Sunday, December 30, 2007

Black Blogging Year in review...comment (The Afronet is all about Business, Politics, Entertainment & Social Issues)

In my year long effort to survey of internet media outlets (websites, Black Blogs, and online commentaries) the Afronet (Black-blogosphere, and Black website services) are all about
1. Business and Economics
2. Politics & other legal stuff
3. Entertainment including videos, hip hop, fashion, and sports
4. Social issues (how black people are suffering, struggling, falling behind and otherwise still trying the catch up; and though Education is an oft addressed topic it is often packaged as a social issue and not a self-standing issue in and of itself).

I'm rather disappointed that science, technology, education, and the arts are hardly ever (if ever) addressed.
Scanning the headlines of YBPGuide, or AfroSpear feeds, there is hardly a discussion topic that isn't one of the aforementioned. I'm not proposing that the fine bloggers should discontinue their posts, but I am suggesting that the net be cast farther and wider to include a greater variety of blog topics.
So in response (sort of) to Black Blogging year in review, I have a few comments for "what to do in 08". Black Blogging in 08 should include more topics on the following:
a) Science: including health, medicine, and lifestyle issues as well as info about natural and physical sciences discoveries and careers
b) Technology: by this I mean more than a review of the hottest new cell phone, music, and video gadgets. I mean biotech, engineering, mechanics, etc. Also include info about study and career options in Engineering and Technology.
c) Education: with commentaries offered by educational professionals and not politicians and lobbyists ranting about the state of Black children's education. Discussions could include best practices, pedagogy, teaching and learning philosophies.
d) Arts & Fine Arts: that would include introductions and discussions about literature, artists, the fine arts, and reviews.

By the same note, I am REALLY hungry for websites (like Black America web, BET) that are popular among African-Americans to also follow suit. These are matters and subjects of importance and interest to the Black Diaspora as well.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Political Environment & Green Movement in America...comment

Specific to AAEA's point that Blacks are more involved in the political movement than the environmental movement, you're absolutely right.

There's more history and momentum in the polical ring. It's familiar. Since the Civil Rights Movement, there have been a number of organizations that rally people around these issues. Why? Because people know EXACTLY how political and economic matters directly and immediately impact them.

That's not quite the case for einvironmental issues. And that goes for the general public but it is especially true for African-American and economically disadvataged groups. And who or what organizations are the trusted authorities on matters related to the environment for these groups? No one. I imagine you want AAEA to be that authority. Maybe one day it will, but not today.

For one, your organization is primarily focused on environmental justice issues. That's why I think the political comparison matters so much to you. EJ is important, but before advocacy comes awareness. Quality and widespread Environmental Education is key to getting people more involved in the green movement. People just don't know or understand or care to understand how environmental issues impact their lives.

And if Black people don't know the basics, then how on earth do you make the great leap that there should be more Black people in high positions in popular Environmental organizations?

The truth of the entire matter is that there are relatively few Blacks in the application pool to select from. The lack of diversity in these organizations has little (perhaps nothing) to do with discrimination and everything to do with lack of interest in the discipline by Black college students. This is a PIPELINE issue. First, most black students aren't terribly interested in majoring science in college. Of those that do, many switch majors or drop out for various reasons, not the least of which is poor academic and social preparation for the demands of college science. Of that small number MOST declare an interest in health related science (pre-med, nursing, get the picture). Within communities of color, interest in nature, ecology, environmental science, makes you an oddball. Careers or interests in natural resources are unconventional. Let's not forget that. And as an African-American scientist, I know all too well that the pipeline trickles at the grad school and higher level. I imagine the contributors to the AAEA blog know that too.

However, it has been my personal experience that participants of the GREEN movement are actually very liberal and egalitarian. They want more diversity (ethnic and socio-economic).
And as a member of the Green movement and several scientific professional societies I know it to be true. Almost all have a diversity initiative that they work hard for.

And to absolutely frank, I find the remarks made on the blog and the linked article Environmental Groups Ignore Diversity Survey inflammatory and anatagonistic. Maybe those other organizations didn't complete the survey because of your organization's obvious bias. You attack the organizations that don't participate and those that do participate you accuse them of being discriminating. Can't win for losing. This might be hard to accept, but maybe AAEA should do a survey to access its professional reputation and/or credibility within the environmental movement. I don't know. I've never heard anything ill, but I've known about AAEA for a while now and I decided not the become a member and my mind still hasn't changed. Why? I thin the organization is more an EJ organization and I'm an Environmental Educator. The organization just doesn't fit my interests. And though those other organizations are politically involved, EJ isn't their primary focus either. Those other organizations are primarily focused on Conservation, Preservation, and Education. Again, a fit issue.

But, I want it to be known that there are several initiatives designed to increase the number of young people from under-represented groups to pursue careers in the environment and natural resources. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I think you get the picture.

Minorty Environmental Leadership Development Initiative
The American Institute of Biological Sciences posts a Diversity Outreach Directory
Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences
The Wildlife Society has a Minorities in Natural Resources Committee

Thursday, December 27, 2007

When Communities go to school...comment

Since I am an advocate of education reform in general and urban education in particular, my interest in SuperSpade's proposal piqued my interests.

A few things.
Most NCLB supplemental education services are remediation only. That means tutoring or doing more of the same. Some kids need this. But most kids are bored by it. I feel if you're going to have supplement ed, then supplement, not repeat. Offer students fun, active learning opportunities. Educational field trips or speakers or presentations are just what most children need to help lessons come to life. Science is a perfect example. Talking about and defining diffusion is almost meaningless. Host an after school activity where kids actually observe the process of diffusion. Take examples from real life. Invite local college science professors or students to come to present.

Parents and teachers are often put at odds with each other, especially in urban school districts. This sad relationship and the focus on "Count Day and Standardized test performances" are products of what Professor Haberman calls the Pedagogy of Poverty. I think it's a shame because most adults (parents, teachers, school administrators, and community members) want our children to safely and successfully matriculate through school, even if we can't agree to what that means.

Having Community members (such as scientists, engineers, technicians, and business professionals) become apart of the "learning support team" is a great idea. And one that has been bounced around a lot. Urban youth do need more than school personnel and parents in their ear. They need a whole community. Former National Urban League President, Hugh Price, has been a proponent of community support for years. He summarizes his vision, plan and successes in his book, Achievement Matters. It is an easy read and a perfect place for SuperSpade to start for his proposal.

However, I am concerned about the time commitment of his proposal. (Yes, our children are worth it, but...) Two months in the summer, assuming a few days a week, half days, and participating during the school day may very hard to pull off. Typically, younger professionals are very interested and eager to participate in such programs, but often don't have the flexibility at their jobs at that point. It's just hard to negotiate so much time, even for something so great and important.

Good luck with everything.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New Journal coming in 2008 - Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice is a law or legal journal by design but should be very interested to environmental scientists and advocatates (like myself). It is a peer-reviewed journal that will present findings and reviews by professionals who study the legal issues related to the health and well-being of populations. This is of special importance to urban, low-income, and/or minority groups who are more often than not the victims of environmental (in)justice.

Check it out. Should make some interesting fodder for the black legal eagles who blog.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Community Service for Public Housing

From USA Today
Monday, December 24
Nashville, Tennessee - Some public housing residents in Nashville are turning into volunteers as they face a year-end deadline to fulfill community-service requirements. If they don't comply, about 200 residents could be evicted. The affected residents are required to serve for eight hours each month under the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998. Quick summary and pdf summary.

