Senior Scientists and Engineers
AAAS/SSE STEM Volunteer Program
There is concern in the scientific community about the lack of understanding of science and its methods by the general public resulting in part from inadequate science education in school (see A.I. Leshner, Science 306, p. 197, 2004). In addition, the Business Higher Education Forum’s 2007 report, The American Imperative, states: “From our perspectives in business and higher education, we are deeply concerned by the shortfalls we see in America’s ability to remain competitive in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM. These areas are cornerstones, fundamental to our ability to develop the skill sets and knowledge that will keep the United States intellectually vibrant and economically competitive."
A recent National Research Council (NRC) report says that: “At no time in history has improving science education been more important than it is today. Yet after 15 years of focused standards-based reform, improvements in U.S. science education are modest at best, and comparisons show that U.S. students fare poorly in comparison with students in other countries.”
The NRC report recommends a number of actions, stressing improvements in curricula and development of teachers. An additional approach is to bring STEM professionals into classrooms to assist teachers. There is a very large pool of potential volunteers, including not only retirees but also professionals who are still in the work force. As an indicator, in 2006 there were an estimated 1,147,000 scientists and engineers over 60 years of age with bachelor’s degrees or higher (communication from the National Science Foundation, Science Resources Statistics Division). The utilization of even a small percent of this resource could make a significant contribution to advancing science education.
The 2010 Report from the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) for America's Future stresses the need for "...a STEM-proficient workforce and future STEM experts" and makes a series of recommendations to address the shortcomings in the current K-12 science education system. One of the suggestions in the report is that "...all middle and high schools should have a partner in a STEM field to help students understand how many discoveries remain to be made and the role young people can play in solving important scientific problems.... In this way, the STEM professional can help schools and school systems excite and motivate students to learn science and mathematics and to pursue careers in STEM fields."
The potential for volunteer projects to support K-12 STEM education was presented in an editorial in the July 16, 2010, issue of Science.
In the 1990s, two volunteer programs to advance science education through the knowledge and experience of senior science and engineering professionals were initiated:
- RE-SEED (Retirees Enhancing Science Education through Experiments and Demonstrations) based at Northeastern University, and
- TOPS (Teaching Opportunities for Partners in Science) www.topslearning.org, a component of VISTAS, www.vistaslearning.org, operating out of the San Joaquin County (CA) Office of Education.