News: AAAS News & Notes
27 August 2010
Edited by Edward W. Lempinen
Scientists, Educators Chart Course For Haiti’s Future Prosperity
Rebuilding and renewal. Among those at the workshop Haitian science were (clockwise from top left): Nadine Francis, a Haitian chemist who works in water purification; AAAS Caribbean Division President Jorge Colón; Evens Emmanuel, dean of science and engineering at Quisqueya University in Haiti; and Gary Machlis, a professor of conservation at the University of Idaho.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—As Haiti struggles to recover from a shattering January earthquake, a grassroots, multinational team of scientists, educators, and business leaders is developing a plan that sets science and education as a foundation for rebuilding and future growth.
Under a framework that emerged from a workshop organized by the AAAS Caribbean Division, Haiti’s science and technology capacity would be systematically built through Haitian policy, new investment, and international collaboration. While specific recommendations are still taking shape, they will range from rebuilding laboratories and improving school materials to assuring that Haitian development policy is informed by the latest environmental science.
“These recommendations are being shaped by Haitians who have a ground-level view of current conditions and future needs,” said Caribbean Division President Jorge Colón. “It’s important that they lead the effort, since any role that science and science education will play in the reconstruction of Haiti should be based on Haiti’s development goals. But it is clear that support from the science community in the Caribbean and beyond will be important for success.”
“The shortcomings of science education and the science culture in Haiti help explain the extraordinary scope of damage caused by the earthquake,” said Fritz Deshommes, vice rector of research at l’Université d’État d’Haiti. “Now we desperately need to integrate science into the process of reconstruction and renewal. For that reason, the workshop was very important—it will help build the scientific community in Haiti and strengthen bonds with the regional and global scientific community.”
Workshop organizers and participants already have shared preliminary recommendations with key science and education leaders in Haiti, Puerto Rico, and the United States. A final report is expected in late summer or early fall.
The workshop—held l0-12 July in Puerto Rico and 15-18 July in Haiti—appears to have been the first meeting of its kind since 12 January, when the impoverished nation was rocked by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. The quake killed more than 300,000 Haitians and injured 300,000 more; some 1.5 million people were left homeless.
The AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy joined the Caribbean Division in sponsoring the workshop. Additional support was provided by the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), the College of Natural Resources at the University of Idaho, and the Association of American Geographers (AAG).
The Puerto Rico portion of the workshop convened 10 scientists, educators, business executives, and policy experts from Haiti and the Haitian diaspora, along with 12 colleagues from Puerto Rico, the United States, Canada, and Rwanda.
Haitian speakers set the context, describing the science-related challenges facing their country, the destruction of laboratories and education facilities, and the potential for rebuilding and expanding science capacity. U.S. and Puerto Rican scholars discussed such issues as earthquake recovery, land use, and reforestation.
Thus far, participants said, the Haitian government’s recovery plans have not set science and science education as priorities. In subsequent sessions, they developed more than 30 preliminary goals and recommendations.
The most overarching goal: Build Haitian science capacity to address specific Haitian challenges. New investment would be needed in science education, research, and information technology to further Haiti’s sustainable development and prosperity.
Other initiatives could establish an association of Haitian scientists, build understanding of science among the Haitian public and political leaders, and develop international research collaborations aligned with Haiti’s sustainable development goals. Jean McKendry, a senior researcher at AAG, and Gary Machlis, a professor of conservation at the University of Idaho, joined Colón in presenting the preliminary results as the workshop re-convened in Port-au-Prince.
They met with the Haitian presidential commissions on education and technology, information, and communication, and with groups of working scientists and school principals. At each meeting, they gathered suggestions for refining the preliminary recommendations.
“The challenges of rebuilding Haiti are extraordinary—and so are the Haitian scientists, science teachers, and university leaders,” Machlis said. “If the science and education communities in the Caribbean, the United States and other areas can match their commitment, the partnerships emerging from this workshop can produce great progress.”