Okay, I never knew there was a 'work requirement' if you will , for public housing subsidies. To be honest, 2 hours a week is a walk in the park committment. But this does opens the door to the question: "Is it fair to make people be civically engaged?" I don't know. As a socialist-leaning person (lower case s) I think is a good thing. I am in favor of programs that promote and encourage civic engagement of citizens. I think community service for high schoolers is a good idea. I also support incentives to encourage people to do national service like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps. But I keep arriving at a conclusion -volunteerism, philantropy, etc are on the Self-actualization side of the Maslow's hierarchy. It's been my personal experience that even among the poor, under-educated, and under-served, people often are generous, supportive, and charitable. But having a strong service-centered ethic is something that is often comprehensively and wholistically supported. If for whatver reason, you're more concerned about shelter, food, and or safety, you're less likely to be as or more concerned about giving back or stocking pantries.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Top 25 Science News Stories of the Year 2007

In my committment (however sporadic) to keep the Black Blogosphere abreast of science news and issues, I'm posting a link to Scientific American's list (and links) to the most newsworthy and influential (to policy/society) science news stories of the year. With upcoming holiday parties, get togethers and other opportunities to "recap" the superlatives of the year, here is a year in review - Science-style. Enjoy.

Top 25 Science Stories of 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Is this why Negroes just can't act right?

I supervise 5 employees. And I've struggled (internally and externally) about what to do with them. The problem: They all are un-disciplined and behave unprofessionally. I've rung my hands and held my forehead. I've emplored my boss to help me help them.

I spend 90% of my work day micromanaging them. (And I hate micromananging. And why should I have consistly tell Adults what to do all of the time?) It goes like this:
Stop that.
Put your cell phone away.
Don't curse.
Don't call each other that.
Don't use the N-word.
Why didn't you come to work yesterday.
Keep up with the group.
Where are you?
Where did you go?
Wake up.
And let's not forget the constant need to remind them what were doing each and every minute of each work day. I give them calendars, I tell them to take notes. And still they seem lost.

I'm supposed to supervise them in doing environmental remediation work and preparing them to give environmental education lessons to groups. I am so far behind schedule. They simply aren't ready. They're just too unprofessional and potty-mouthed to put before a group of children, seniors, heck anybody. And yes, I and my agency have presented professional development seminars, we've discussed the do's and don'ts, etc. But nothing has changed.
And I keep coming up the the same answer. They don't care enough to want to perform their duties better.

Straw breaking the camel's back incident:
Last week, my employees and I all were participating in a training program. The program covered topics and principles that are necessary for one of our essential functions: Provide environmental education lessons to general audiences and school groups. On day one, 3 of my employees were uninvolved. Even after a stern talking to, they remarked: "This is boring. These white people are boring. What are they talking about? Why are we here?" No matter how many times and ways I explained that this training will equip them with the skills necessary to present quality programming to people, they still didn't get it or rather they didn't care to get it.
I was so frustrated I decided that "These Negroes just don't want to learn!"
By the third day of the 4 day training, 2 of them had walked out of the training remarking how they didn't need the certification or care to have it.

So Sunday, I'm reading an issue of Science magazine and come across this article: Preschool Program Improves Cognitive Control. Cognitive control (or executive function as they call it) are those "soft" skills that make earnest learning possible. In other words, it's the ability to inhibit yourself, resist distractions or acting out in class, it's the foundation of basic memory and recall -so that you don't ask your teacher 10x "what did you say?", and it's your ability to deal with minor changes or adjust to lessons learned in different contexts. Real basic right?
Then the light bulb went off. These are all of the issues I'm dealing with DAILY with my employees. As the old folks use to say "They have no home training or common sense." They are off the chain. They are undisciplined. They have poor COGNITIVE CONTROL.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Graduation weekend - but I'm not walking

Okay, I was supposed to graduate this weekend. But I didn't. Why? Like so many other ABDs, I accepted a job. I was working diligently at first. Working 8 hr days (sometimes I was able to shave a couple hours off of the work day) and spend 2-6 hrs working on my data or revising chapters. But then one day I just fizzled out. I remember exclaiming how tired and anxious and overwhlemed I felt and I sat it down for a little while. Nearly 2 months later and my cohort is walking this weekend. My friend and colleague will be wearing my cap & gown & hood to the ceremonies. (Yes, I purchased my regalia..and ain't it a little ironic that I won't be the first and only one to wear it). Oh well.

So how will next semester get better? I'm quiting the job and becoming a Stafford Fellow. I am walking in May. Wish me luck and pray for I.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Plowing through is hell

I've got the blues. My labmate defended Friday and I was so excited. I was supposed to defend Friday as well. Our aim - start together, finish together. And though I was ahead of her throughout most of our studies, she snuck up from behind and finished. But she is the executer in the lab. She gets things done. I, on the other hand, am the dreamer, the visionary. I come up with hypotheses and desgn experiments with ease. But seeing them all the way through....well, I come up short. I am so working on that.

Which brings me to my current state of woe. I have a job. Having a job as an ABD is actually the norm. But, I've been fighting this feeling of disgust about my job since my third day of work. Unlike most of my peers, I am NOT teaching science courses or working in a lab while I finish things up. I'm not even doing the "bartending thing/waiting tables thing", which is also very common. No, I took a non-traditional science job in an area I am interested in -- sharing science and science related careers with inner-city residents. The job description is great. My objective fits me to the T: serve as a role model and mentor to adults from the most impoverished neighborhood in this city and help them learn about environmental science, complete environmental service projects, and lead fun learning activities about environmental science to youth from their neighborhoods. Sounds perfect.

Why do I dislike my job? My boss is an idiot -- an uninformed, not-quite intelligent boob. And the entire culture of my workplace is something altogether different than anything I've ever experienced in my life. I am the LONE scientist in a sea of social workers and similar types. I know social work is an important job and I applaud the selfless men and women who do what they do. But I do not relate to them. And as knowledgeable as they may be about social systems, helping people, etc., I have found my boss and other co-workers to be grossly uninformed and down-right ignorant about science, informal science education, and educational philosophy. It's like using the same words but speaking a completely different language.

But I am making good money and I have benefits. Nothing is perfect.

Oh, and I'm still working on the dissertation. But good news here. My statistician is back and now I can get back on the ball. Wish me lots of luck.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Environment: Blog Action Day

One of the focuses of this blog is to share environmental science and advocacy with the Black Blogosphere. Though environmentalism is at least being broached more often and with more open minds than before, it is still an issue that is not being attended to.

So, in support of Blog Action Day, I will blog about the environment and the African-American community.

I supervise a team of inner-city 'volunteers' (read urban, Black) who are learning about careers in natural resources. They complete service work related to land and wild life management as well as assist with teaching environmental education lessons to inner-city public school youth.

Most of have only acheived a high school diploma or GED as their highest education level (some not even that); so, often what they understand about the environment ise inaccurate or incomplete. For some of them, their experiences and knowledge of this subject is minimal at best. They each have their own opinions and feelings about nature (here I am speaking very broadly about the outdoors, the environment, environmental science, and conservation). Related to this matter is that they may not yet have formed a personal opinion about conservation and environmental stewardship. For example, participants from previous years can tell you all about recycling and the benefits, but none of them recycle. Or they spend most of their service time removing litter from public places, but they litter and throw trash in the streets. I challenge them and ask why. The answer I receive is - I don't litter where I have to pick up trash OR I'm keeping someone else employed.

No doubt, this presents some great challenges to the objective of preparing them to share environmental education learning activities. For one, they simply lack the knowledge and skills to do teach these lessons. They aren't education majors or science majors; and they have no personal experiences to borrow from. Two, delivering environmental education lessons, isn’t as simple as reading an essay or learning a script and repeating it to others. A quality environmental education, like any other science learning program (even an informal one) is not about memory and regurgitation. Three, as of now their motivations are varied and quite frankly their opinions on environmental issues are still developing.

