Science is everywhere, if you think about it. From the food we eat, to the cell phones we all carry, to climate change and the phenomena it brings. All it takes is an inquisitive mind and the means to investigate, and you have fertile ground for investigation, discovery, and engagement with the world around us.
This is the inspiration behind UC Santa Barbara’s SciTrekBiotech, an educational outreach and scientific discovery program for schoolchildren designed to capitalize on the natural curiosity of young minds in Kindergarten to Grade 12 and guide them through reflection. and scientific experimentation.
Today, with some $ 3 million in funding over three years from the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Defense Educational Program (NDEP), and a focus on biotechnology awareness and workforce development , the program aims to help create the next generation of scientists and technologists – people nationwide will need to solve emerging problems and stay competitive in an increasingly technological society.
âI’m pretty proud of our SciTrek team and think we are having a huge impact,â said program co-founder Norbert Reich, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCSB. âThree million dollars will just blow us up. My goal is really to do such a good job that they will want to continue supporting the program.
âI congratulate Norbert Reich and the SciTrek team for receiving this transformational grant from the Department of Defense,â said Pierre Wiltzius, Dean of Mathematical, Life and Physical Sciences at UCSB.
“With a program that engages K-12 students in the scientific process while providing UC Santa Barbara undergraduates with valuable teaching and mentoring experience, SciTrek fulfills all of the principles of our university’s mission to teach, to do research and to provide a public service. I can’t wait to see how the program will grow and develop with this new funding, “he said.
Science teaching and learning
Despite the growing recognition of the importance of scientific and critical thinking in our society, mainstream science education still tends towards rote memorization of facts and formulas that may or may not be relevant to potential future scientists. For the most part, students do not understand what makes science important and exciting.
Reich sensed this disconnect years ago.
“There is a lot that has been written about how kids and college students are really good at regurgitating the facts given to them, and that’s how they take it to the next level,” he said. -he declares. âThat’s how they get into college. But there isn’t a lot of original thinking, critical thinking, and problem-solving that you’d want them to get good at.
It was then that Reich decided to do something. The result was SciTrek, an experience-based science education program that pairs UCSB science students with groups of schoolchildren and their teachers to ‘do’ science, rather than hear about it.
In addition to learning basic scientific principles, students, under the guidance of participating UCSB undergraduates, learn to follow their natural curiosity and formalize an inquiry, become familiar with the experiments, discern the relevant information and gain self-confidence to present their results.
Over the years, the program has grown into UCSB’s largest science education outreach program, with a growing number of students, teachers and community partners. Its continued success has caught the attention of funders such as the US Department of Defense, whose current priorities include “STEM-related activities, including specific efforts focused on biotechnology, a priority area of ââDoD modernization. “.
âThe Ministry of Defense is not only developing emerging technologies, but also investing in the STEM workforce pipeline, which is essential for the ministry and the security of our country,â said Heidi Shyu, Undersecretary to defense for research and engineering at DoD, in a statement announcing $ 47 million in grants for the STEM education program, of which SciTrekBiotech is a part.
The DoD’s focus on biotechnology was a natural direction for the ten-year-old SciTrek program, according to Reich, who pointed out that half of the program’s modules (there are two modules for each grade level) deal with concepts. biological. The other half integrates other scientific disciplines such as physics or chemistry.
âSciTrekBiotech is sort of a biotech version of SciTrek, which means the content will be slightly biotech biased,â Reich said.
This change in content will be geared towards high school students, with seven of the eight high school modules to focus on studies focused on biotechnology. The aim is for students to gain a taste and experience of biotechnology as a science and as a potential career guidance.
The funding, Reich says, will allow the program to expand beyond UCSB through partnerships with other colleges and universities, to create a series of seminars featuring speakers from industry and DoD and to procure the necessary supplies and equipment to disseminate this practical educational model to the rest of the country.
Kindergarten to Grade 12 students aren’t the only ones benefiting from SciTrekBiotech. While the active learning environment is geared towards tomorrow’s scientists and science literate people – especially minorities and underrepresented women, who tend to drop out of STEM majors at higher rates – the curriculum also equips teachers with the latest science teaching techniques, and it offers university student volunteers an opportunity for professional and career development and to develop their leadership and communication skills.
Ultimately, according to Reich, a learned society is a more autonomous society. âI want to improve societal understanding of how science actually works,â he said. “He was the pilot to start and still is.”
Reich thanks Vanessa Woods (Psychological and Brain Sciences), Maria Napoli (Office of Research) and Olivia Hwang for writing the grant proposal, and Darby Feldwinn (co-founder, SciTrek).