Outraged! Calling All Readers to Stand Up for Science Education

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | April 19, 2011 4:17 pm

The NSF GK-12 program is an outstanding example of an initiative tackling science illiteracy head on. It prepares graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to be better communicators by bringing them into K-12 classrooms. They work closely with students and teachers through hands-on activities and make science real and relevant for the communities where they are instituted. I’ve worked with many students and professionals involved in this wonderful program over the years and have been extremely impressed. Many colleagues and friends who have participated say GK-12 has had a tremendous influence on their trajectories beyond graduate school. As I visit universities to talk about improving science communication, many professors bring up their own experiences with this initiative and praise the way it brings science to students around the country. The only aspect I do not like is that funding at each institution only lasts a few years, so successful programs are unable to continue past the term they are allotted. That said, according to the website, GK-12 has benefited over 10,000 STEM graduate students, 11,000 teachers, 5,000 schools, and as many as 600,000 K-12 students.

I am shocked to learn that NSF has decided to cancel the program. According to Science, the decision has been made because graduate student participants do not outperform their peers in research. But as Miriam points out, GK-12 fellows do become better teachers, communicators, and advocates for science education–which was the entire purpose of the program!

So I am calling on every reader to stand up for science! Chris and I care deeply about this issue and it’s the subject of our book, Unscientific America. Please write a letter of support for GK-12 imploring your representatives to restore funding for the program. Everything you need to know is here, including templates and more information about what we may lose.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Announcements, Culture, Education

Comments (4)

  1. This is extremely disappointing. I know several GK-12 fellows and have seen their impact on educational communities across the globe.

  2. Caitlin S

    I am a doctoral candidate and I have been an NSF Graduate Teaching Fellow twice in my graduate career and firmly believe my GK-12 experiences to be among my most valuable and rewarding. I worked with 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th graders in public schools and know that my interactions with these students and their teachers provided me a perspective on education unique to the one I would have received had I only taught undergraduates (or not taught at all, as is the case with many graduate students). I have implemented the (life and curricular) lessons I learned in those classrooms into my teaching since, with great success. I have won teaching awards based on a teaching philosophy and teaching effort that has been sculpted significantly by my GK-12 experiences. I will be greatly saddened if this outstanding program is discontinued.

  3. It gets worse. The NSF graduate research fellowship program (I am currently a fellow) has amended their guidelines so that we are not allowed to do any teaching if we are paid for it. In other words, even if it’s OK with my PI (it is) and even if it’s OK with my program (it is), I’m not allowed to be a TA for undergraduate or graduate courses.

    One of the most important parts about the NSF application is a focus on “broader impacts” – those things other than research that you will do to improve science literacy. Yet they seem to be cutting all of these efforts off at the knees.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.


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