Though I might be oversimplifying, they don’t yet fully understand conservation or environmental science, let alone the nuances that surround each subject. They must be willing to unlearn what they think to be true and learn something new or potentially conflicting. And it takes time (and patience) to unlearn and learn all this information about nature. So, my purpose is to work them and to continue to share science (specifically environmental science) with them and the rest of the Black Blog-o-Sphere.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007


I've been reviewing my entries and I am SHOCKED. The number of typos is insane. Please forget that I have advanced college degrees. And forgive me as well. I'll try to clean them up here and there as I go.

But this does bring up a great point about the scientific process - YOU ARE NEVER DONE. There is always a critique or two. There is always room for improvement and revision. And most any scientist can attest to that - you are always revising and updating a hypothesis, a question, an experiment, an interpretation...something.

party on

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Professional Procrastinator.

4 weeks until my proposed defense date and I'm still procrastinating. Stats suck and writing is along slow process. Blogging is my way of 'feeling' productive but not using all of my brain power and getting frustrated.

I hit it high gear though. Why. I remember that:
1) I don't want to pay another semester of registration fees.
2) I have the Office of Research. they suck!!
3) I am SO ready to be done.

Okay, procrastination session # 1,998,856 ended.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Spotlight on Black Scientist and Science Blogger - Karen V.

Ph.D. candidate Karen V is a biochemist who is an up-and-coming science and medical news journalist and correspondent. She is obviously on the right track because she is a featured contributor and member of ScienceBlogs -- an online community of science bloggers. Like most of science, Science Blogs is not particularly diverse. In fact, I didn't know about her or her page before hand. I was surfing (read - procrastinating and avoiding writing my own dissertation) when I snagged a great big science catch. Imagine my pleasant surprise to see the photo of an African-American female (and a pretty one at that - because after all, too many people assume female scientists are unattractive and socially inept).

Science To Life is a science and technologynews update blog. She writes adn references a wide variety of topics - neurobiology, technology, life science, environmental issues, psychology, and medical research.
Check her page out!! My weekly doses of science are just little nibbles compared to her blog entries. For those proud members of the Afrospear and other Black Blogger Associations, I highly recommend adding her to, ybpguide, and other black blogs lists. I'm glad to see her out there. Thank goodness I am not all alone. I hope to see more science in the Black Blogosphere AND better professional diversity represented among online African-American professionals.

I am excited to extend her a hearty congratulations for being invited to be a member of ScienceBlogs. Among science-types, ScienceBlogs is a BIG deal; it's like having box seats. Heck, I'm even geeked that ScienceBlog Blogger Coturnix listed me on his daily Blog Roll last week. It's a real honor. Thanks Coturnix!

The Urban Scientist

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Environmental Science and Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice is not an uncommon phrase among many African-Americans, especially those of us who rally for social justice. NAACP's magazine the Crisis July and August 2007 issue is special report on Environmental Justice. However, the term isn't all that common among all segments of the American population. A friend and colleague who teaches at a rather large southern university asked her freshman biology and environmental science students if they were familiar with term. None were. Most of her students are white. She thought this was a generational thing, since most of her students were young, <>environmental science. Make me shake my head. Understanding environmental processes - water cycles, interdependence of living creatures on each other, the fragile & necessary relationship between the biotic and abiotic parts of the environment, as well as the chemical, geological, biological and geographical concepts related - is fundamental to tackling environmental justice issues that plague poor people and people of color in the U.S. and throughout the world.

This week's dose of science is a link to Environmental Science . ScienceDaily is an online science research news source that covers a wide breadth of science research topics.

Enjoy your environmental science tutorial.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Multiple Studies Reveal Dire Meltdown in Arctic

Okay, now. Global warming is very serious. Let me repeat...VERY serious. The melting of the polar regions is the most alarming symptom of our planet's balance being out of whack. Not the be a complete alarmist (because, let's just face it. I am), there are things we can do.

In fact, some young people in Canada are doing their part. And you can get started. Our Green friends at Treehugger have some action-oriented recommendations.

Read and Take Action.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Advancing our Scientific Prowess

"The only protection against injustice in man is power -- physical, financial and scientific."
- Marcus Garvey

I pulled this quote from the Electronic Village and it spoke to me. Even among the ashes of Reconstruction and segregation and political & economic disenfranchisement, our great leaders recognized the importance of scientific knowledge. Education is important. Though W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington disagreed over tactics, they both agreed on strategy. EDUCATION held the true redemptive and salvation capacity for the Negro in the New World.

And scientific education was a key component for all three leaders - Garvey, DuBois, & Washington. Science as Agriculture was especially important to Booker T. Washington. His Tuskegee Institute was essentially an Agriculture and Industrial College for Southern Blacks. Young men (mostly) attended school to gain knowledge about better farming practices and land & animal management resources to take back their family farms.

But today, African-Americans (as well as Latino and Native Americans) lead our nation's statistics for poorest scores in all academic subjects - language arts, math, and science. Advancing out understanding and appreciation of science - as an endeavor and a way of knowing - is imperative to our success. But more than just knowing how to understand your doctor or vote on policy, Science more than any other discipline is an exercise of intellect. Science is about observing, asking questions, accountability, resolution, and action. And these, too, are the keys to fighting injustice.

Observation: keeping an eye on people, agencies, businesses, the government, etc. and making sure they don't step out of line

Asking questions: what's going on? why are you doing this? how can I be involved?

Accountability: holding those responsible for keeping their promises, following through

Resolution: making sure the end product is what was promised or aligns with the answers you were given to your questions.

Action: making informed decisions, understanding the consequences of your behavior, doing the right thing to make your community better.

Let's get back to basics and let's not overlook the importance of sound science education as a basic tenet to our success.

Friday, September 21, 2007

What would Matthew Henson think? Polar Ice is melting

Matthew Henson is arguably one of the greatest recent era explorers of America. He is noted as the first Black Man to reach the North Pole and was one of 12 of the brave expedition. His humble beginnings as an orphan and cabin boy were not limitations to his interests or life's aspirations. This is a great chapter in African-American History and it should be shared with others, especially our children and charges. He is considered a national hero and is buried at Arlington National Cemetary. But with the recent announcements that both of our planets Polar regions are in grave danger, it gives pause.

This week's science meal is about Arctic Ecosystems and the threat the North & South Poles face from climate change snapping at our heels. Two articles about the decline and melt of the poles were published this week: The North Pole is melting and NASA: Antarctic Snowmelt Increasing. It gives a sense of urgency and panic to the work related to International Polar Year, which if you didn't know is a great celebration, education focus, and research push to learn as much about Arctic ecosystems before they all disappear. Plus it's an exciting science education learning theme.

So, open up and have a heaping helping of science! Delicous.
The Urban Scientist

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Weekly dose of Science - Delta SEE Radio

Since ybpguide called out the line-up for being too thin on the environmental side, I've been thinking that maybe we (the black blog-o-sphere) could stand to be a bit more balanced. Discussing politics, economics, and social issues is great. But we really do need to brush up our science and technology conversation repertoire.

So, each week, I'll be posting some some links to great, easily digestible science articles or podcasts.

Installment 1: Delta SEE radio podcasts

African-American Sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. features a GREAT science radio program. Each week African-American Scientists and Engineers are interviewed on various topics. These radio programs are great tutorials about relevant science, technology, and engineering issues as well as career exploration topics for young people.
I know the YBG Community loves its technology. How about downloading something in addition to music and videos.

Especially if you mentor young people 9or spend time with the neices, nephews, church kids, etc., this is a great filler of time.
Give it try!!

Monday, September 10, 2007

African-American attitudes toward the environment

youngblackprofessional guide posted an essay about this topic earlier today.

I posted a couple of response comments about the topic. But of course, this has been a rally call of mine for some time. See blog entries about environment education.

Interesting topic. I'm VERY glad the Black Blog-o-sphere is at least bringing the topic to the fore. Keep it up. A regular introduction of science and environmental topics would be great, too. Because being well informed about current issues in science and technology is ybp, too.

