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Making Science Talk

May 26, 2011

When the highest-rated science series on television features two of our professors in a three-week period, millions take notice. I hope you took the opportunity this spring to watch Kellar Autumn and Greta Binford on separate episodes of NOVA.

NOVA showcases leading thinkers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics: people who are able to talk about their work in clear and compelling ways. Kellar and Greta, along with so many of our faculty across the three schools, exemplify these strengths. Our faculty are passionate about their explorations and discoveries, and they bring learning alive in ways that are infectious.

Making science talk means that we ignite the curiosity and imagination of people of all ages. It means extending the reach of science education to include people from all walks of life. Think of elementary, high school, and even college students who proudly profess they “hate science and math.” Think of how expansive their lives and society would be if they saw science not as a gated community, but as an open space awaiting their contributions.

Think, too, of adults who distrust, don’t understand, or blithely dismiss scientific findings and conclusions. And think of how important it is that they participate in shaping public policy as scientifically literate citizens rather than impressionable ideologues. People quarantined from science, whether by choice or circumstances, are ultimately isolated from the reality of the world.

A few months ago, I wrote an opinion piece for USA Today about this disconnection between the public and scientists. I cited our John S. Rogers Science Research Program, begun in the early 1990s, as a prime example of how we are bridging this divide. Rogers research students work with faculty not only to explore real-world science questions but also to share their findings with a wider audience.

In 2009, with funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), our undergraduate college and graduate school launched additional outreach and collaborative research initiatives. Right now, dozens of high school students around Portland are gearing up to spend part of their summer performing lab and field-based research with us, exploring what a future career as a scientist might be like.

Most of these students are members of minority populations; many will go on to be first-generation college students. Perhaps their future career paths will take them from a biochemistry lab to teaching to developing innovative programs in science education. That’s the path blazed by Tuajuanda Jordan, our new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who has said, “I was a latecomer into science, and I’m first-generation college.” Jordan, an HHMI program director, and prior to that a chemistry professor and administrator at Xavier University of Louisiana, will join us on July 1.

At Lewis & Clark, we are working to ensure that all students see science as accessible and their futures as wide open. That’s just part of what happens when we help them find their voices and make science talk. 

I know our entire community joins me in congratulating Jim Richardson, who is assuming responsibilities as chair of our Board of Trustees in June. Jim graduated from Lewis & Clark in 1970 and earned his J.D. from our law school in 1976. He also holds an M.B.A. from the University of Portland. I am looking forward to working closely with Jim, whose leadership and business acumen will greatly benefit us all.

Note that I said Jim is assuming responsibilities as chair. He is not replacing Ron Ragen, who is truly irreplaceable. Ron is rotating out of the chair but not out of the life of Lewis & Clark. Ron and his wife, Lee, have been extraordinarily generous in welcoming Betsy and me to Lewis & Clark and Portland, and we are deeply appreciative to them both. All of us at Lewis & Clark are indebted to and grateful for Ron’s wisdom, great good humor, and exceptional leadership.



Barry Glassner


Click here to read President Glassner’s USA Today commentary.

Click here to read more about Tuajuanda Jordan.

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