The Decade of Science at CUNY

December 28, 2006 | CUNY Matters Columns

Scientific literacy is a sine qua non of an educated citizenry. Yet today, with students’ participation and proficiency in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields on the decline, our country’s preeminence in science education and innovation is in question.

The business and research communities have taken notice of this situation. The Business Roundtable recently led a call to double the number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduates by 2015. In addition, the National Academies convened a panel of experts that made an urgent plea to increase this country’s scientific competitiveness.

The New York State Business Council has also called for an increase in students receiving postsecondary education in science, math, and engineering, as well as the education of new, highly qualified teachers of math and science.

Governor Elliot Spitzer has emphasized the importance of investing in the high-tech, high-wage, strategic industries that will create the jobs and businesses of tomorrow in order to revitalize New York State’s economy. This prudent approach will rely on knowledge creation, innovation, access to capital and a skilled workforce. In focusing on the need for a concentration on math and science, Governor Spitzer has stressed that from grammar school to our universities, we must all do a better job a preparing our young people for the 21st Century economy and workforce.

The City University of New York designated the years 2005 to 2015 the “Decade of Science” at CUNY, renewing the University’s commitment to creating a healthy pipeline to science, math, technology, and engineering fields by advancing science at the highest levels, training students to teach in these areas, and encouraging young people, particularly women and minorities, to study in these disciplines. John Marburger, director of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, recently described the CUNY initiative as embodying all of the elements required for success in an evolving global economy.

CUNY’s scientific research remains robust. For example, the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems of Queens College recently received a four-year $19.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy to support a research program of early detection of occupational disease. In addition, the National Institutes of Health, through its Research Centers in Minority Institutions Program, awarded $13.2 million to Hunter College’s Center for the Study of Gene Structure and Function, and $12.5 million to City College’s Center for the Study of the Cellular and Molecular Basis of Development.

These and other awards indicate the high quality of faculty research at CUNY and the lead role faculty play in advancing science at every level within the University. By the end of 2007, CUNY will have added almost 1,000 new full-time faculty since 1998, in part by targeting selected areas, including photonics and biosciences, for ongoing cluster hiring.

Our Decade of Science is moving forward on several other fronts, as well.

Over the next decade, we will be expending about $1 billion across the University on the construction and modernization of science facilities, most notably the CUNY-wide Advanced Science Research Center—which will concentrate on emerging disciplines such as nanotechnology, biosensing and remote sensing, structural biology and macromolecular assemblies, and neuroscience—and science facilities at Brooklyn, City, Hunter, Lehman, and Queens colleges.

Planning is also under way to create the first public Graduate School of Public Health in New York City, to be located at Hunter College. The need is clear: in 2007, half of the world’s population is expected to be in urban areas. These urban environments are already facing major health challenges: obesity, diabetes, tuberculosis, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases. A center of public education will address these and other issues through research and education.

The University has also begun a revitalization of its Ph.D. programs in the laboratory sciences, leading to new investments in graduate student support for highly competitive students, Ph.D. degree-granting authority for selected campuses, and an expansion of master’s programs.

Enrollment in CUNY’s math, science, and engineering degree programs increased by 26 percent over the last five years, compared to total enrollment growth of 12 percent, and included more than 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students in Fall 2005.

In Fall 2006, The Teacher Academy at CUNY welcomed its first class of students, preparing them to teach science and math at high-need New York City middle and high schools. The academy educates students at the baccalaureate level by integrating hands-on teaching experience in the public schools with a rigorous academic program in their majors: biology, chemistry, earth science, or mathematics. Each student receives tuition support and will teach for a minimum of two years in New York City schools after graduation.

CUNY’s extensive College Now program in the public schools, that prepares students for college enrollment, will continue to run summer science programs and plans to expand summer programs in mathematics.

The University is also introducing a new “Science Now” program for middle and high school

students, as part of the College Now program. CUNY will work with the New York Academy of Sciences and the Department of Education to create interest in science disciplines through after-school and summer courses and workshops; an annual science competition that extends existing competition models to students who have not traditionally participated in such contests; and an interactive television program featuring science activities and innovations.

Science is not made in a laboratory; it is made when a young person gets that initial spark of inspiration, that flash of exhilaration. Through the University’s Decade of Science, we hope to encourage and sustain that sense of excitement and curiosity, whether in budding scientists or seasoned researchers.

quote: The “Decade of Science” at CUNY renews the University’s commitment to creating a pipeline to science, math, technology, and engineering fields by advancing science at the highest levels, and encouraging young people, particularly women and minorities, to study in these disciplines.