and shrinking, segments of it. But how?