Remembering Alan Friedman

Sheila Grinell

I last took a long walk with Alan on February 3, 2014, along the corniche in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, where we had gone to teach 18 Saudis how to run science centers. This workshop would be our last joint gig, after 40 years of parallel careers and many shared projects. We had half a day before the workshop was to start, and so we strolled beside the Persian Gulf and chatted.

Not then but in earlier conversations, Alan had told me about SENCER-ISE, and how gratified he was by its progress. He had worked hard to bring together people with differing institutional perspectives, and he was optimistic about the future. No Pollyanna, he knew both sides would have to bend. He said—not in so many words but this is the gist of it—that the universities would have to deal with real people as opposed to an amorphous “general public,” and that the science centers would have to up their content game. But there was so much to be gained. He envisioned many more cross-sector projects, and, if he were still with us, he would have inspired collaborations to help them flourish. Everyone at SENCER-ISE knows Alan had the desire, the imagination, and the political acumen to make it happen.

SENCER-ISE was not the first time Alan worked across sectors or disciplines. As an undergraduate he had contemplated majoring in English, but even after physics won out, he continued to relish literature and art. Early in his career, he wrote about connections between science and literature. Later he experimented with theater in the science center: at the New York Hall of Science he commissioned and produced a one-act play dramatizing disagreement between two scientists about quantum mechanics. And for more than 40 years, he delighted in his wife’s career as a columnist and mystery writer. Alan was a connoisseur; he could talk eloquently about so many things—and he would go on and on, unless you stopped him. Which brings me back to our conversation beside the sea.

I asked Alan why he hadn’t brought one of his beloved radio-controlled helicopters to Saudi Arabia—for years he flew them at all sorts of meetings to illustrate points and for fun, because fun is a terrific teacher. He explained that since he had had to bring two sets of light sources and adapters for a demonstration—our students would be segregated by gender in adjoining rooms—there was no room in his luggage. I asked how large his ‘copter collection had become. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of what followed:

  • The best piece in his small collection of scientific instruments was a sixteenth-century, orrery-like device that maps the motions of Jupiter. His wife, Mickey, had spotted the curiosity and they took it home, later to discover its meaning and rarity. (Alan respected the work of all scientists, even ancient ones. He wanted everyone to appreciate science as he did, and he believed that, given the right tools, everyone could.)
  • Speaking of Mickey, she had just finished re-issuing seven mystery titles in e-book form. Alan said the moral of the story was “be sure to get electronic rights for anything you publish, and guard your name.” It seems there was another (male) Mickey Friedman who wrote mysteries, which screwed things up for a while. (Ever the raconteur, Alan made a frustrating escapade in electronic publishing sound downright funny.)
  • Speaking of family, Alan asked, “How’s Michael now that he’s a married man?” He had last seen my son at age eight, but he always seemed to know Michael’s actual age and stage of life. Other colleagues might ask after my “little boy,” but Alan would keep track. He was my friend as well as my colleague, so he cared about what I cared about.
  • Speaking of kids, Alan worried that the New York mayor’s single-minded pursuit of extended kindergarten was siphoning support from other important endeavors, like the cultural organizations Alan had worked so hard to defend. (Some years ago, he led the fight against retaliation by the former mayor’s office against the Brooklyn Museum for exhibiting scatological art—and won.)
  • Speaking of cities, Al Khobar appeared to be a refuge for the wealthy. The mansions were barricaded behind tall fences with elegantly crafted gates. As we walked, Alan photographed gate after gate, stopping to admire one particular gate bearing two lovebirds perched on a branch, in silhouette, in iron work against white opaque glass. It was lovely. Alan had an eye, as well as the urge to document. (In fact, his image collection—many thousands of slides and jpegs of the science museums he visited over the decades—will be catalogued by the Association of Science-Technology Centers and made available to all in late summer 2015.)

Every so often a passing car would honk at the two of us as we crossed a street. We wondered if we had failed to observe an Arabic sign. Or maybe the fact that I was wearing jeans, although my head was covered, was provoking a wolf-whistle. But I didn’t worry. Walking with Alan Friedman, I felt safe. He was a man—and a thinker, teacher, leader, and mentor—in whom everyone could have confidence.


About the Author

Now retired, Sheila Grinell enjoyed a forty-year career as a leader of science centers. In 1969, fresh out of graduate school, she joined Frank Oppenheimer to create The Exploratorium, a seminal science center widely emulated around the world, serving as Co-director for Exhibits and Programs. Later, she helped restart the New York Hall of Science, serving as Associate Director. From 1993 to 2004 she served as founding President and CEO of the Arizona Science Center, leading the effort to create a new, vibrant institution for greater Phoenix.

For the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), Sheila created a week-long professional development program for people starting science centers offered 1988-1996. While consulting for a wide range of agencies that included corporations, professional associations, museums, and public television producers, she wrote the leading book on science centers. She was elected a Fellow of both ASTC and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in recognition of her innovative work.

Remembering Alan J. Friedman

Ellen F. Mappen,
National Center for Science and Civic Engagement

I am honored but saddened to write a brief introduction to this section that includes remembrances from a number of Alan J. Friedman’s colleagues. Alan was the inspiration behind the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement’s SENCER-ISE initiative, a project to encourage cross-sector partnerships between informal science and higher education institutions, and was also its founding project director.

Wm. David Burns, in his introduction to this special issue of Science Education & Civic Engagement: An International Journal on informal science education, notes that he “saw Alan as a humanist and scientist.” Certainly the selections that follow from Alan’s colleagues bear witness to the multifaceted nature of his interests, experiences, ideas, and lasting contributions to the field of education, science, and literature and to the impact he had on the lives of the many colleagues who knew him. Alan’s interests were wide ranging and included not just a desire to communicate science to the general public, students, and teachers but also to examine cultural influences on science and technology.

