For many college students, studying the hard sciences seems out of the question. Students and professors alike collude in the prejudice that physics and molecular biology, mathematics and engineering are elite disciplines restricted to a small number with innate talent. Gregory Light and Marina Micari reject this bias, arguing, based on their own transformative experiences, that environment is just as critical to academic success in the sciences as individual ability. Making Scientists lays the groundwork for a new paradigm of how scientific subjects can be taught at the college level, and how we can better cultivate scientists, engineers, and other STEM professionals.
The authors invite us into Northwestern University’s Gateway Science Workshop, where the seminar room is infused with a sense of discovery usually confined to the research lab. Conventional science instruction demands memorization of facts and formulas but provides scant opportunity for critical reflection and experimental conversation. Light and Micari stress conceptual engagement with ideas, practical problem-solving, peer mentoring, andperhaps most importantinitiation into a culture of cooperation, where students are encouraged to channel their energy into collaborative learning rather than competition with classmates. They illustrate the tangible benefits of treating students as apprenticestalented young people taking on the mental habits, perspectives, and wisdom of the scientific community, while contributing directly to its development.
Rich in concrete advice and innovative thinking, Making Scientists is an invaluable guide for all who care about the future of science and technology.
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About the Author
Marina Micari is Associate Director of the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence at Northwestern University.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 5: Mentoring Learning
When I ask an educated person, “What was the most
significant experience in your education?,” I almost
never get back an idea but almost always a person.
—D. C. Tosteson
When Gateway Science Workshop (GSW) student Prasad told his facilitator that he was thinking of dropping out of the program, we knew about it within the hour. The facilitator, Abby, left the workshop group and walked directly to our building, climbed the stairs, stepped into the middle of the GSW office, and exclaimed, “One of my students wants to drop, and we can’t let him!”
After finding a seat for Abby and talking through the situation, we learned that Prasad was feeling overwhelmed with a heavy course load and pressured by extracurricular obligations, and that the GSW seemed like one of the few things he could take off his plate. We suggested that Abby talk to him about the pressures he was feeling but also reinforce the benefits of the GSW and ask whether there was anything else he might first be able to eliminate.
Ultimately, Prasad decided to temporarily give up a leadership role in a student club and stick with the GSW, and he ended up doing well in his courses that term. Abby’s concern for Prasad was not unusual. We see facilitators develop real bonds with their students and a real sense of responsibility for their academic and personal well-being. As mentors, that is what they should be doing. We cannot train them to care, but quite often that is what happens. Through the training we do provide, the weekly experiences they have with the students, and their own leadership instincts, over the year the facilitators become genuine mentors to their students.
We have tried hard to make sure that the GSW provides high quality mentoring to undergraduates, and much of our motivation comes from our knowledge that without the GSW, most of these students will not receive much, if any, true academic mentoring during college.
For professional scientists, mentoring is critical. As graduate students and postdocs, scientists develop close working relationships with senior faculty who coach and advise them, and as practicing professionals they often continue these relationships and develop new, more mutual coaching relationships with colleagues. All of this happens within a community of practice (see Chapter 6), with the senior “core” of the community developing those who will someday occupy their place. For undergraduates, though, genuine mentoring relationships are generally restricted to the lucky, well connected, or exceptionally talented.