2009 Annual Report
Nominations Needed for Public Engagement Award
Science communicators. Bob Hazen, a researcher and author, and his wife Margee Hazen, a writer and science historian, initiated the new AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science.
[Photo © and courtesy of Bob and Marzee Hazen]
The need for effective science communicators is clear as science-based issues such as climate change, stem cell research, synthetic biology, neuroscience, and evolution become social and political flashpoints. Yet, traditional reward systems such as tenure and grants typically have not recognized efforts to build constructive public engagement with science and technology.
In response, a new AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science has been established to recognize such efforts, and to “send a powerful message about the value of science communication activities,” said AAAS CEO and Science Executive Publisher Alan I. Leshner.
The award, intended to encourage a lifelong commitment to science communication, was initiated by Bob and Margee Hazen and quickly garnered support from other donors, including Leshner and his wife Agnes, Science Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts and wife Betty, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The Noyce Foundation has contributed support for a special video featuring the award winner.
Bob Hazen, a mineralogist and science-literacy champion, said that promoting public engagement can be “a balancing act” for many researchers who must fit communication efforts into a lengthy list of priorities dominated by research, publication, and teaching.
Yet, communicating research results and engaging with non-scientists are keys to building a broad base of support for science. “Our research funding often depends on public support,” noted Hazen, who has published an array of popular science books, many in collaboration with his spouse Margee, a writer and historian of science. “Our ability to make ourselves relevant and have society listen to us on issues related to the environment, the economy, health, defense, and safety depends on our effectiveness as communicators.”
Identifying additional reward systems for early career scientists is essential, Alberts said. Those researchers “are often especially effective as ambassadors of science”—leveraging their energy and enthusiasm to make technical information accessible to non-scientists.
Nominations for the award will be accepted through 15 October, reported AAAS Public Engagement Manager Tiffany Lohwater. “The award will recognize outstanding efforts to promote interactive dialogue between scientists and non-scientific, public audiences,” she explained. “Eligible efforts might include, for instance, informal science education, public outreach, mass media communication, science cafés, exhibits, effective use of social media, or a host of other activities.”
Including a $5000 prize and support to attend the 2011 AAAS Annual Meeting, the award is open to individual early career scientists and engineers who have been working in their current field for less than seven years (at a pre-tenure or equivalent level).
Nominations will be independently reviewed by a selection committee including Bob Hazen of the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Geophysical Laboratory and George Mason University; May R. Berenbaum of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Robert Fri of Resources for the Future; Juan Gilbert of Clemson University; Bruce Lewenstein of Cornell University; Nalini Nadkarni of Evergreen State College; and past AAAS President James J. McCarthy of Harvard University.
See www.aaas.org/go/PESaward for details regarding award eligibility and nominations. To support the award endowment, go to www.aaas.org/makeagift, or contact AAAS Development Director Juli Staiano at firstname.lastname@example.org, (202) 326-7028.
Classroom Innovation Planned in Chemistry, Biochemistry
Learning about chemical reactions is essential for advanced chemistry studies and, increasingly, to understand the chemistry of life itself. But test scores and other evidence show that many U.S. middle and high school students struggle to understand even basic chemical reactions such as oxidation or photosynthesis.
Now, with a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, AAAS’s Project 2061 and the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) are embarking on a project to develop chemistry and biochemistry materials for middle school students and teachers, based on the latest research in learning.
Jo Ellen Roseman, director of the long-term science literacy project, said improved ways of teaching how atoms and molecules behave in chemical reactions will prepare students for more advanced classes in high school and college. At the same time, she said, it will give them a foundation for understanding climate change, alternative energy sources, the uses of nanotechnology, and other science topics that are already the focus of policy debate.
Each unit “will organize the scientific ideas into a coherent story for teachers and students,” said Roseman. “The scientific ideas will be more likely to be... tied together and linked to carefully chosen phenomena and representations.”
The materials will be designed and tested over the next three years at schools in Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., in classrooms involving 18 teachers and nearly 2000 students.
The grant was issued by the National Center for Education Research in the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.