In an interview published in these pages in the Summer 2011 issue, Alan described how he came to the field of informal science education. He was a solid-state physicist by training and in 1973 held a visiting professorship at the University of California, Berkeley. He mentioned how he had wandered into the Lawrence Hall of Science, one of the pioneering public science-technology centers. This experience changed his life and he ended up spending twelve years at that institution, primarily as the Director of Astronomy and Physics, with a short leave to serve as the Conseiller Scientifique et Muséologique at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in Paris from 1982–1984. In 1984, he became director of the New York Hall of Science, a position he held until he retired in 2006. At NYSCI, he revitalized the moribund institution. A description of what he found in 1984 (“zero attendance the year before he arrived”) compared with what NYSCI had become by 2006 when he retired can be found on the NYSCI website: 447,000 visitors with over 90 full-time staff and 150 high school and college students who served as Explainers in the Science Career Ladder program, one of Alan’s lasting initiatives. In his retirement years, Alan was a Museum Development and Science Communication Consultant and a cherished scholar at the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement.

To open this section, Sheila Grinell shares her memories of Alan’s last trip abroad, to Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, and of her long working relationship with him. In relating her conversation with Alan that took place before their meetings started, she mentions his goal of using SENCER-ISE to bring together educators who have different “institutional perspectives” and also gives us a “Reader’s Digest” version of what they discussed. From Eric Siegel, we learn about how Alan always explored the “intersection of science with the arts and humanities” and wanted to understand “the impact of science on society,” and we learn much about Alan’s intellectual interests and pursuits that ranged well beyond directing a major science center. Alan Gould’s brief remembrance highlights how much he learned from Alan Friedman about planetarium presentations and how best to engage audiences in this exciting experience. Priya Mohabir focuses on Alan’s contribution to the education of high school and college students and his vision to empower them as science communicators while they themselves learned science. David Ucko’s “SENCER Synergies with Informal Learning” gives us an overview of how David Burns and I came to collaborate with Alan in our efforts to work across different educational sectors. David Ucko also provides us with an understanding of the differences between formal and informal learning and his thoughts about SENCER as “a model for synergistically integrating aspects” of these different modes of education. We end this section with a reissuing of “In Memoriam,” David Burns’ memorial tribute that he wrote on May 5, 2014, the day after Alan’s untimely death.

We have lost Alan Friedman and greatly miss his wisdom and friendship. But as Alphonse DeSena, our Program Director in the Division of Research and Learning at the National Science Foundation (NSF), wrote recently,

Over several decades of service to education and science, Alan Friedman’s ideas, actions, and accomplishments were many, insightful, and significant.   His contributions in varying capacities to NSF’s mission and programs were frequent, critical, and game changing.  We at NSF and in the informal science education field cherished him as a colleague, as (in my case) a mentor, and as a friend. His legacy will continue for years to come.


About the Author

Ellen F. Mappen is a senior scholar and current director of the SENCER-ISE initiative at the National Center for Science & Civic Engagement. She was the founder and long-time director of the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science, and Engineering at Rutgers University and was the director of Healthcare Services at the New Brunswick Health Sciences Technology High School. In these positions, she has worked to provide opportunities that encourage women and students of color to enter STEM fields. She served as SENCER coordinator for SENCER-ISE. She holds a Ph.D. in history from Rutgers University.


A Report on Community Colleges and Science and Civic Engagement in Asia: A Yearlong and Continuing Journey


Throughout 2013 I had the opportunity to travel to East and South Asia, to explore connections between the work of community colleges and civically engaged science. What follows is a general summary of what was learned through a combination of ethnographic observation and ongoing scholarly engagement with Sias University in China, the Asia Pacific Higher Education Research Program (APHERP) at the East-West Center in Hawai’i, and the University of Mumbai in India. The report will conclude by suggesting how these international interactions relate to a new Teagle Foundation-funded project at Kapi’olani Community College and the Community College National Center for Community Engagement (CCNCCE).

International Water Conference at Sias University, Henan Province, China

Sias University is the first solely American-owned university in Central China, affiliated with both Zhengzhou University and Fort Hays State University, Kansas. It is located in Henan Province, which was the center of a rising Chinese civilization nearly 5,000 years ago. Today, more than 100 million people live in Henan, which is two-thirds the size of Arizona. Although the Yellow River does not flow through Henan Province as it once did, the river skirts the boundaries of the Sias campus.

Dr. Paul Elsner, who for 22 years served as Chancellor of the 10-campus Maricopa Community College System, invited me to make a presentation at the Sias University International Water Conference, May 22–25, 2013. Dr. Elsner knew that Kapi’olani Community College (KCC) and the University of Hawai’i at Manoa (UHM) had developed and sustained a strong service learning and civic engagement program called Malama i na Ahupua’a (to care for the ahupua’a), which engages students and faculty in restoring ancient Hawaiian watersheds throughout the island of O’ahu.

He knew about “Kapi’olani Sustainability and Service Learning” (KSSL, our new name), through our two-decades-long partnership with the CCNCCE, an organization that he founded and strongly supported as Chancellor. Dr. Elsner is currently on the Board of Sias University and saw striking similarities between water problems in Arizona and central China.

However, Dr. Elsner did not know of my earlier anthropological work in this field and its relevance to the conference topic. In 1995 I published a report for the UHM Water Resources Research Center (WRRC) entitled, “Water: Its Meaning and Management in Pre-contact Hawaii.” This paper was developed in professional collaboration with Dr. Marion Kelly, who was an advocate for Native Hawaiian people and history and founded the UHM Ethnic Studies Department. Both the report and the collaboration coincided with the development of the Malama i na Ahupua’a program.

