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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    LIGASE Offers Hope as Science Education Continues to Fall

    Fifty years after Sputnik, America is experiencing a growing need for a second space race. The 184 pound, unmanned aluminum machine, led America‘s scientific and political communities to reevaluate the math and science skills of its students and teachers, and call for improvements. Current elected officials and business leaders are hoping that China‘s blossoming space program and Russia‘s push to be the first nation to land a human on Mars will serve as catalysts to once again improve America‘s science education programs.

    ‘Sputnik was a wakeup call, an act of urgency for the country,’ said Dr. Daniel Moloney, an instructor in the Department of Biochemistry at Stony Brook University. ‘And we need that urgency today because it’s going to take at least a generation for us to improve our educational standing in the global world.’ Behind the anniversary of the world’s first manmade satellite may be the real issue – America‘s mediocrity on the international landscape in terms of pre-collegiate education. Also at work is the broader issue of the rise of other nations into the realm of global superiority that the United States has been the sole occupant of for the last several decades. Over the last twelve years, the United States has continued to see its eighth graders outscored on exams in both math and science by their counterparts in other countries, including Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Hungary, according to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. The 2003 version of the study consisted of giving identical exams to eighth graders in 46 different countries. The 8,912 Americans that were tested finished in fifteenth place in math and in tenth place in science in terms of international averages.

    ‘We’ve got the moon landing, the first computer, and the Human Genome Project,’ said Dr. Keith Sheppard, the Director of the Science Education Program at Stony Brook University. ‘Yet somehow our country is in the middle of the pack in terms of science education.’ Since the dawn of the new millennium, the American government has attempted to reclaim it leadership of the international pack by passing several acts aimed at both improving the quality of its education and bringing education to more people. Two of these acts are the No Child Left Behind and the America Competes Act. Intertwined within the stitching of these Congressional acts is a method of reform that specifically targets the development of groups that are dedicated to revamping the nation’s science education programs. Dr. Moloney and Dr. Sheppard are members of such a group called the Long Island Group Advancing Science Education (LIGASE). LIGASE was founded at Stony Brook University in 1995 by Dr. David Bynum, and, over the 2007 summer, evolved from the Long Island based group into the national Center for Science and Mathematics Education. ‘My philosophy was to start small, leverage it, achieve success, and then expand,’ said LIGASE director, Dr. Bynum. ‘Now we’re going national, but during our first year we were lucky to get around the block.’

    After surviving its infancy stage, the group has grown into a fully functioning, nationally acclaimed institution. LIGASE’s most recent 2007 figures indicate that there are over 300 K-12 schools, compared to just 20 when the group began, participating in its programs. Additionally, in its 12 years of existence, over 40,000 experiments have been conducted by middle and high school students in the group’s Biotechnology Teaching Laboratory (BTL). Dr. Moloney is the current director of the BTL and is also the instructor of a course entitled, Introduction to Biotechnology. This course, which is one of the 22 courses offered at Stony Brook that LIGASE supports, began in the fall of 2003 with just 20 students. Four years later, Dr. Moloney is still lecturing about genetic mutations and the possibility of cloning a human, however now it’s in front of a class of 40 students. ‘The concept of having a science course for non-science majors has a lot of sex appeal,’ Dr. Moloney said. ‘It appeals to scientific institutions and government agencies because we’re trying to meet the same goals that they are, and by that I mean trying to educate the general public.’

    In 2002, Dr. Bynum received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. The recipients of this award, which are only ten individuals in the United States every year, are nationally honored for demonstrating remarkable results in increasing the participation of minorities, women, and disabled students in the fields of math, science, and engineering. ‘I see LIGASE as a highly successful program,’ said Dr. Joyce Evans, the Senior Program Director of the Math and Science Partnership Program at the National Science Foundation. ‘It has shown growth over the years in terms of its number of participants, and it has continued to gain funding to support its efforts.’

    One of LIGASE’s programs that continue to vacuum in national funding is its BioPREP program. The group used the grant it received from the National Institutes of Health Bridges to the Baccalaureate Award to develop partnerships with local community colleges. These partnerships continue to provide summer research opportunities for outstanding underrepresented community college students who are interested in biomedical careers. The beacon of success that is the BioPREP program was started in 1994 and has since been supported by five national grant renewals. Furthermore, this program is currently one of the longest running Bridges programs in the country. BioPREP’s 13 year lifetime is due in large part to the fact that of the 300 community college students that have participated in the program, almost half of them have gone on to transfer to Stony Brook University. Ewelina Fiedor, a senior and Biochemistry Major at Stony Brook University, is among the plethora of students that have participated in LIGASE’s programs. Fiedor, who was born in Poland, was able to conduct research in her native country this past summer as she was on
    e of the five students selected by LIGASE to take part in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Scholars Summer Program. ‘This is a great program because not only does it give you a taste of what life is like as a researcher, but it takes you out of the closed Stony Brook life and puts you out on your own to experience the culture of another country,’ said Fiedor. ‘It definitely offers you the best of both worlds.’

    Even with LIGASE’s accomplishments, the educational concerns highlighted by the Cold War have yet to fade into the pages of history. While thus far the United States has been able to survive its fluctuating, even at times, nonexistent educational reform, one thing remains certain, says Dr. Evans: if America doesn’t improve its science education programs, the next generation of citizens will be born into a world where ‘all of the best scientists will be non-American.’

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