Needed: a quantum leap  pg. 6

Last year, for example, Vanderbilt Student Volunteers in Science, a 15-year-old organization of undergraduate, graduate and medical students, brought hands-on science lessons to more than 120 middle school classrooms in Nashville.

Wonder Drake, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine
Photo by Joe Howell
In 2007, Billy Hudson, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Center for Matrix Biology, launched the “Aspirnaut Initiative” to provide laptop computers to middle and high school students in rural Arkansas, where he grew up, so they can access accelerated math and science programs during long bus rides to and from school.

Wonder Drake, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine, brings young people from her church into her lab for summer research experiences. Some of them were at risk of being turned off by school. But the lab experience challenged them.

“We mentored 10 kids over a five-year period in my lab, and six of (them) are in graduate school right now, either an M.D., Ph.D., or M.D./Ph.D. program,” she says. “One reason for their success is that they found translational research very exciting; it provided them an opportunity to see how stimulating the life of a scientist can be.”

Improving science education also benefits the broader society, argues Bruce Alberts, Ph.D., former president of the National Academy of Sciences and current editor-in-chief of the journal Science.

“If we made the kind of investments in teacher education and teacher support that we need to make as a nation, we could create a citizenry that would be much more effective in the workforce, because those people would be able to solve problems on the assembly line and in the workplace,” Alberts maintains.

That’s important, he adds, because in order for the United States to thrive amidst the challenges of the 21st century, its citizens “need to be problem-solvers. They need to be independent thinkers. They need to see how to fix things that are wrong, and then move forward.”

Sell the story

Given the global financial crisis, it will not be easy to increase support of research and education.

One possible solution: health care reform.

Peter Buerhaus, Ph.D., R.N., Institute for Medicine and Public Health
Photo by Joe Howell
According to Peter Buerhaus, Ph.D., RN, an expert on health care workforce issues in the Vanderbilt Institute for Medicine and Public Health, our nation’s health care delivery system wastes 30 cents of every dollar—about $700 billion a year. “That’s 20 times the NIH budget,” he points out.

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