The WRCC report was set against the controversial theory linking irrigation with “oriental despotism” that Karl A. Wittfogel presented in in Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power (1957). Wittfogel analyzed the role of irrigation works, the bureaucratic structures needed to maintain them, and the impact that these had on society, coining the term “hydraulic empire.” This theory has led many Western archaeologists to focus on early forms of irrigation and water management.

During the late prehistoric period in ancient Hawaii, irrigation and other water management practices supported the sociopolitical evolution of a proto-state. The report used archaeological data as a point of departure to analyze the meaning and management of water in this period. An analysis of Hawaiian chants, legends, and proverbs was woven into the archaeological data in an in an attempt to better understand the meaning of water to the indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands. (I used similar data in deriving pre-contact Samoan perceptions of the meaning of “work” in my dissertation in 1985.) The report concluded that intra-island (windward-leeward) and inter-island (geological-hydrological) variation produced important localized meanings of water, and that these meanings changed over time, largely in relation to population growth, production, intensification, and increasing sociopolitical complexity. My own research in this area provided a useful context for my participation in the international discussions that took place during my visits.

The Sias International Water Conference brought together international and Chinese scholars. Prominent international researchers included Dr. Jonathon Overpeck, who served as a coordinating lead author for the Nobel Prize-winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment (2007); Dr. Sharon Megdal, Director of the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center; and Dr. Brian Fagan, with whom I studied archaeology at UC Santa Barbara in the early 1970s, and who is the celebrated author of The Attacking Ocean (2013), and other major world archaeology publications. Chinese researchers included: Dr. Zuo Qiting, Professor, College of Water Conservancy and Environmental Engineering, Zhengzhou University, and Director of the Water Science Research Center; Dr. Zhang Qiang, Deputy Director of Department of Water Resources and Environment, Sun Yat-Sen University; and Yao Tandong: Glaciologist at China’s Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research.

China is one of the most water-rich countries in the world, but water resources are unevenly distributed and overwhelmingly concentrated in the south and far west on the Tibetan Plain, which also serves as a major water source for India. Water scarcity has always been a problem for Northern China and has been increasingly so as a result of rapid economic development. Major water engineering projects have been completed, and more are underway, to move water from the south to the north, with significant implications for Tibet-India-China relations. Major conference topics included severe water scarcity in Northern China, water quality and severe pollution in both Northern and Southern China, rural and urban challenges, and the likely deleterious future impacts of climate change, mega-droughts, and sea level.

The conference also served as a showcase for Sias University’s innovative approaches to teaching and learning about water issues in China, such as a mesmerizing theatrical representation of water history in China, and their World Academy for the Future of Women (WAFW), which requires service projects as part of membership activities. Hundreds of students have gone through the Academy and created both short- and long-term projects of great value and impact. According to Dr. Linda Jacobsen, former Provost at Sias:

Some young women shared that they applied to study at Sias because of the exciting service projects the WAFW members were sharing at home on semester breaks. Projects include the installation of drinking water filtration systems, environmentally safe agricultural practices, communal water area clean-ups, and eliminating violence against women. Over the years, these projects, which started locally in the university community, have expanded to regions within China where the members live. (Linda Jacobsen, Provost, Paper for 2014 Continuums of Service Conference, Honolulu)

My own presentation at the Water Conference was titled, “Service-Learning: Social Responsibility and Caring for Our Water Resources.” The talk sidestepped the concept of “civic responsibility,” partly because it was implied by the name of the host institution, the incipient “Institute for Social and Environmental Responsibility,” but also because I was not sure whether the discourse on the “civic” was widely understood, or even acceptable in China. My presentation was the only one addressing sea-level rise and coastal water issues and it offered the GLISTEN project (Great Lakes Innovative Stewardship through Education Network) as a model for tackling major water issues in China. The paper was very well received (I’m sure the beautiful photos of Hawaiian ecosystems helped), and Dr. Jacobsen and I continue to dialog about future directions and partnerships.

East-West Center: Asia Pacific Higher Education Research Program (APHERP), Senior Seminar, at Hong Kong Institute for Education

In July 2013, I was invited to participate in a Senior Seminar entitled, “Research, Development and Innovation in Asian Pacific Higher Education,” September 26–28, 2013. The seminar was led by APHERP Co-Directors, Drs. Deane Neubauer (UH Emeritus) and Dr. John Hawkins (UCLA), and brought together 14 higher education researchers, administrators, and faculty from China, Taiwan, South Korea, Malysia, Thailand, Australia, Chile, and the United States. My participation constituted a follow-up to East West Center-sponsored seminars in Honolulu and Indonesia that focused on developments in Asian-Pacific Education with a view toward 2020.

Dr. Neubauer’s concept paper provided a focus for the seminar:

Research and development (R&D) have long been a key component of what has generally been called “research universities.” There is also recognition that in order to stay on the cutting edge of R&D, higher education institutions (HEIs) must increasingly strive for innovative R&D, and this has important implications for the structure and governance of higher education as well as numerous other factors of HE change and transformation. Furthermore, in a manner that may be unprecedented in the period of the so-called modern university, innovation, as almost a form of social responsibility, has been thrust upon the university. Interestingly and overwhelmingly, due to the role that the university is performing within the emergent knowledge society, innovation in the “knowledge transfer” functions of the university—the teaching role foremost among them—has become of increasingly greater importance.

