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Colleagues and Friends Remember Project 2061’s Andrew “Chick” Ahlgren
Over the past few months, AAAS and Project 2061 has been celebrating the life and work of its long-time associate director, the late Andrew "Chick" Ahlgren, through an online site that commemorates his profound and original contributions to science education.
While family, friends and co-workers offered reflections on his life and career at a June memorial service in Washington, D.C., others are choosing to share personal memories though an electronic message board posted on 2061 Connections, Project 2061's electronic newsletter to the science education community.
A wide variety of people have offered personal tributes—friends and co-workers whom he knew well, along with people whom he reached only through his books and publications.
James Rutherford, a friend and colleague of Ahlgren's and founder of Project 2061 and its director from 1985 to 1998, called Ahlgren “one of the most inventive and productive science educators of our times.”
“I am saddened by his passing, but buoyed by the knowledge that his life was well lived and that his influence will live on,” Rutherford wrote in a remembrance posted with the electronic message board.
Ahlgren died in Boston on 23 April 2006 from complications resulting from a stroke in 2001.
At the 3 June memorial service, Jo Ellen Roseman, current director of Project 2061, spoke about how Ahlgren changed the way Project 2061 thought about solutions to difficult problems. “Before Chick, we were blinded by what was currently included in textbooks,” Roseman said. “Now we try to think outside the box.”
Another colleague, Shirley Malcom, head of Education and Human Resources at AAAS, noted that Ahlgren had a sharp, wry wit and intellect. “I came to appreciate how deeply he cared . . . He gave a lot and we are better for it,” Malcom said.
Ahlgren was a highly praised high school teacher who later held appointments in the Physics Department and School of Education at the University of Minnesota . Surprising many, in 1985 Ahlgren left a fully-tenured position at Minnesota to become associate director of Project 2061.
Ahlgren also was a man of arts and letters, an accomplished musician, and an amateur astronomer. He strove continually to improve science education—as well as the society in which he lived.
For Ahlgren, these goals were one and the same and are apparent in Science for All Americans, a landmark book on scientific literacy published by Project 2061 in 1989 under Ahlgren's leadership:
“What the future holds in store for individual human beings, the nation, and the world depends largely on the wisdom with which humans use science and technology. And that, in turn, depends on the character, distribution, and effectiveness of the education that people receive.”
According to Tom Karras, a personal friend who first met Ahlgren 53 years ago as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago , Ahlgren had an eclectic set of interests.
“He was third in the nationals in fencing in college,” Karras recalled online. “He took apart a non-working generator from his car, spread the parts out on the living room floor and fixed it before Joanne (his wife) lost her patience. He wrote a letter to Werner Von B raun asking what educational path he should follow, received a detailed response and proceeded to do something else. He found a Greek column from a house that was being demolished, set it in his living room and carried it with him wherever they moved.”
In his 16 years at AAAS, Ahlgren was instrumental in carrying out some of Project 2061's most significant work. Most notably, Ahlgren led Project 2061 in its publication of B enchmarks for Science Literacy (1993), Atlas of Science Literacy(2001), and Designs for Science Literacy(2001).
Benchmarks, Rutherford said, “will serve for decades to come as a new kind of resource that will be emulated by others and not only in science.”
While at Harvard, Ahlgren participated in a variety of programs including the formation of Project Physics, a highly acclaimed physics curriculum. Ahlgren's intellect and personality so distinguished him among the many physicists and physics teachers that the co-directors chose to recognize him in the preface of the Project Physics text.
“We take particular pleasure in acknowledging the assistance of Dr. Andrew Ahlgren,” they wrote, “. . . because of his skill as a physics instructor, his editorial talent, his versatility and energy, and above all, his commitment to the goals of Harvard Project Physics.”
George “Pinky” Nelson, former NASA astronaut and head of Project 2061 from 1998 to 2001, said Ahlgren influenced the next generation of educators in numerous ways.
“Few of us are lucky enough in life to befriend and be mentored by a great mind,” Nelson wrote on the message board. “What a privilege to call Chick Ahlgren a colleague and friend.”
Ahlgren is survived by his wife Joanne; his children Lynn Volk, Carol Snitzer, Erich Ahlgren and Sarah Ahlgren, and several grandchildren.
3 July 2006