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A prescription for improving science education

color_12.jpgScience education isn’t faring well in many U.S. high schools, with American teenagers being outperformed by their counterparts in several other developed countries. But universities and colleges might be able to help change that.

In the March 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Marilyn Winkleby encourages her higher-education colleagues to develop “pipeline” programs that funnel interested high school students into the fields of science and medicine. Winkleby, PhD, is a professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and the faculty director of the Stanford Medical Youth Science Program. Through SMYSP, 24 high school students are selected each year for a five-week residential program on the Stanford campus where they are immersed in a hands-on science and medicine curriculum. Priority is given to students who are first-generation college students, have faced personal hardships and are from under-resourced schools or communities.

In the editorial, Winkleby and co-author Judith Ned, executive director of the program, recount SMYSP’s success among the 500 students who have completed the program since its inception in 1988 (97 percent of whom have been tracked following their participation):

Of these, 78 percent of black, 81 percent of Latino, and 82 percent of Native American participants have earned a four-year college degree (excluding those currently attending college). In contrast, among 25- to 34-year-old U.S. adults, only 15 percent of blacks, 10 percent of Latinos, and 10 percent of Native Americans earn a four-year college degree. Among the Stanford Medical Youth Science Program’s college graduates, 47 percent are attending or have completed medical or graduate school and 43 percent are working as or training to become health professionals.

They conclude by noting that if one university in each state supported such a program, “in 20 years more than 10,000 diverse low-income students could potentially enter science and health professions.” It would also dovetail with the Obama administration's "Educate to Innovate" campaign, which encourages a broad sector of organizations and companies to champion science education.

The full editorial is available online to those who have subscriptions to the journal.

Photo courtesy of Stanford Medical Youth Science Program

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