I was invited to present a paper titled, “The University-Community Compact: Innovation in Community Engagement,” which focused on the evolution of the American community college and its essential functions: university transfer, workforce development, and educating for engaged citizenship. The paper discussed the central differences among three related concepts:

  • Civic engagement as the “participation of private actors in the public sphere, conducted through direct and indirect interactions of civil society organizations and citizens-at-large with government, multilateral institutions, and business establishments to influence decision making or pursue common goals” (World Bank).
  • Civic responsibility as “the active participation in the public life of a community in an informed, committed, and constructive manner, with a focus on the common good” (Robinson and Gottlieb, American Association of Community Colleges).
  • Community engagement as “the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity” (Carnegie Foundation Community Engagement website).

Significantly, all three definitions skirt the discourse on democracy, which was advantageous in this context as I was uncertain about the advisability of discussing democracy in contemporary China. The presentation also used the GLISTEN initiative as a model and explored strategies for taking civic action on major water issues in East and Southeast Asia.

Community colleges are emergent in East, Southeast, and South Asia. However, five core features of American community colleges are underdeveloped. American community colleges are

  1. Rooted in local communities, preparing local students for successful economic, social, and civic engagement in their regions;
  2. “Open door” institutions, with less rigorous entry requirements;
  3. Subsidized by states, with lower tuition rates;
  4. Focused on rigorous workforce and career development through one-year certificates, two-year degrees, and lifelong learning;
  5. Organized to prepare students to meet the requirements of rigorous baccalaureate programs.

In-depth interactions with the 14 seminar participants enabled deep and sustained discussions on these and other topics related to innovation in Asian-Pacific-American higher education. Most of the innovations discussed were not focused on the role of higher education in fostering civic engagement. They were instead focused on innovations in technology and on research and development as drivers of economic and workforce development. This was seen as higher education’s larger social responsibility.

The seminar papers are currently being considered for publication by Palgrave-Macmillan, which will be publishing a new volume onService Learning in America’s Community Colleges later this year. Kapi’olani’s contribution to that volume is entitled, “Service Learning’s Role in Achieving Institutional Outcomes” (Yao Hill, Bob Franco, Tanya Renner, Krista Hiser, and Francisco Acoba).

Developing Community Colleges with the University of Mumbai

After the Hong Kong seminar, I traveled to the University of Mumbai for the fourth stage in discussions about establishing the University of Mumbai (UM) community colleges. These discussions have largely taken place at the level of senior leadership at KCC, UH, and UM, and had contributed to a grant proposal submitted to the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative, advocating the building of higher-education bridges between India and the United States, the world’s two largest democracies.

For three days in October, I participated in very full days of meetings. Major progress was made on the grant proposal, which focuses on the development of UM community colleges offering general education and training in Hospitality Management, Health Services, and Business.

India is determined to transform its future economic growth through higher education reform, seeking to expand access to quality workforce development programs as well as to improve employment prospects for India’s burgeoning youth population of 700 million. The U.S. community college model is increasingly seen as one of the key vehicles driving this reform across India, bringing a formal two-year associate degree, job-focused certifications and industry linkages, and broader community and societal impacts, particularly in spurring income growth for diverse communities and populations.

On the evening of October 2, the UM leadership graciously escorted me to the University’s glorious celebration of the birthday of Mohandas Gandhi. Earlier we had talked about Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and their roles in inspiring civil and civic action. We also discussed Martin Luther King’s role in the American civil rights movement, and the concurrent development of America’s community colleges throughout the 1960s. During the intensive three days we even developed a course outline focusing on the lives of these two men and Nelson Mandela, which would be used as part of the new general education curriculum to be implemented at the UM Community College at Ratnagiri.

Mumbai, with a population of 13 million, and Ratnagiri, with a population of 1.7 million, are located on India’s long western coast on the Arabian Sea in Maharashtra State. This coastal ecosystem supports millions of residents and attracts millions of domestic and international visitors annually. We had in-depth discussions on how to promote sustainable tourism in Maharashtra State, particularly in the context of sea-level rise, and water challenges throughout India. Again, the SENCER GLISTEN model provided a pattern for collaborative and civic action.

Throughout the rest of October I developed the partnership proposal, which has four objectives:

  • Develop a best practice University of Mumbai Community College at Ratnagiri (UMCCR) with an initial degree program in Hospitality Studies, followed by Health Studies and Business and Financial Services Programs.
  • Develop at the University of Mumbai, Kalina Campus, The Center for Excellence in Community College Leadership, Teaching, Research, and Development (COE).
  • Develop articulated degree pathways linking UMCCR, UM, and KCC and UH, initially in Hospitality Studies, and then in Health Studies and Business and Financial Services.
  • Develop university-private-civil sector partnership agreements to support the UM-KCC-UH collaboration now and into the future.


Fresh water-saltwater convergences, and water availability and quality, are major global issues that affect the United States and East, Southeast, and South Asia. Higher education systems in all these areas are conducting research that informs public policy development. Meanwhile these problems are intensifying at an exponential pace. Our colleges and universities need to research, educate, and partner with non-profit organizations, and with local, state, and federal agencies to reduce the severity of the impact of water issues. The community colleges are well situated to do this work in close collaboration and authentic partnership with transfer universities that share the same ecosystems.

In January, 2014, KCC and CCNCCE received a three-year $270,000 grant from the Teagle Foundation titled “Student Learning for Civic Capacity: Stimulating Moral, Ethical, and Civic Engagement for Learning That Lasts.” In this project seven community colleges in six states, New York (2), New Jersey, Louisiana, Arizona, California, and Hawai’i, are integrating the following “Big Question” into first- and second-year courses: “How do we build OUR commitment to civic and moral responsibility for diverse, equitable, healthy, and sustainable communities?”

This question is the kind of capacious, contested, and civic issue that SENCER continues to emphasize in its work on the STEM curriculum. I hope to present some answers to this question, from a community college perspective, at SSI 2015. Meanwhile, I welcome discussions on this question with university colleagues through the SENCER network as it expands to include countries around the globe.

