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My take on the next step in the STEM education movement and the value of intercultural experiences! Why it matters that we think of them together.

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Andrew Budsock

The STEM fields, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, are of growing importance for my generation. However, alone, are they enough? New STEM initiatives are springing up across the country, which, as a young scientist, is amazing to observe. It is of the utmost importance to help cultivate interests in these fields among young students. However, this seemingly simple task is complex with myriad obstacles and challenges. Cultivating interest in STEM requires nuanced thinking and experiential learning, and diverse perspectives. Therefore, I believe that it is almost essential for there to be an international component to how we think about STEM education. I call this new idea, iSTEM !

Personally, I have always succeeded at science in school, so I decided to major in it in college. Luckily, I had exposure in high school to an amazing non profit called Green Schools, which focuses on environmental education. This experience left me motivated and passionate about developing solutions for anthropogenic climate change. However, it was not until traveling during my semester abroad to Switzerland where I literally saw glacial breakup in the Alps as a consequence of global climate change that really affirmed my passion and gave me new invaluable perspective (See below).

This experience left me breathless and impassioned to continue to research the ecological consequences of climate change. The main image for this post is in Puerto Rico, where I worked as a research assistant for a month for my graduate school advisor this past June. That experience also inspired me through priceless experiential learning. In addition to these types of more literal experiences, I find it essential for young scientists to gain perspective by having some type of intercultural experience. By no means am I tooting my own horn, mounting a high horse, or any other egotistical metaphor, because I didn’t make the connection between my interests in German and Science until later in my college career. In retrospect, I recognize the importance of making this connection as early as possible. WHY?! Well, climate change is a global issue, in fact, I usually write it as “global climate change” to reiterate the point that it is a global issue. Global issues require an understanding of different perspectives and world views, which can be acquired through intercultural experiences. Luckily, I graduated from Susquehanna University where studying abroad is required!

But, can we start having these experiences earlier than college? Yes! I believe that high schools and non-profits need to begin to initiate these types of experiences, and some already are. Even if high school classes can Skype/Google Hangout/Viber with international science classes to facilitate weekly discussions on these international scientific issues to gain perspective and essential insight that up-and-coming scientists need. Not only will students discuss pure scientific issues, but also the geo-political aspects that are often tied to them. I am by no means lobbying for scientists to become politicians (that may be a pun), but for young scientists to understand that scientific issues are often related to larger interdisciplinary topics. Therefore, many new broader scientific questions require, in addition to the science, an understanding of particular socio-economic dynamics that exist in an area. This higher analytical thinking can also be acquired through intercultural experiences!

Are there other reasons for doing this?! YES! The science community has an unfortunate history of being a male-dominated not as inclusive group, so I hope that by providing students with earlier intercultural opportunities, they will understand the importance of diversity and inclusivity in science. Everybody loses when science is dominated by just white heterosexual cis-gendered males because we are only getting a small sliver of the potential perspective from our diverse global community. As an ecologist, my field views diversity as an essential health metric for an ecosystem; therefore, it would be insane to not take the same approach to our own science community! We need everyone (obviously including white heterosexual cis-gendered males) to come together, share ideas, and work together to answer the vast array of scientific questions posed by our natural world.

The gap in science communication is wide but cross-able. Initiatives like the ones I am calling for (and interested in helping to setup) help to bridge not only the divide in science communication but also cultural divides. In order to seriously develop solutions for the myriad issues brought about by climate change, we need a sustained international dialogue among young diverse scientists as well as the science community in general. Anthropocentric views and education in addition to exclusivity are the greatest barriers to developing intelligent-collaborative solutions for global issues.

For a continued dialogue on topics of science and culture follow my blog:

Kultur + Science

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