News: News Archives
Model for Understanding of Science Launched
in City Famous for Role in Western Expansion
The Mississippi River and Missouri River converge here, where a 630-foot arch commemorates the nation's historic Westward expansion. Here is also the place where St. Louis's leaders are considering another way their city might make an impressionas a model for raising the public's understanding of science, mathematics and technology.
Launched in November 2002 with technical support from AAAS, the "Initiative for Science Literacy: The St. Louis Model" is sponsored by the Academy of Science of St. Louis, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the St. Louis Science Center, St. Louis Zoo, the University of Missouri - St. Louis, and philanthropist E. Desmond Lee. Together, the group has pledged funds to support personnel and office expenses for the next three years.
"We have a rich array of natural resources and science programming in the region," says Mary Wertsch, Project Director for the initiative. "The challenge lies in connecting these with groups that were not previously targeted, such as senior citizens. The message is: science is for everyone."
The idea is to have one personWertschserve as a bridge between the public and the institutions she represents. The system allows institutions to work together, building on each of their strengths, and prevents redundancy in terms of the services and staff.
"This project is unique. It gets science where it hasn't gone before, by working in a concerted way, funded by local institutions," Wertsch says.
Wertsch noted the Initiative is already seeing progress. The project is now identifying providers and constituents in the 11 counties and one major city of the area, and is working to match up constituent groups with organizations providing programming, activities, or volunteer opportunities in science, math, and technology. For example, the Initiative identified the needs of the new Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys and Girls Club in East St. Louis. The Club, which provides educational and recreational programs to children, needed guidance in equipping its science classroom, and help with science programming. Wertsch relayed this need to a variety of providers, and some immediately followed up on the opportunity.
In an effort to further engage the citizens of St. Louis, the Initiative is also developing a Web siteexpected to launch in Septemberand a number of brochures.
Planning for the Initiative occurred long before last November. While serving on the AAAS Council in the late 1990s, Thomas Woolsey, a neurobiologist at Washington University School of Medicine and president of the Academy of Science of St. Louis, asked for help in developing this project. With help from the AAAS Education and Human Resources Directorate and local support, a plan was formulated.
"A key factor is that the AAAS has wide experience nationally, was willing to support the effort materially and with its expertise," Woolsey says. "We maintain a base of about 600 experts in St. Louis who have agreed to speak to anyone about science. Many of them are dedicated to help in any way that they can," says Woolsey.
Judy Kass, a AAAS project director, currently travels to St. Louis every two to three weeks to provide technical assistancevisiting with planners and assisting in the conceptualizing the project. She noted that this grassroots science outreach is one of the first of its kind, but hopefully not the last.
According to Woolsey, St. Louis provides a model for other cities that is easily transferable. "This is a unique and beneficial effort," he says. "Developing a process is key. If we can develop a process which involves finding necessary funding, establishing contacts, and developing participation then other cities in the United States can make appropriate modifications to greatly enhance public understanding of science in their locale."
20 May 2003