Local Pittsburgh Initiative Teaches Science to the Public
Corporations like UPMC, WESCO and Bayer are just some of the local Pittsburgh powerhouses that call the Steel City home. Pittsburgh is a known leader in the medical, information and energy fields and staying on top of those fields takes more than just grit — it takes science. The city attracts chemists, biologists and physicists […]
Corporations like UPMC, WESCO and Bayer are just some of the local Pittsburgh powerhouses that call the Steel City home. Pittsburgh is a known leader in the medical, information and energy fields and staying on top of those fields takes more than just grit — it takes science. The city attracts chemists, biologists and physicists from every corner of the world. They’re one of the city’s greatest resources, but ask a stranger on the bus how many scientists he knows and he’s likely to say zero. Ask him what fracking is, or even how his blood pressure medication works and he’ll probably just shrug. It’s not his fault — understanding science isn’t easy and as a city, Pittsburgh could be doing a lot more to help. Luckily, the scientific community agrees, and they’ve chosen Pittsburgh as the pilot city for an innovative new education program.
The Science & Engineering Ambassador Program comes from a collaboration between the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. The goal of the program is simple — to teach science to the public, or rather to do something that Pittsburgh’s known for — to build bridges. These bridges will connect scientists to educators, members of the media and business leaders in ways that increase public awareness and create a stronger community overall. More than that, they’ll give citizens the knowledge to question and critique the science-based decisions happening in the city and in their everyday lives.
Why Choose Pittsburgh?
The pilot program will take place in only one city, and that city is Pittsburgh. Ask any local Pittsburgher why and they’ll tell you the answer is obvious — because we’re the city of champions. But the minds behind the Science & Engineering Ambassador Program have more specific reasons:
“The region is at the center of the energy conversation, with companies and activities in several relevant areas of the industry (e.g., coal, gas, nuclear, solar, wind). Pittsburgh is also home to an impressive number of eminent scientists and engineers in some of the nation’s top universities. The city has active business leaders who have a keen interest in community development as well as a strong network of museums and other cultural outlets. Importantly, Pittsburgh institutions have proven success at collaboration. As a region, the city is big enough to offer the key entities necessary for an effective program yet small enough to allow for dialogue, with an impressive participatory spirit among the population.”
Barbara Schaal, vice president of the National Academy of Sciences told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “We feel that if it doesn’t work in Pittsburgh it probably won’t work anywhere.” Due to the area’s strong background in the fuel industry, the program will begin with a focus on energy science, but will later branch out to cover other relevant topics in the fields of medicine and technology.
Why Local Pittsburghers Are Excited
So what does this mean for citizens of the Steel City? For one, it means they’ll be more connected to the scientists who live and work in Pittsburgh. In fact, a large part of the program is focused on teaching scientists how to communicate more effectively with the public. When science experts can explain concepts and ideas, understanding science becomes much easier for the rest of us. And that understanding will go a long way, from helping us grasp the impact our corporations have on the environment to becoming more educated and aware of the things we consume. It will even have a positive effect on our area’s children — by giving us the tools to better teach science to students of all ages.
Members from the Academy have already begun meeting with local Pittsburgh leaders including museum curators, educators, business owners and members of the media. In doing so, they hope to discover the areas of greatest concern and get a better understanding of the programs that are already working to teach science in the region. What local issues do you hope the initiative will solve? Share your thoughts by visiting Spark’s Facebook page and leaving a comment on our wall. Then “like” our page to stay up to date on education news happening in Pittsburgh and around the world.
Published June 05, 2012