About the Author

An ecological anthropologist, Dr. Robert Franco has published scholarly and policy research on the changing meaning of work, service, schooling, housing, and leadership for Samoans at home and abroad; health disparities confronting Samoan, Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander populations in the United States; the meaning and management of water in ancient Hawai’i; and sociocultural factors affecting fisheries in Samoa and the Northern Marianas. In 2009, he was lead editor in the publication of American Samoa’s first written history.

At Kapi’olani Community College, University of Hawai’i, he has chaired the Faculty Senate and the Social Science Department, and led planning, grants, and accreditation efforts. As Director of Institutional Effectiveness, he bridges the cultures of faculty, staff, students, administration, and community partners to shape an innovative ecology of learning. With institutional commitment and support from federal and foundation sources, the college has emerged as a leader in service-learning for improved student engagement, learning and achievement. He has authored successful National Science Foundation (NSF) grants totaling more than $13 million since 2008. He is a Faculty Leadership Fellow for NSF’s Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) initiative, NSF’s leading undergraduate science education reform program.

He is a senior consultant and trainer for national Campus Compact. He assisted in the development of the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, and was named one of 20 national “Beacons of Vision, Hope, and Action” by the Community College National Center for Community Engagement.

He is newly the national program lead for the 3-year Teagle Foundation grant to develop OUR commitment to civic and moral responsibility for diverse, equitable, healthy, and sustainable communities.


Robinson, Gail and Gottlieb, Karla, A Practical Guide for Integrating Civic Responsibility Into the Curriculum, 2002:16, AACC Press, Washington, D.C.

World Bank,,contentMDK:20507541~menuPK:1278313~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:410306,00.html (accessed July 2014).


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Citizen Science and Our Democracy

The theme for the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement’s 2009 Washington Symposium and Capitol Hill Poster Session was “citizen science.” The term usually describes the observation and data gathering activities of ordinary people, often working from or near home, and assisting a research scientist or team in a project. We were interested in a slightly different meaning of the term, however — one that would invoke scientific literacy and numeracy as essential capacities for citizens conscientiously engaged in a modern democracy.[more]

We asked: What do we really need beyond a basic understanding of the scientific method, or discrete mathematics, or elementary statistics, to make sense of the complex civic questions we face today and will face in the future? More fundamentally, though, we wanted to explore what scientific practices and democratic practices have in common. How are the two “projects” related? And what should we do to encourage each to reinforce and strengthen the other?

For help in thinking about this, we turned to one of the handful of citizen scientists currently serving as a member of Congress, Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey. A thoughtful public servant who formerly worked in the Plasma Physics Laboratory at Princeton University, Holt graced our meeting with an original, nuanced, and encouraging address. He reminded us of the common roots of science and democracy in the Enlightenment. He reviewed the critical role that science played in what I have elsewhere called “the making of our democracy.” Echoing C.P. Snow’s critique of more than 50 years ago, he lamented the separation of the scientific and non-scientific communities into “two cultures.” Lastly, he suggested how we might begin to bridge these gaps.

We asked Mr. Holt for permission to transcribe his remarks and to include them in this issue. The man whose campaign bumper stickers playfully assert, “My Congressman IS a Rocket Scientist,” kindly assented and we are pleased to present his thoughts to you.

— Wm. David Burns, Executive Director, NCSCE

Representative Holt’s Remarks

[image 20249 left border]I’m really pleased to recognize the role of Rutgers in sowing the seeds for this SENCER program. It is, I think, tremendously important. I’m delighted to see you, and to see your posters, and to hear about the programs at the various universities, and to run into some old friends like Will Dorland from Maryland, who was at the Plasma Physics Laboratory when I was assistant director there at Princeton.

This is almost to the day the 50th anniversary of C.P. Snow’s address on “!e Two Cultures.” Snow’s was an interesting observation at that time, but the cultural divide Snow described has turned into, at least in this country — and I would venture to say in other countries — a critical problem that, I think, puts us at risk in a number of ways as a society. C.P. Snow, a chemist, government advisor, novelist, and otherwise diversely oriented person was talking about England 50 years ago. But his analysis applied equally well to the United States, because at the same time we launched — and “launched” is the right word following the launch of Sputnik — into an education program in the United States that really did divide our society into the two cultures of scientists and non-scientists. !is divide persists to this day.

Following Sputnik, we set in place an educational system that was intended to produce a generation of scientists and engineers the likes of whom the world had never seen. Our initial motivation was fear and our justification was national defense. And indeed, we have produced generation after generation of the world’s best scientists and engineers.

However, we have relegated them, or allowed them to relegate themselves, to a compartment of our society, of our economy, and of our political world, and we have relegated everyone else to the extra-scientific area. !at’s dangerous. So it was music to my ears, really, when President Obama, in his inaugural address this year said, “We will restore science to its rightful place.”

Now, he made this promise in a section of his address dealing with the economy. And of course, the theme of his inaugural address was, “We’re in deep trouble, economically.”

The President was making the point that investment in science is important for us to be able to grow out of our economic problems.

But that statement — that we will restore science to its rightful place — is much richer than to say that science produces jobs. Of course, science does produce jobs, which it does, even in the short term. !at is why it’s great that there is a lot of money for science in the economic stimulus bill that was passed by Congress and signed by the president. It provides $22 billion of new research money.

But the president was saying a lot more than that science creates jobs in the short term. He was also saying that science creates jobs, productivity, and economic sustenance in

the long-term. And he was saying quite a bit more than that, when he said we will restore science to its rightful place. He said that we will do away with the kinds of censorship and stifling of science — ideological stifling of science — that has undermined a basic principal of the United States. The United States has had, over the centuries, really until roughly fifty years ago, a very scientific bend. It was not a coincidence that the guys — and they were guys, sorry to say — who wrote the Constitution called themselves in many cases, “natural philosophers.” Back then, that was the equivalent of our word scientist today.

