According to a 2010 Gallup poll, the proportion of individuals ‘unsure’ about their feelings regarding biological evolution has increased nearly 20% in the last ten years, only 50% of Americans believe that global warming has anthropogenic causes and 32% believe that global warming will have effects in their lifetime. Surprisingly, 36% of Americans believe that scientists are unsure if global warming is occurring; this could not be more false – for example, the national academy of sciences in over 30 nations and dozens of scientific societies have issued unequivocal statements that global warming is occurring now and that it has anthropogenic causes. That the public does not know of the overwhelming scientific consensus supporting ideas like the reality of climate change or the fact of evolution indicates that high-quality science education is needed desperately for all. Uncertainty of the public about some of the most well-established scientific principles is cause for great concern, as this has real consequences for the shaping and implementation of public policy; only a scientifically literate public can understand the complexities of our place in the natural world and make informed decisions regarding developments in energy, agriculture, medicine or the environment.
Thus, a strong science education has never been more important, for both majors and non-majors alike. A strong science education program has three goals. First, it should convey to students knowledge of how the natural world works and bring them to an understanding of how such knowledge is revealed through the process of science. Second, science education should impart students with the desire and tools to inform themselves about scientific issues impacting society, and to remain current as science advances. Third, science education should train students in the process of science itself – how to formulate hypotheses, how to design and execute experiments to test these hypotheses, and how to effectively disseminate scientific findings to their peers and the public at large. Such an inspired science education program - from classroom work to more individualized, mentorship-based research experiences - will bring many students to careers in science or related fields. But just as importantly, it will enable all students to become scientifically literate participants in society regardless of their career path. Using a core set of courses (links at left) and individualized mentorship experiences (described here); I aim to achieve these science education goals for both non-majors and the next generation of science professionals.
In the classroom, I strive to teach the unfamiliar facts of biology, the concepts that give meaningful context to these facts, and the intellectual skills needed to formulate testable hypotheses explaining specific phenomena. One of my primary goals is to produce students that can use the foundations of biology to interpret new data and think critically about novel scientific ideas they encounter. Hence, I focus less on pushing the memorization of facts or minutia of a topic, and instead emphasize developing a deep understanding of how a diversity of topics integrate to affect biological processes now - or predict how they might in the future.