Teaching & Learning

Science in Society

As a student in the midst of pursuing a college education, it can be hard to imagine the day when graduation will actually come. And when it does come time to fill out the graduation application, students might be asking themselves if they are prepared to find employment and make a difference in the world.
Utah State University students in the Science and Society class say they are ready -- ready to tackle the after-graduation “real world” and ready to become science teachers to middle and high school students all over the country. The class is required of all secondary science education majors and asks students to take social action on a scientific topic.
Students in this year’s fall semester class examined autism, a condition some claim is caused by an ingredient in vaccinations approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The class discussed the issue at length, researched the subject extensively and then made a decision about whether or not this ingredient did or did not play a factor in causing autism. They then followed up with letters to the FDA and Utah Senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett.
“I feel like I am a better informed individual,” said Brittany Webb, a junior majoring in composite teaching physical science. “I learned so much in this class and I think that having a hands-on experience is important. Whether it is doing research in a lab, or doing other things, it adds so much to the experience of being a student.”
Peter Kolesar, associate professor of geology and the science and society teacher, believes there is more to education than discussion and isolated learning. He wants students to recognize that science doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and during his class he wants them to gain a strong appreciation of the links and interrelationships between science and society.
The class spends time discussing hot topic issues such as human cloning, the interplay between the war on terrorism and privacy, and creationism versus evolution. Kolesar said the discussions are vibrant and that it’s important for students to proffer and then defend their opinions.
“I believe that real world problems, with their often very complex interactions, offer the best opportunities for students to stretch their abilities,” said Kolesar. “The students will be tackling real world issues after they graduate, so they might as well confront them while in school.”
Undergraduate research is an important component of Utah State’s mission, and students throughout all seven of its colleges have many opportunities to participate in some way. Those students who take advantage of the opportunity are better prepared for employment and gain a competitive edge in graduate school admissions, according to Joyce Kinkead, vice provost for undergraduate research.
“Utah State is a great school with lots of opportunities to get involved and enhance your education,” said Becky Atkins, a sophomore majoring in math education. “This class made me realize we need to do more than just read things out of a book. We need to apply what we have learned to other situations. Discussing topics in this class helped me to see situations from varying points of view and expanded my overall learning.”
And the letters the students had written to the FDA and to Utah’s senators stating their concerns about vaccinations were heard. In fact, the FDA was so impressed with the students’ letter that a representative held a conference call with the group on the last day of class.
“It’s not every day that I get this type of a letter,” said William Egan with the FDA.
To learn more about the Science in Society class, contact Kolesar at peter.kolesar@usu.edu.
Learn more about opportunities in undergraduate research at the Web site and for more information about the College of Science visit the college Web site. To learn more about enrolling at Utah State, visit the admissions Web site
Contact: Peter Kolesar, (435) 797-3282, peter.kolesar@usu.edu
Writer: Maren Cartwright, (435) 797-1355, maren.cartwright@usu.edu
Eccles Science Learning Center

The Eccles Science Learning Center

A portion of the mural in the College of Science

Detail from a mural in the College of Science


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