Sunday, January 21, 2007

Local companies boost math and science education

The BBJ has fortunately been committed to philanthropy and community involvement lately, and I have gotten to write these kinds of stories; in fact, my editor, Mark, has classified this kind of story a "Ryan Rose Weaver" story. Education? Check. Kids? Check. Mentoring? Check. Social change? Check. New ideas for teaching tomorrow's increasingly distracted and institutionalized youth? Check.

Check it out below.

From the 12/8/06 article:

Problem: Studies have shown that there is a math and science crisis among America’s youth that will result in more technology jobs being shipped overseas or remaining unfilled at home in the future. Solution: The companies hardest hit by this crisis are often the best equipped to solve it — and they are increasingly directing philanthropic resources into math and science education.

Last year, Waltham-based Raytheon Co., concerned about the declining numbers of new engineering graduates in Massachusetts, commissioned a study on math and science education. Accord- ing to CIO Rebecca Rhodes, the results
indicted a “crisis” beginning in middle school, when U.S. students begin to lag well behind their counterparts in other countries.

Raytheon responded by creating Math Moves U, an initiative that drew heavily on suggestions from students and teachers about ways to make math “cool” for middle schoolers. Its Web site ( features games, online study group chats, prize giveaways and profiles of “guest teachers” such as Red Sox manager Terry Francona and soccer star Mia Hamm, who have visited classrooms to talk about the ways in which they use math in their everyday lives. Raytheon’s concern for the future extends to its staff: More than 2,000 employees are involved in mentoring and teaching math in schools. Among them is Tien Lang, a systems engineer who believes deeply in Raytheon’s mission to improve the state of math education.

As a Vietnamese refugee, Lang struggled with English in school, but found his place with the “international language” of mathematics. Today, he shares his story as a motivational tale for struggling math students.

“With the lack of math and science interest in the students, we face a big impact on the economy, our jobs and the security of our country,” said Lang. “This country is so important to me — I
cannot just stand on the sideline as we lose our lead. I want to be involved.”

Teachers say that real-life connections between learning and careers are crucial in keeping students interested in math.

Biogen Idec Inc.’s Cambridge Community Lab is another example of a company contributing its own staff and facilities.
Four years ago, CEO James C. Mullen built the lab on the site of Biogen’s Cambridge complex to bring scientists
and kids together, free of charge. Since 2002, more than 5,000 students and dozens of Biogen volunteers have come together to do experiments modeled on the ones taking place “upstairs.”

The lab’s director, Tracy Callahan, said that while the company does not expect to make a scientist out of every student, its aim is to show their visitors the wide range of careers available in the health sciences and to help create a “science-literate” citizenry.

Other corporations seek to supplement the efforts of teachers, sending human and financial resources into the classroom and hosting visits in their facilities. Raytheon awarded a $2,500 “Math Hero” grant to Denise Bowden, a teacher inMarblehead who had convinced local businesses to let her 12-year-old students act as “engineering consultants,” taking on some of their math problems and then presenting their solutions to company leaders. Massachusetts General Hospital has partnered with Timilty Middle School in Roxbury since 1989, organizing a schoolwide science fair and arranging for MGH mentors to help students with their projects. New grant funding has also allowed MGH to place a full-time staff member, Susan Berglund, in charge of managing these projects.

“Having the kids see that there’s this huge research facility that is there to support the school, and that they’re willing to give up their time, really shows them that there are people that care about them and want them to be successful,” said Berglund.


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