But only one note to the essay's author, Fredric, AAEA's isn't the only blog discussing environmental issues, this one is too.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Diversity & the U.S. Environmentalism Movement

Yale has recently publiched a report, Diversity & the U.S. Environmentalism Movement. It features interesting titled articles about the current state of diversity, why diversity in the field is imperative, and even addresses environmental justice issues. I'll be reading articles and posting reviews and commentaries of select articles.

Environmental justice is an interesting point. A friend and colleague at Georgia Southern University mentioned this term to her environmental science studies. None of them had ever heard of the term. She was sure this was a fluke - her students are teenagers, afterall, minds and days filled with frivolity. So, she asked her father, a smart, civically engaged man. He had never heard of the term either. Admittingly, she & I are rather politically engaged individuals, we tend to be concerned with the social justice and conservation aspects of the environmental justice. Often, civil right action groups focus mostly on the social justice issues. But this still floors me. Hmm, perhaps the general public's ignorance of environmental justice is the first battle.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Learn by Doing

Typically, we think of quality learning as quite pupils awaiting instruction and information from a more knowledgeable tutor. "Sage on the Stage". But as a BIG proponent of experiential education, student-centered learning, and informal education approaches -- hands-on minds-on learning is best. Formal education is great, in fact essential. (You can earn a Ph.D. on streets, no matter what great lessons, you learn). But informal education is just as important, if not in some cases more important. Everything you need to know or learn in life isn't communicated in a text book or by your teach. There are other ways to learn, LiveScience recently posted a nice article to detail the benefits of 'life skills learning", read it here. And ofttimes, the best, most meaningful and long-remembered lessons are the ones we learn from doing.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Writing the Dissertation

Sorry for the very long pause. I didn't think I was going to step away for so long. But, that's the life of a scientist training. I'm writing the dissertation. So the last 7 weeks have been filled with analyzing data, re-analyzing data, cleaning data files, hunting down references, re-reading references, updating manuscripts, falling into a mild depression, sobbing, cursng data, forgetting hypotheses, remembering hypotheses, re-discovering previously written drafts (I wrote this? This sounds brilliant! or shitty, or whatever I'm feeling at the moment), checking in with advisors.

Okay, so I have 3 weeks - EEEKK! 3 weeks to finish my remaining 3 chapters (1 is down) so that I can make the December 2007 graduation deadline.

Oh, did I mention I accepted a JOB!! Yes, a job doing outreach with "an under-served audience". Sounds great, doesn't it? Well it is, kinda. I'm excited about the possibilities - the chance to mold minds and serve as a role model to our people and give them the tools to become successful in science career fields -or whatever else they may want to do. But my boss is an idiot. He wouldn't understand the difference between science and crap - and he's the author of the grant for this program.

What I've learned so far: BE very discriminating and demanding with the money you donate to social service organizations. They waste alot of money, piss off alot of great resources, and tend to hire and promote the least qualified/connected adn dim-witted people to do the most important jobs. HOLD them accountable. That's the best chance we have of actually helping our poor, less advantaged brethen.

Friday, July 6, 2007

African Union Summit taking Science and Technology Development seriously

There's been a lot of talk about the African Union, the Summit, and the exciting (but mixed-feelings) prospect of a united African Continent. The talk is mostly of the political atmosphere and how the developed world will deal with Africa. Poor, poor, impoversihed, war-torn, dark Africa.

Though the continent of Africa has some serious problems, there are many visionary leaders. And these leaders are looking first to build up the many nations' science and technology infrastructures. In fact these struggling, conflict-ridden nations seem to take the science amd math education of their citizens more seriously than the United States does. The African Union Summit even endorese science initiatives at their meeting earlier this year.

Looks like the African Union Summit is on the move. And nothing moves like innovation; innovation in science and technology education. Below are 2 articles that appeared in Science Magazine about the state of Science & Technology development in Africa.

A New Dawn for Science in Africa by Mohamed H. A. Hassan, Executive Director of The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, and President of the African Academy of Sciences.

AFRICAN SCIENCE: African Leaders Endorse Science Initiatives

Friday, June 29, 2007

What is the National Urban League selling to Young Black Professionals?

I recently received an email from March Morial, the president of the National Urban League. He personally invited me the Smoking Hot Young Professionals Summit. The theme for this year’s National Urban League Conference is You, Your Money, and Your Future. Wow. Me, my money, and my future!

The NUL’s mission is to promote self-sufficiency and self-reliance (economic and political) among African Americans and other disadvantaged peoples in urban areas so that they can become apart of and thrive in the American social mainstream.
NUL Affiliates provide a passel of social services to millions of people every year. Services like homeownership seminars, job and vocation training, career fairs, education fairs, utility and rent assistance, food pantry services, literacy classes, and computer training workshops are good things.

But if the Urban League is about helping disadvantaged people, how is it possible for these same people to attend this conference? They can’t. The truth is this conference ain’t for them. So, who is this conference for? Well, judging by the price tag, it’s for high rollers and other people who are financially well-off. Registration is $375 ($275 if you’re an Urban League member) and hotel costs are sure to be astronomical.

After checking out the on-line registration and conference brochure (which really grabbed my attention) I was disappointed by the lack of details about how the conference activities actually addresses the theme You, Your Money, and Your Future. I saw a lot of tag lines and eye catching graphics. Several high profile speakers and entertainers will be in attendance. The entertainment line-up is exciting, but the informational part seems like a box of chocolates. I won’t know exactly what I’ll get until I’m there taking it all in. Overall, the conference sounds like it will be a blast; that’s not a bad thing, but it just seems like a big gamble or at best an expensive party.

But what does any of this have to do with what the National Urban League is all about?
You, Your money, and Your Future
– sounds like it should be a campaign slogan for the NUL and Urban League Affiliates across this nation. Sounds like the perfect battle cry to inspire the efforts of every UL affiliate. Sounds like a creed for the people who come to depend on the Urban League -- the people they help become more self-reliant.

And what of Mr. Morial’s promise of Smoking Hot Young Professionals Summit? Where’s all this fire coming from? I guess it must be for all of the social networking and receptions being hosted.
Why should young black professionals attend this conference?
What will we learn? Will we learn anything about civic engagement or social service?
What will this experience treat us to?
Will we become better professionals and/or better urban citizens after attending this conference?
Is the Urban League trying to attract a younger audience to the UL and its mission of social service and civil justice?
What’s more attractive about this conference – the opportunity to become civically engaged in a great organization or going out-of-town and having a good time?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Becoming a Better Science Communicator

The average citizen often glazes over when they hear science or meet a scientist at a dinner party. Interestingly, scientists often glaze over when they have to talk about science in “everyday” terms. Most of us have a damn hard time relating to “regular people” and sometimes just dealing with non-scientists can be painful. Some call this behavior elitist; we label it as impatient.
And that’s usually what it is, impatience.

So, it would sand to reason that not everyone has the patience to do science outreach or science communication. Being an effective communicator or teacher calls on certain skills and pre-dispositions that come natural for some people. That doesn’t mean that many skills can’t be cultivated, developed, or improved; but it means that some people may be more interested in and able to interact with the lay public on matters of science.

But this matter may be very hard to drive home to other scientists, especially the top-notch research scientists. Science is by no means a mono-culture. But there is a bit of a hierarchy that people recognize exists. However, I am one to challenge the presupposition of this system. I think it serves the discipline better if each person is genuinely encouraged to pursue a scientific career that takes full advantage of one’s interests, abilities, and training. And no grumbling or rolling eyes. Let’s be honest. There aren’t enough jobs for EVERYONE to be a Big Research University Science Faculty member. And why should we all want to be? Who’s left to teacher the future science teachers, to write books, teach at community colleges, train technicians, mentor youth and young adults, advise politicians and voters? Each of these jobs is equally important.