The founders were thinking like scientists; they were asking questions so they could be answered empirically and verifiably. That’s what science is. It is a system for asking questions so you can answer those questions empirically and in a way that others can verify your empirical tests for those answers.

Every shopkeeper, every farmer, every factory owner throughout American history has had this scientific tradition. It was common for Americans to think about how things work and how they could be made better and made to work better.

We’re at a time now where, if I talk to most of my colleagues in Congress, most of your colleagues at the college or university, or any American on the street, however well educated, however able, however smart, they will likely say, “Oh, science, oh no, I’m not a scientist. I can’t understand that, that’s not for me.”

And thus we are deprived of the scientific way of thinking. The scientific way of thinking is important not just for developing new technologies, but for creating the kind of self-critical, self-correcting, evolving society we need to create. The whole balance of powers in our constitution, the whole idea of openness that we embrace as a democracy, these are very scientific in nature.

It is so important that we try to bridge this chasm, merge these two cultures, so that no educated person in America would ever say, “Oh, that’s science, I can’t think about that.”

Your courses are so good because you work at from both directions. Much of my career has been as a teacher, and any teacher will tell you, the first challenge is motivation. You know, there is nothing you can teach. That’s the dirty little secret that faculty members sometimes learn. You can only help students learn.

Students have to have some reason to do the work, a purpose for learning the material. You provide that purpose in many cases by reminding them that learning has to do with the quality of their life in areas that they may never have thought had anything to do with science. You have shown them that they don’t have to wear lab coats or do equations in order to bring a scientific understanding, and more important, a scientific frame of mind, a kind of questioning attitude, to their lives, their work, and their roles as citizens.

Looking for empirical answers and independent verifications is essential to help find the answers to the important questions in daily life, whether it’s trying to decide what kind of soap to buy, or what kind of college to attend, or what kind of candidate to vote for. In what you do in your courses I see an attempt to provide for students that very kind of motivation.

But you also are working at it from the other end, nudging the scientists to move out of their culture. You are helping scientists understand that non-science students at the university — and the 80 percent of the American population who say science is not for them — are not just a necessary nuisance in their lives, but really the whole reason that we practice science.

Why do we practice science? So that we can have a better quality of life, so that we can understand how the world works, get along with each other, and provide for the needs, and not just material needs, the needs of the people and society. You know, I’d like to say that President Obama thinks like a scientist. He might dispute that, but I see it in how he conducts meetings. I see how he asks questions in a way that they can be answered empirically with evidence. He asks questions with an open mind, recognizing that the answer to the question must necessarily be regarded as provisional. You know every scientist — every physicist anyway — has somewhere in the back of his mind or her mind that whatever it is you think about how the world works, how this subject works, what is known about plasma physics or planetary science, is provisional. !ere might just be a patent clerk in Switzerland who has a little different idea or maybe even a very different idea. And empirically, some day that patent clerk’s ideas might supersede everything you thought you knew.

It is this kind of thinking that has made science so successful. Science gives a kind of reliable knowledge, provisional though it may be, that allows people to improve their lives.

It is this kind of thinking that allows citizens to improve their government. It is why we are the oldest surviving constitutional government in the world, because the authors were thinking like scientists, and they set up a system that allowed us to keep thinking like scientists.

Every business major and English composition major that you bring in to your classes is not just someone who can have the beauties of science unlocked for them in a small way. It may be that this student will be the citizen who will help move our society along through scientific thinking.

You are doing a favor for each faculty member you nudge out of her or his narrow specialty to be exposed to the great unwashed non-science student body. You are doing a great favor by reminding them their science is all about. They’re not doing science for their own esoteric entertainment. A few might be, but that is not why the National Science Foundation puts out billions of dollars a year. That is not why this Congress is interested in science. We are interested and making investments because of what this means for our society and the welfare of all of these people who are in this nation conceived in liberty and dedicated the proposition, that all, not just those who did differential equations, or you know, spectrophotometry, are equal, and deserve the benefits of our society.

So what you are doing is the missing link between things that the NSF, and the NIH, and NIST and others have funded for years. And what all the rest, the 80 percent non-scientific society have not only been deprived of, but have ignored for all these half-century, roughly speaking.

So thanks for doing what you do. I hope you understand the importance of what you are doing. I certainly do. And I thank you very much.

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Science and Civic Engagement in the Developing Democracy of Georgia

-Science opens the mind.
Robert Lawrence Kuhn –


The situation concerning science and education in the former Soviet Union has been described in articles by experts from the former Soviet republics and by foreign researchers (Dezhina, Graham, 1999; Khitarishvili1, 2007; Kuchukeeva, O’Loughlin, 2003; Kuhn, 2003; Saluveer, Khlebovich, 2007). It is obvious that science had an exceptionally favored position in the former Soviet Union. Together with education, science was linked to ideology as an important part of national politics. Pure science and applied technology were highly developed in many fields.[more] Soviet scientists were at the cutting edge of mathematics and in several branches of physical science, especially nuclear physics, chemistry, and astronomy. At the same time, Soviet scientists were almost completely isolated from the international scientific community. Only a few selected scientists were free of restrictions and could collaborate with research institutions in Western countries.

The core of fundamental science was the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and the various national academies of science in Soviet republics, which received their budget directly from the government. Financial support for research was distributed according to political priorities and political decisions, without any peer review. Much of the research was carried out outside the academy system — most of this research was of an applied nature, related to weapons systems. Science served the power and strength of the state.

