others who, a generation ago, never had a chance at college. We also need to provide an “open” system that can update these teachers as progress in the sciences accelerates.
With respect to the faculty, the academic culture that sets expectations and rewards is changing, but slowly. Most faculty members in our 3,000 or so colleges and universities are trained in a hundred or so research institutions whose values are quite different from those in which many of their graduates will teach. Academic departments often find it difficult to come together on such vital matters as curriculum design and collective responsibility for teaching quality. It is even more difficult for them to collaborate across disciplines to achieve the desired “folding in” of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology with courses in, for example, the humanities.
Despite the daunting character of these difficulties, the convocation left most of its participants with a sense of optimism. Exciting new approaches abound and offer real prospects for enriching undergraduate education. Imaginative initiatives in teaching improvement are widespread and are by no means limited to the most visible institutions. Outreach from universities to K-12 is growing, minority access programs are succeeding, and more graduate students are receiving serious training in how to teach science. The convocation atmosphere was one of excitement and hope—despite the well-advertised resource limitations that bear on nearly every one of the institutions represented there.
This nation has prospered because of its leadership in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. If our educational system cannot produce the accomplished professionals, technologically skilled workers, and well-educated citizens who can make sound political decisions about issues with high technical content (and today that means most decisions), our leadership in the world will be jeopardized. The developing revolution in undergraduate education is good news for a nation whose future will depend on its ultimate success.