As I’ve been discovering lately (mostly on my own), there are LOTS of alternative career opportunities available to scientists. In fact, science communication training is being talked about more and more as a necessary skill to be taught during graduate school. I sure wish I had the chance to take a class or internship while in graduate school. But it’s never too late.

I’ve come up with my own method (in progress) for how to become a better science communicator. 1) Recognize the average person doesn’t want to endure a long conversation with all of the sordid details. 2) Keep your language and explanations simple. I know it’s hard, but don’t rely on too much jargon or acronyms. If you use them, define them. 3) Explain via examples. Anecdotes are a great simple conversationally way to talk about important stuff. 4) Relate it something familiar or everyday. This instantly creates a relationship between the phenomena and the person. They can acknowledge how much they already know about something and may want to learn more about it.

Other references to check out:
Communicating Science: A Practical Guide
Because Science Matters

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Making Science more palatable for the public

Science is like the Brussels sprouts on a child’s dinner plate. Just like a mom insisting her child eats his veggies; the American public is needs to learn science.
But the American public just has no interest in science or math. Many people have no liking for science.

So the scientific community has three options.
1) Make the science fun and light – like the mom playing airplane to coax the veggies in a child’s mouth. And there are lots of great fun science programs being hosted by zoos, botanic gardens, science museums, children’s museum, even at school programs like Family Science Night. But how long can we play that game. Not too long. By middle school most students’ interests in science has peaked. Not only that, the extra-curricular and professional development support offered by informal science institutions stops abruptly at grade 8.

2) Force science on them. “You can’t leave the table until you’ve cleaned your plate”. Science is required for most public school students until grades 11. But requiring more science doesn’t necessarily translate to better science understanding or interest in studying science further.

3) Make the science lessons relevant – of dress up the veggies in cute arrangements, serve with ranch dressing. Focus on sharing science that is relevant to people, that appeals to them. “Framing” science information may be our best strategy for getting people (of all ages) to gulp down more science.

Why? Right now, science is a very heavy subject. It is weighed down with lots of jargon and technical information. Technical information isn’t interesting to most people. As scientists, we are very
Concerned with the details – blame it on our training. We unconsciously think “Surely you can’t really understand or appreciate the matter at hand if you don’t know the whole story – the whole twisted, up-and-down, every caveat and exception story?” It depends. Do you need to know how the food is grown and transported in order to take it home and cook it, and feed it to your family? No, but if you’re a farmer or produce manager those details might be more interesting to you. The average person wants to know the basics. The more they know the more they will want to know, later. The average person doesn’t care enough or doesn’t have the time and/or energy to get that deep, all at once. It’s a process and if we’re lucky, they’ll want to come back for more.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The State of STEM Education in the U.S.

The science of teaching is no easy subject to tackle. American public education is in dire straits. Elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions are increasingly under the gun to perform and help students “learn”. Specifically, K-12 schools have been hammered by the high expectations set forth by the No Child Left Behind Regulations. Right now, teachers and school administrators are trying not to be ‘left behind’ in the dust of all of the recommendations and the multitude of pilot programs that promise to be quick and effective fixes to this problem.

Beginning this school year, 2007-2008, public school districts must test students in science at least once in each academic level (elementary, junior high, and high school). Regrettably, our nation’s schools have always been challenged to offer quality science education to its students, especially those from poor school districts in rural and inner-cities. The matter of addressing science education has resulted in several initiatives and proposals by several agencies and organizations, most notably the American Association for the Advancement of Science or AAAS and the Project 2061 Program.

However, it is important that we fully recognize the seriousness of this problem. My main point is to draw attention to the current state of public school education. Secondly, I hope to encourage more people, specifically scientists to become more involved in outreach and policy forums designed to improve the state of science education in our nation’s schools.

First, it is important to distinguish between effective teaching and learning versus presenting information and testing students on the presented material. As reported in an Education Forum article in Science Magazine, many of our students receive very little quality instruction. Most of the ‘teaching activities’ involve teaching basic skills such as reading and completing routine seatwork. My personal experiences in a high school science classroom support these findings. Students spend a considerable amount of time completing worksheets and their grades are based upon the completion of these daily activities. Though I hate worksheets, there is an interesting study that demonstrates that quizzing can be an effective tool to student learning. One problem is that teachers have so many assignments to grade that have little opportunity to interact with students during lesson activities and can only offer students generic feedback. This results in classrooms that offer relatively few opportunities for students to practice problem-solving skills, engage in inquiry-based learning activities, or to apply the concepts and lessons they’ve spent so much of their time working on. Not only are these practices counterintuitive to ‘real learning’, such classroom behaviors are often incongruent with most standards and education benchmarks.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Assertive STEM Education Training Programs may prove beneficial

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education is the foundation for innovation in the developed world. Nations such as the U.S. Japan and those in the European Union have been able to become world economic leaders mainly because of the advances in STEM.

The United States Science and Technology workforce is in danger. We are training fewer and fewer scientists and engineers who are native citizens. STEM education is imperative and we must invest in present and future generations. However, we must not overlook the wealth of human resources available in our nation. This isn’t about perfect representation of all minority or disadvantaged groups. This is about inclusion --inclusion for survival. Presently, our nation’s leaders in politics and science policy are taking this matter seriously and calling attention to the need to:

  • Attract and retain diverse student populations to pursue science and engineering degrees
  • Improve efforts to diversify Science and Technology Workforce in the U.S., and
  • Attract well-trained science and math teachers to public K-12 education.

The United States has always taken pride in the fact that it is the world’s most innovative nation. And the reason for these innovations is due to the fact that it is a free competitive nation of many peoples. Some of the world’s most enduring inventions and improvements were created by what I call least likely sources. Sometimes not being apart of the mainstream or being trained differently gives one a fresh perspective, view point of the world. Diversity is key to innovation.

Equally important is offering a firm quality education to all students. The average student has his or her mind made up by the sophomore year in college. And for many minority students, science is usually written off as a career option by high school. So, getting students interested in science and math in school is important and all of that hinges on making sure they get the best science and math education possible. It pains me to see “less-than-qualified-and-knowledgeable” individuals misrepresenting science. This is not slight on every science teacher, but it is an accurate description of far too many. These teachers are the gate keepers to our nation’s future. These students are our resource pool. The more students that are better prepared, the more likely we are to attract the best, brightest, and highly motivated to tomorrow’s Science and Technology workforce.
So, how can the country produce more and better science and math teachers? Well, combine content and pedagogy. Education majors are heavy of education philosophy, pedagogy, etc, but light on content (A New Twist on Training Teachers). Include more content and at higher levels. Offer incentives to undergraduate and graduate students in science, engineering, and math to become volunteers at struggling schools/school districts. This would create a relationship between the schools and local colleges and universities. It might also be a good idea to encourage K-12 and undergraduate curriculum administrators to work together to create a more contiguous science and math curriculum. It also would give the K-12 students role models and promote civic engagement among the college students. These incentives could include book scholarships, education credits, loan forgiveness, work study, the list can go on.

But overall, I’m just glad that this matter is being addressed and that there are some really great proposals on the table. Read more about this topic here and here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Studying Poverty

Poverty conjures up many images. I call to mind faces of despondent men, women, and children; blighted neighborhoods; children with inadequate clothing and resources; tired and hungry senior citizens. Poverty includes but is not limited to a combination of circumstances including financial insecurity, food/nutrition insecurity, having few material assests (though not necessarily, I'll address this paradox later), poor health, high stress, and overall low quality of life. Plus, there is crime, homelessness, sometimes gang activity, abandoned lots with heaps of trash, disabled vehicles, the lack of businesses and services.

