Faculty Publications


Opening doors with informal science: Exposure and access for our underserved students

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Journal/Book/Conference Title

Science Education





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As it has become apparent that there is a need to broaden the emphasis of science education and ensure that every student achieves a level of science literacy, science educators face the challenge of addressing new audiences that are not always well-served by traditional presentations of scientific material. The challenge of presenting agricultural science to urban African American students typifies a scenario that necessitates devising new approaches to teach people who were previously overlooked or even ignored by the scientific community. The Young Scholars Program at The Ohio State University (OSU) is a 6-year precollegiate intervention program designed to prepare academically talented, economically disadvantaged minority students for college education. This novel outreach program was developed with the primary intention of enhancing the educational background of all of these young people by increasing their agricultural literacy. A secondary goal lay in the hope that some of these students might be enticed to consider the possibility of collegiate study in agricultural fields, thus infusing some much needed racial/ethnic diversity into the College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences' student population. To address anticipated disinterest on the part of the students, an informal approach designed to emphasize the relevance, breadth, technical sophistication, and aesthetic components of agricultural science was devised. Students were taken on educational field trips to various college departments as part of an academic program during summer visits to the OSU. Efforts were made to use nontraditional (all women and men of color) scientists as many of the presenters to break down the stereotypical notion that only white males do science. Deliberate educational strategies were employed to enhance the educative aspects of the visits. A science/writing exercise served the dual purpose of prompting student reflection as well as being the evaluation instrument to assess the efficacy of the program. The success of this effort to reshape the traditional presentation of agriculture was demonstrated in much of the testimony of the students as well as the verbal and written observations of the adults involved. The demonstrable success of this project documents the possibility of an initiative addressing the dual challenge of opening the doors of science while simultaneously cultivating the interest of historically underrepresented people in nontraditional subject areas. This research further supports the idea that an informal approach to science education can be a particularly effective intervention strategy for reaching out to underserved students. © 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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