The development and advancement of science was a national priority for the Soviet government and top scientists were held in high respect. To be a scientist was very prestigious and large numbers of students graduated in STEM fields every year. Science was emphasized at all levels of education. The Soviet education was free, highly specialized, and didn’t have a tradition of liberal education. Division between scientific research and teaching was quite strict. Except for a few, the universities were not as strong in basic research compared to the academy institutes.

Current State of Science and Education

The collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of centralized plan­ning and financing of science and education, the financial cri­sis, and the brain drain had a particularly damaging effect on science and education within small, newly independent coun­tries such as Georgia. Scientists and educators had to face a new reality. Because governmental financing was now very low, it was impossible to maintain excellence in research and higher education. Faculty and students had to look for their own research funding via joint research projects in private schools, educational projects, or by studying abroad. Going abroad to study was difficult for students because of financial cost and major differences in the structure of higher education between Georgian and foreign universities. The consequences of long-time isolation, lack of skills, lack of knowledge of for­eign languages, and lack of information channels associated with severe financial problems inhibits the ability of Geor­gian scientists and educators to get financing even within pro­grams that are prioritized and specially targeted for Georgia (e.g.inco,intas etc.). The need for reforms within Geor­gian science and education was obvious.

Reforms in science and education were initiated in 2000. The Georgian Academy of Sciences lost its function and all research institutes were placed at the disposal of the Min­istry of Education and Science. The most significant source of research funding became the Georgian National Science Foundation (gnsf), created within the Ministry of Science and Education of Georgia, whose funding process is based on competition and peer review. An optimization of univer­sities and research institutes was also conducted. Georgian universities along with universities from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Ukraine have declared their willingness to intro­duce the Bologna measures in their higher education systems. (Documentation regarding the Bologna process is available at the Georgia Ministry of Education and Science [2009].) This commitment includes Georgian participation in estab­lishing the European Higher Education Area (ehea) by 2010, coordinating degree requirements, promoting international cooperation, and facilitating the mobility of scientists between institutions. The introduction of structural changes and im­provements in the quality of teaching should strengthen re­search and innovation in Georgia. The Government claims that the concepts of “continuing education” and “education oriented society” are the priorities of new educational policy. New curricula, along with new teaching and learning meth­odologies, were introduced to the universities. Despite these changes, our understanding of Georgian science development is still not defined.

Introduction ofSENCER

To compensate for a deficiency in knowledge and skills of Georgian scientists and educators, training and workshops were conducted in Tbilisi for those interested in continuing their professional work. International conferences, workshops, seminars have been designed to highlight the new ways that Georgian scientists are successfully pursuing their research. In June 2003, our group organized one such conference: “Gain­ing Knowledge and Skills Needed for Scientific Communica­tion and Collaboration.” This conference was sponsored by Sigma Xi, the U.S. National Academy of Science, unesco, Iowa State University, iwise, the International Network for Successful Scientific Publications, crdf, grdf, the Geor­gian Academy of Science, I, Beritashvili Institute of Physiol­ogy, Georgian Technical University, the Armenian National Science Foundation and other international and national organizations.

The conference program offered a selection of topics that were designed to address the interests of working scientific re­searchers. The program included information about Sigma Xi, scientific book/journal donation programs, research resources used by Iowa State University and other American universi­ties, gateways/directories, other online publication resources, scientific databases and specialized search engines, scientific equipment donation or refurbishing, research, and study op­portunities abroad. There were also some special interactive sessions on distance communication in science, including electronic journals, electronic conferences, electronic lectures, preparing manuscripts for international publications. Reports on innovative scientific work in Georgian universities and re­search institutes were also organized. During this conference, scientists and science educators from Georgia and Armenia had their first introduction to the ideals, philosophy and goals of the SENCER project. The presentation was made by a spe­cial guest of the conference and co-principal investigator of sencer project, Professor Karen Oates.

The SENCER approach and the issue of civic engagement are very relevant for the Georgian educational system. Civic engagement takes many forms and can be measured by vari­ous indices. One of the most comprehensive definitions of civic engagement belongs to Thomas Ehrlich (2009, vi, xxvi), former president of Indiana University:

Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motiva­tion to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and nonpolitical processes. . . . A morally and civically responsible individual recognizes himself or herself as a member of a larger social fabric and therefore consid­ers social problems to be at least partly his or her own; such an individual is willing to see the moral and civic dimensions of issues, to make and justify informed moral and civic judgments, and to take action when appropriate.

Today, Georgia is struggling to achieve democratization and sustainable economic development, and to alleviate pov­erty. Like other former Soviet countries (Economic Develop­ment, 2003), science and research are still less popular among young Georgians than other more prestigious subjects—man­agement, law, economics, etc. We believe that Georgian uni­versities should contribute to national goals by educating students for active, civically engaged citizenship. In order to develop the essential knowledge needed to achieve these goals, science education should be strengthened and promoted. It is important that scientifically literate people become actively involved in social and political processes within Georgia.

Despite the pressing circumstances, the issue of how sci­ence and democracy interact—How does science engender democracy? How does science and science education change the way people think? How can science stimulate new civic engagement and responsibility of citizens?—is not part of the political, pedagogical or scientific literature in Georgia, in contrast to foreign countries and especially the United States (Burns, 2003; Jordan, 2006; Kuchukeeva, O’Loughlin, 2003; Kuhn, 2003). The need for discussions and debates on these issues are critical in Georgia and provide a promising way to create the national perception of science.