Two weeks ago, I was picking up my charge who had recently moved to a new home. I am sure the mother of my charge moved to so as to find a better neighborhood. But if that was her goal, I wouldn't judge her move as succesful. The new neighborhood and old neighborhod seemed the same. Most of the the homes were boarded up. There were abandoned cars and overgrown empty lots between buildings. There was a burned down house in each neighborhood. Finally, there were lots of school age children hanging out on porches and in front yards. Well, there was one difference. The kids were wearing different colored shirts and bandanas. My guess, a different gang ruled supreme in this new neighborhood. My thought as I was leaving the neighborhood, "This place is as shitty as the last place. My God, being poor sucks." Where were these types of neighborhoods her only option?

I still don't know the exact answer(s). But studying poverty as a state and as a process of urbanization (studied from an urban geography point-of-view) helped. According to Knox and McCarthy (2005), poverty is perhaps the most compelling problem in and of cities. Poverty bequeths social, psychological, financial and physiological pressures to its recepients. Poor people are more likely to be less educated, have inadequate access to education, health care, employment. Poor people are captive. They often must 'make do' or 'deal with' the circumstances put before them. So what if the grocery stores don't offer quality foods. So what if the landlord, shopkeepers, or municipal workers are rude to you. You just deal with it. What other options do you (think you) have? Poverty is gregarious, often taking a hold of entire neighborhoods. And it is heritable. And that's the shame. How can one escape it? What's the use? That's the psychologically damaging aspect of poverty. It can yield a load of obstacles that most people don't care to admit are real and must be surmounted.

I commend all those who work to overthrow systems that promote or maintain poverty. It commend those who work to help those who are impoverished. I commend those who try to help poor people and improve neighborhoods in private ways, even if those efforts are ineffective and/or enabling. I give this last group of people, organizations, etc., a hard time. It's not because I don't have passion for the work they do or I think the people aren't worth it. But, I encourage those who do social service and work with the poor to take the time to study the literature. Work with social scientists, economists and others who study poverty and related systems so that the efforts put into your work can be more effective and empowering. Knowing more about the beast, helps you know how to defeat it -- once and for all.

For additional study I recommend: Urbanization, 2nd edition. 2005. Paul L. Knox & Linda McCarthy. Pearson Prentice Hall Press, New Jersey.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Education offers Salvation from Poverty

I've always performed well in school. At one time or another I attributed my academic success to many different things: my natural intelligence (until age 10), my "good genes" and family upbringing (until age 13), my parents involvement and encouragement (until age 18), my study habits (now), etc. As I mature, I realize it's a little of all of those things, but not one thing in particular. A common compliment I receive is "you are so smart" or "you must be smart". As a young child, I was honored to receive such a compliment. I thought it was an affirmation. 'I am smart. I have all of the answers. Ask me anything and I can tell you. I'm the smartest. kid in the class, smarter than all.' My being smart was badge of honor and I had a huge ego, even as a 10 year old.

In junior high, I attended a college preparatory school. Suddenly, I wasn't so smart. I wasn't the smartest in the class or room, or row. I offered as many wrong answers to questions as correct responses. My academic prowess was slipping. Plus, I noticed that I was being snickered at by the other students. (Now, this wasn't new to me. I was laughed at and called nerd. But my ego told me that it was because I was a know-it-all. I was.) But the comments weren't the playful jabbing of familiar playmates. I didn't know these kids and they didn't know me. And more importantly, I didn't know what was important to them. I knew nothing about name brands. I owed none. I had no stories to share about family vacations. I couldn't brag about my generous allowance and I had NO fancy names to drop. At age 12, I was given a first-hand lesson in socio-economic status.

I got past the snobbishness and class-ism. I did make friends. But more importantly, I learned something about life and achievement. Those 'new kids' all came from families where both parents were college graduates. Their parents were teachers, principals, engineers, lawyers, executives, advisers, and such. My folks and my elementary pals' parents were wage earners, mechanics, beauticians, truck drivers, factory workers, housekeepers, and such. I lived in a rental apartment complex. My junior high school pals lived in houses. During the lean Reaganomics years, my and my elementary pals' families struggled to keep jobs and a home.
I realized that life is different for people who have a college education.

Even today, I see that it is the poor and less educated of the world who are oppressed and abused. They have no advocates. They either don't know how or don't have the energy to advocate for themselves. I am a zealot when it comes to education. But it's easy for me to be this way; I've always loved school. My answer to everything is "go to school" or "take a class". When a childhood friend of mine was released from serving an 8 year sentence for aggravated burglary, I was there congratulating him on his release and placing a college application in his hand. I called to check on him and encourage him to go to school with me. But he didn't bite. Less than a year after his release, he was kicking in doors again and robbing people.

But, I still believe in Education as Salvation from poverty, oppression, abuse, racism, class-ism, negligence and all other ills. It is in this spirit that I recommend reading or listening to the Admittance to a Better Life by Michael Oatman, on NPR's This I Believe. He speaks so eloquently on the same subject and I join him in doing my part in trying to create a better life for myself and for others by sharing the power of education and understanding science to elevate from lower SES to middle-class.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Even More Recommended Teaching Approaches to Ensure Student Learning

Part 3 of my installation on recommendations to improve urban science education.

Recommendation #5. Promote interaction and collaboration among students.
The best way to learn is to teach. Creating cooperative learning communities is a great way and a proved way to improve student learning and develop character. Encourage students to discuss topics and assignments with each other. However, since liberal teaching methods are relatively rare at urban schools, student may interpret this as free time. Offer guidelines to keep them on track. Assemble various groupings of students so that they work with different students. As they become more accustomed to the format, the instructor should relax the rules. Also, encourage them to form study groups. Study groups have been proved as very effective learning tools, especially for high school and college students.

Recommendation #6. Quash cheating and keep students honest.
Copying answers from the book ore from a neighbor is a SERIOUS problem. But I am not just talking about copying answers from a crib sheet or looking over a neighbor's shoulder. Stop students from cheating themselves from learning the lesson. One of the reasons I have worksheets is because it is all too often treated as an assignment to complete. Students are rewarded for finishing the task, not demonstrating what they have learned. Hold students accountable for learning, not just handing in an assignment. Reward credit to student that complete independent assignments on a steep curve and re-normalize all scores to an average. This is a very unconventional tactic. Most urban educators can't afford to have students fail, so this might sound scary. But this tactic could really make students take their studies seriously. Grade on a curve for all regular assignments, and grade examinations in a traditional manner. This would ensure that students don't help slackers or allow others to copy their work. It would also encourage students to answers more completely.

References for these recommendations:
Martin Haberman. 1991. Pedagogy of Poverty
Eric Mazur. 1997. Peer Instruction: A User's Manual
Craig Nelson. 1996. Student diversity requires different approaches to college teaching even in math and science

Thursday, June 7, 2007

More Recommended Teaching Approaches to Ensure Student Learning

Part 2 of my installation on how student learning in urban schools can be improved.

Recommendation #3. Frequently check students’ understanding of the concept or material.
After teaching a concept it is best to pause for a moment and gauge students’ understanding of the material. This can be done informally or formally. Informally, an instructor can check students’ understanding with a short review discussion or through simple Q&A sessions. Questions can be those generated by the instructor, from fellow students, or from the text. Formally, the instructor can offer a quiz or questionnaire or have students complete a problem. All too often, students are given seat work or worksheets to complete. I hate worksheets; worksheets are the devil. Students are buried in a sea of papers; and the material seldom challenges them beyond the second tier of the cognitive domain. Learning is about thinking. Checking their understanding helps the instructor fix any misconceptions or incorrect understanding of the material. Plowing ahead does not achieve learning. Plowing ahead is indicative of a teaching style that assumes that covering the most information possible will ensure student success on assessments. It’s better for students to properly understand a little information than for students to memorize lots of facts that mean nothing to him/her beyond the next examination. They’ll just dump it and they’re back to being as ignorant as they arrive or still depending on the same old misinformation to inform they’re decisions.