SENCER in Georgia

In 2003 we participated in the sencer Summer Institute for the first time based on invitations from Karen Oates and iwise co-director Ardith Maney. We were impressed by sencer topics, which demonstrated the possibilities of teaching science in a civic context. Later we read the article by Robert L. Kuhn (2003), “Science as Democratizer,” and were inspired by his very interesting suggestion that “science engenders democracy by changing the way people think and by altering the interaction among those who make up the so­ciety.” Kuhn also proposed that a “key to changing the way people think is critical thinking” and provided the following comments on science education:

Basic and applied science and science education are all needed to nourish critical thinking. Science, to be science, cannot stagnate. If scientific education en­forces the scientific way of thinking, scientific discov­ery energizes it, so that both education and discovery nourish and sustain our democracy. And science needs democracy as much as democracy needs science. Vig­orous scientific research reflects democratic principles in action, and free and open scientific inquiry cannot take place without the protective support of a robust democracy (Kuhn, 2003).

Confirmation of our interest in the sencer program was achieved by the outcomes of a two-year sencer-Georgia pilot project that started in September 2004 in three major universities within Georgia: I. Javakhishvili State Univer­sity, Technical University, and Medical State University. This project provided a wonderful possibility to begin restoring the prestige of science and stimulating an interest in science among Georgia’s youth. With support from the university ad­ministration, teaching and learning centers were established in all three universities. Many important activities were per­formed through these centers and the central component of all activities was “civic engagement.” This theme was used in all eight courses that were newly introduced in Georgian universities.

  • Environment and Health,
  • Social Environment and Human Behavior,
  • Global Ecological Disaster and Georgia,
  • Chance,
  • Chemistry and the Environment,
  • The Coming Energy Crisis and Then What? Apocalypse or Sustainable Development,
  • Some Steps Away from Death, and
  • HIV in Georgia.

Major sections of each subject were prepared in close collabo­ration with scientists from American universities that partici­pated in the sencer program, which were then adapted to the context of Georgia.

One good example of stimulating students’ curiosity and problem-solving actions via science education is provided by the results of the SENCER-based presentation of “Envi­ronment and Health,” which was introduced into secondary school (mainly in tenth, eleventh grades) and high school curricula. Students prepared projects and demonstrated their abilities to determine and solve problems.

The SENCER faculty team from Georgia attended the SENCER Summer Institute four times. Within the framework of the SENCER-Georgia project,we organized one-month in­ternships in Georgian campuses for six U.S. students during May 2005, together with meetings and seminars for U.S. fac­ulty members from partner universities. We also established contacts with Armenian scientists and educators.

The Future: Dreams and Aspirations

The SENCER-Georgia project finished in 2006 but we con­tinue to follow our goals: to strengthen science in Georgia and to stimulate our youth’s interests to science via strong collaboration with U.S. educators and scientists. For these reasons the Teaching and Learning Centers continue their work. We are still developing new SENCER subjects in collaboration with American and Armenian colleagues, such as:

  • Nanotechnology,
  • Drug abuse and behavior,
  • Science ethics,Media
  • Integrated neurophysiology,
  • Statistical nature of traffic (telecommunication),
  • Dynamic stability of power systems,
  • Sustainability in hydro-engineering,
  • Hydrology for civil engineering, and
  • Artificial intelligence.

Each of these courses will include features of civic engagement and will use innovative teaching methods.

Together with the Georgian Chapters of Sigma Xi, we plan to begin discussions and debates on the concept of Georgian science. We are also working to promote further integration of Georgian scientists into the international sci­entific community. For this purpose we are going to organize electronic meetings, conferences, lectures, workshops and symposia with U.S. universities. Our other activities will in­clude the creation of the “Center of Innovation, Eurasia” in collaboration with U.S. and Armenian colleagues, joint scien­tific research, and organizing a series of scientific lectures for Georgian high school teachers and students. Because the phi­losophy and ideals of the sencer approach have stimulated special interest among Georgian scientists, educators and teachers of high schools and colleges, the sencer-Georgia group is planning to establish a Georgian-American sencer High School in Tbilisi.

In conclusion, we say that “This is not a time to be tim­orous. . . . Science needs democracy as much as democracy needs science.” (Kuhn 2003)

About the Authors


Burns,Wm. David. 2002.”Knowledge to Make Our Democracy”, Liberal Education,88 (4): 20–27.

Dezhina I., and L. Graham. 1999.”Science and Higher Education in Rus­sia”, Science, new series, 286, no. 5443: 1303–1304.

Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Program of Georgia.2003. Tbilisi: Government of Georgia.

Ehrlich, Thomas, editor. 2000. Civic Responsibility and Higher Education.Westport, ct: Oryx Press.

Georgia Ministry of Education and Science. 2009. Search results for “Bologna process,” (accessed December 13, 2009).

Jordan,Trace. 2006.”Science and Civic Engagement: Changing Perspec­tives from Dewey to DotNets.” In Handbook of College Science Teach­ing, edited byJoel J. Mintzes and William H. Leonard. Arlington, va: National Science Teachers Association Press.

Khitarishvili, Tamar. 2007. Environment for Human Capital Accumu­lation: The Case of Georgia. Paper Presented at the Minnesota International Development Conference.

Kuchukeeva A., and J. O’Loughlin. 2003.”Civic Engagement and Demo­cratic Consolidation in Kyrgyzstan.” Eurasian Geography and Econom­ics44 (8): 557–587,

Kuhn RL, 2003.”Science as Democratizer.” American Scientist Online, September-October 2003. pub/science-as-democratizer.

Revaz, Solomonia. 2002.”Georgian Awareness and Training Network.” EU and Georgia: New Perspective, 4–6, April–June. Saluveer, M. and D. Khlebovich, 2007.”Recommendations on Georgian Science Policy Development,” The European Union Project. unesco.2005.”The Russian Federation” in UNESCOScience Report,137–176. Paris: UNESCO Publishing.


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