Recommendation #4. Offer immediate feedback to students on any and all assessments.
I cannot emphasize this enough. Check their work and correct it as soon as possible. Return their papers with comments and recommendations for improvement as soon as humanly possible. Feedback is the basis of revision and correction. If students understand the concept or material then the instructor can continue to the next topic or delve more deeply into the present topic. If the students do not understand, then it is imperative for the instructor to slow down and review. It might be beneficial to modify the teaching style or use alternative examples that the students can better relate to. There is no sense forging ahead to more difficult topics if the students fail to understand the simpler ones. Their marks will be low because they lack a basic understanding on the material.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Recommended Teaching Approaches to Ensure Student Learning

How can we improve student learning in urban schools or any school for that matter? Well, there is no magic bullet, so I won't pretend as if I have the answer. However, I do have are a few recommendations based on my experiences as a classroom observer and resource assistant to a science teacher at a metropolitan urban high school in the Midwest United States. The high school was more reminiscent of "Fair Eastside" than anything. Almost every student received free lunch, the drop-out rate was about 50%, far too many of the students were parents, and gang-related violence was not at all uncommon. My first year at the school included 2 complete police lock-downs of the school ending only when several students had been arrested and were weapons discovered.

Most people ask: "How can students be expected to learn in such an environment?"
My answer is "Set high expectations for all students, especially for those young people who society, their neighbors, even their own families, expect to be failures. Expect the best from them, because the truest and purest potential resides as much in them as it does in the most affluent and well-prepared sub-urban students."

Recommendation #1. Set the tone early.
I favor non-traditional teaching approaches. Non-traditional means getting away from the chalk-talk or sage on the stage format of teaching. All teaching approaches, activities, etc. should begin with the end in mind, i.e., focus on what you would like for your students to learn, When introducing teaching approaches such as inquiry or problem-based learning, begin on the first day of class. Far too many students (urban, rural, and suburban) have become accustomed to teacher-centered experiences. Because of this, and their familiarity and ability to exploit such a system, they will not be apt to change. But give them time. Be firm. Reinforce expectations throughout the first few days or weeks of class.

Recommendation #2. Emphasize student responsibility.
Many people expect teachers to simply pour knowledge into a pupil's head. This is called the empty-vessel approach to teaching. No one is an empty vessel. Students have pre-conceived notions of lessons, may have been previously introduced to the material, may have some experience, and at the very least, has some serious mis-conceptions about the subject. So it is important to alert the students that learning is what pupils do. Teaching is what instructors do. And I believe that teachers should help facilitate learning. Help student erase incorrect notions and modify/revise incorrect or incomplete ideas about a subject. but it is imperative for everyone to understand one important thing: TEACHERS CANNOT MAKE STUDENTS LEARN. Students are responsible for reading, completing homework assignments, studying, etc. Challenge students to come to class prepared and to become critical thinkers.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Promoting Prosociality

I'm quite positive that I have a high Prosociality index score. I care about and work to create a fair and egalitarian society. I also believe that is why I like the Green Party so much. My personal values wed well with the Party's Ten Key Values. Particularly important o me is the fact that this party promotes a social just strong grassroots democracy and activism. These efforts to support and improve the lives of all citizens, especially the most vulnerable, e.g. the working class poor, who lack the big-time financial and political clout to "grease" the wheels of democracy - if you know what I mean.

I have a strong sense of civic responsibility. In fact, I attribute my strong sense of righteous indignation and Nazi-like environmental behaviors to my sense of civic duty. I'm an altruist, dammit. But I'm also quite non-conformist and often anti-authority and this is quite problematic among African-American social institutions. The clash of generations (Gen X &Y vs baby Boomers and other ancients) is a very serious thing and causing some serious rifts within many Black Religious denominations, Fraternities, Sororities, Social and Civic organizations/clubs/associations. Surprisingly, though I can be a pain to such authority figures, I also credit my membership with such organizations for my powerful sense of civic duty. Ironic, eh?

My enthusiasm for school, particularly science education reform, is based on these sames feeling of responsibility and duty. A review by André Blais on D.E. Campbell's book Why We Vote awakened me. "Schools are mean to to produce intelligent citizens but also responsible ones". Based on Campbell's study, people become civically engaged in order to fulfill a sense of civic duty and/or to protect their own interests. He even states that school - formal classroom lessons, such as those provided in social studies, civics, history, economics, etc- plays an important role in cultivating this sense of duty. Read more here.

Now some schools have gone a step further in promoting prosociality. Many districts require high school students to complete X number of community service hours as a graduation requirement. But many fail to ensure that the students actually learn the intended lessons of the requirement. (To learn more about service-learning, read here.) This bothers me. Already many classrooms lessons are filled with "doing busy work", now well-intentioned programs to get kids to become good citizens is doing the same thing.

Presently, I've become rather impatient and irked by the lack of leadership provided by many African-American Civic and Social Service organizations. Why? Because they seem to have become distracted and suffer from an organizational illness I call Mission Drift. Seems to me, that they are not truly promoting and cultivating civically engaged citizens, like they once did. In fact, Bruce Gordon left the NAACP after only 19 months because he thought the organization needed to re-think its plan so as to become more effective (read here for more info). I don't know if I agree with Gordon or not but it still calls attention to something important: Are we being effective or are we just doing something that looks and sound good?

What's with this "doing something for the sake of doing it" pre-occupation?
How can African-America institutions, civic organizations, social service providers, help empoer people as opposed to enabling them or ignoring them?

The condition of poor people, people of color, and the disadvantaged is to grave to allow these less-than effective activities to continued un-challenged and un-checked. The time is long overdue to be accountable, to encourage our children and neighbors to be self-sufficient, self-reliant, responsible, and discerning. Those of us who 1) know better, 2) care enough, and 3) have the abilities should start calling others to task. We should set an example for others. Help educate those who are most vulnerable. In other words, we should extend some of our social and intellectual capital to create a better citizenry and neighborhoods.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Helping people overcome their aversion to science

Resistance to science has important social implications, because a scientifically ignorant public is unprepared to evaluate polices about global warming, genetically modified organisms, stem cell research, and cloning.
An excerpt from
Childhood origins of adult resistance to science in Science Magazine 18 May 2007 issue.

Many Americans are resistant to learn about new technologies, evolution and natural selection, or complicated health care issues. Why? Because people have a hard-time accepting information that conflicts with their personal construct and understanding of the world.

Resistance to science, technology, and math (STM) education begins early and stays throughout life for most people. Usually because of a dissatisfying experience with STM during the formative years – middle and high school grades, many people shy away or outright reject information about our advancing knowledge in these areas.

Students and citizens are not empty vessels. No, they have a pretty broad idea of how the world works. These ideas may not be accurate but these ideas are ‘true enough’. And for many people they learn about new things from their personal expert -- someone in their social circle, someone they trust to be right or believe to be most knowledgeable.

Now, consider this: If a person is resistant to science since childhood, he/she doesn’t know any scientists, and she/her has no real idea of how science works, then how should they react to all of this new information? Why should they believe want the scientific community says about a matter? Why should they chuck out what they believe and know to be true?

One of my science education professors warns that we should not “expect students to replace one fairy-tale for another”. The students’ ideas and comprehension of the world are established, even if it is inaccurate. Just because you tell them what is correct and they provide the correct answers on the tests, doesn’t mean they will accept it as true. Especially for controversial lessons about evolution, students will take the test and then declare they believe none of the information provided by the instructor. Why? They failed to update their world-view.

So, how do we teach people about the world so that they can update their brain computers? We let them discover the phenomenon. Active learning through manipulation and experimentation is essential if people are to REALLY learn more about the world and about science. Teaching science as a laundry list of facts doesn’t help people become more scientifically literate or able to evaluate policies. However, meaningful learning experiences do give students and citizens the opportunities to figure things out for themselves.

Unlike the personal expert who can be vouched for, the scientific community has no such social capital with the general public. That’s not how science works – usually. The results speak for themselves; the proof is in the pudding. Our voucher system is the experiment or rather the experience. Science is best learned by doing it. Let people try things out, test assumptions, research perceptions. When people can figure things out for themselves that’s when people will resist science less.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

College Preparation

College Preparation
It’s never too early to start thinking about college, or too late. This posting is especially designed for those students who think that ‘maybe college isn’t for me – right now.
College is important. For one thing, this society is becoming increasingly more technologically advanced. An advanced education (beyond high school) is essential for financial and personal success. Gone are the days when one could simply ‘work hard for a living’ and support him/herself and family. Even labor jobs depend on people having critical skills and abilities. Rote and unskilled labor jobs are akin to serfdom.

No, a quality post-secondary education is imperative and I believe a university education may be one’s best bet. University education will provide one with a well-balanced foundation in the 3 Rs – reading, writing, and arithmetic and shapes students intellectually and cognitively. Thinking – critical thinking, discernment, and decision making are key qualities for the 21st century citizen.

So, I recommend the following College Preparation and Research references for any student or parent/guardian/mentor of a student. But don’t think you’ve got to run out and buy these books. Oh no. I check these books out from my local public library.

1. America’s Best Colleges for B Students by Tamra B. Orr.
ISBN: 1932662065

Financial Aid is also important for college preparation, so here are some starting points. First, start researching financial aid options as early as possible. There are a million different deadlines and eligibility requirements. Second, competitive essays and academic contests are a scholarship options. Third, the student in question is primarly responsible for completing applications and filling out the necessary paperwork. So help your student along with encouragement and proof-reading & time-management support. Finally, sock the moeny away. You can start amassing money as early as 9th grade and let it wait for you. You can take that money to any institution and use to cover tuition, books, room, and board.

2. The Financial Aid Book compiled by Student Financial Services
ISBN: 1-881199-01-0

3. Directory of Financial Aids for Women by Gail A Schlachter & R David Weber
ISBN: 1-58841-131-1
Reference Service Press produces over a dozen different financial aid guides for almost any demographic

Friday, May 25, 2007

Why 'Perfect Representation' in STEM is important

Why does it matter that Life Sciences (or any STEM field) works to include under-represented minorties like African-Americans, Latinos, Native-Americans, women and people with disabilities. So What does it matter? That was a remark posted on in reference to by post about the topic: SO WHAT?

The big deal with 'perfect representation' has to do with heterogeneity. Physical/Ethnic diversity also yields intellectual diversity -- a diversity of viewpoints, interpretations, and ways to communicate with wider audiences. Students and quite frankly, some academics and administrators, need to know that women, people of color and people with disabilities are capable of contributing to ALL aspects of the human experience. It's not right that people automatically assume that being a scientist means that a person is more likely to be a white male than anything else. As a result, it creates a sad situation where members of the general public assume that 'real authorities' of a discipline come primarily from one demographic. That's not true and it's not right.

There are bigger issues to stab at. And in my opinion the big issue to address is the inconsistency of institutions' objectives to promote diversity and their failure to work toward meeting these objectives. I think it is hypocritical for institutions to talk about how important diversity and education are, but do very little to promote diversity. Or they fail take advantage of programs that could help them meet diversity goals, e.g. those that educate students from under-represented groups, recruit students from under-represented groups.

To be honest, departments and universities could do more - and not necessarily more expensive things. Examples include but are not limited to:
1. improving the overall science education of undergraduates - connnect the curriculum, teach science experientially, promote reasoning and thinking and not memorization

2. encourage undergraduates to participate in research -
provide funds to pay for the hours of research credit, offer scholarships for them to travel to remote sites to work alongside graduate student researchers or post-docs

3. invite undergraduates to attend department seminars.

In other words, I think many science departments could do a better job cultivating young scientists. If the net is cast wide enough, then we're sure to include more students from under-represented groups.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Diversity Issues - obstacles to success

Dr. James Sherley has been dealing with obstacles to his success as a scientist and academic with the department of Biological Engineering at MIT. Although his story is unfortunate, that type of frustration is routinely experienced by many African-American scientists and graduate students. Such treatment and behavior creates unnecessary barriers to success. What a pity, because such unpleasant experiences can actually deter promising African-Americans (and others) from pursuing careers in science and academia.

Not to bemoan the lack of racial diversity within the sciences, but the lack of diversity within the sciences can also be attributed to the unfair treatment of minority faculty and graduate students by its senior faculty members and administrators. I seriously hope and pray it is unconscious, but nonetheless it is hurtful and damaging. How can STEM academic positions be expected to be filled by minority candidates if they are treated poorly during critical periods of their professional development?

Speaking from personal experience, faculty and administrators can be very insensitive. As the lone African-American student in my department I have been had to deal with issues that my other fellow graduate students have not had to address.

One example includes a recent fight to keep a Teaching Assistantship (TA). I was granted a year of TA funding by the out-going department chair. The new/incoming department chair was not comfortable with the assignment promised to me (the same assignment was also made to 2 other students, white females). He notified the other two students and their assignments were modified. He didn't notify me or my advisor and he also refused to sign off on the paperwork. Simultaneously, he forwarded the information about my assignment to the graduate school dean with a note stating his disapproval of my assignment. He also successfully lobbied other members of faculty and was able to block my assignment altogether. His consolation to me was that I could have a summer time TA position. This offer was ridiculous and empty because the department doesn't teach summer school classes and has never offered summertime TA assignments. I was livid and hurt. I was struck dumb by his lack of sensitivity and unconcern for my academic success.

Eventually, a solution was reached, but mainly because the previous department chair intervened. I was able to serve a double TA assignment, prepping one course and teaching another. But even that agreement was not to his liking; he attempted to block that assignment as well. He personally talked with the supervising faculty members and demanded that I teach double loads in both classes. He was very firm about me NOT prepping. Interestingly, one of the other students (whom I mentioned earlier as having a similar assignment), was given a prep only TA assignment. I came to the conclusion that female white graduate students were able to do things that I, the African-American, could not do.

I believe the entire matter was unfairly and inappropriately handled. Situations like these make the field of science and academia seem less objective and more subjective -- even unwelcoming to people of color. And it has made me less interested in pursuing an academic career in the future. Such treatment and behavior creates unnecessary barriers to success. What a pity, because academia and science is truly a great career options and African-Americans (and others) have so much to share with the rest of the world.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Diversifying the Life Sciences

"African-Americans make up 13 percent of the United States population, but comprise only 5 percent of those employed in the life, physical, and social sciences. Or with this: less than 3 percent of Ph.D.s in biology and chemistry are held by African-Americans. Different statistics pepper various reports, but none dispute the central fact, that African-Americans do not hold life science jobs in numbers commensurate with their representation in the US population. "

An excerpt from the May 11, 2007 Issue of Science Magazine
Focus on Diversity: INCUBATING INNOVATION - Diversity Efforts Rejuvenate the Life Science Work Force

I am one of one African-Americans pursuing a Ph.D. in biology at my institution (a mid-tier research department). In the 17 years since the department initiated a doctorate program, I am only the second African-American to be admitted and pursue a doctorate degree. I was actually recruited to my department via an NSF-AGEP grant. After my 'freshman year' in the program, the university backed out of this NSF education and diversity program; they cited that participating in the program is too-expensive. Since, then there hasn't been a single African-American student invited to interview or accepted in to the doctorate program. Furthermore, I can't remember a single time my department has hosted an African-American seminar speaker or interviewed an African-American for one of its open faculty positions.

Now, the fact that the numbers of Ph.D. scientists is rather low has a lot to do with these issues. Diversity and pluralism are supposed to be so important to institutions and departments. But
what disappoints me more, is the fact that institutions and academic leaders 'talk about diversity' but no one is willing to provide the resources and/or pave the way to attract, retain, and train minority graduate students.