When I arrived at Purdue in 1990, technology was swirling. Things were rapidly
changing. Biotechnology and the computer
revolution were gathering steam.
Instructional computing became possible.
The Web was only a few years away.
Software applications let teachers develop
their own “courseware.” Digital video
emerged. This was the atmosphere where
I began my job as the outreach coordinator
in the Department of Biological Sciences,
a newly created position as part of a
Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant. I
had no idea that my concepts about science
education were about to be challenged.
I was tasked to “visit high schools,
talk to teachers and get a feel for high
school biology in Indiana.” I soon realized this would be a complex journey,
but a few central themes were obvious.
There was a clear disconnect between
biology in high school and the “new”
biology of academia. What could we do
about this problem? The increasing pace
of technology complicated what was
already difficult for teachers to maintain.
New instructional computing meant that
teachers would need new computer skills.
Where was it taking us? What did teachers
need to educate a future workforce? How
could we improve the college-readiness
of high school students?
Meanwhile, the College of Science
took a bold initiative by creating a K- 12
outreach program with coordinators who
were specialists in their respective fields
and experienced in science education.
They became the link between the K- 12
community and the college at a time when
it was rare for science disciplines at large
research universities to engage directly
in such partnerships.
This provided a forum to share ideas
and teaching skills and discuss common
problems in science education. Could we
put the vast resources and expertise of the
college to better use for the schools? I
gained important insight as the boundaries
between science and mathematics were
blurring. While biology had become a more
difficult discipline in its own right, the other
sciences also were clearly essential.
We established the Biology Resource
Center to provide academic support for
first- and second-year undergrads. We
developed an eight-week survival course
for entering freshmen and summer
workshops in instructional computing.
We established Biology Focus Visits
allowing high school students to visit
Purdue and learn about opportunities for
study. Biology teachers train in our
Advanced Placement Institute and at
weekend workshops to stay abreast of
the latest developments in their fields.
Our Faculty Visitation Program brings
college faculty to high schools to share
research interests and discuss career
opportunities for biology students.
These outreach efforts have grown
and matured into strong initiatives. We
have served hundreds of high school
teachers and thousands of their students.
It has now extended beyond biology and
is aided and strengthened by a synergy
with other departments in the college.
It has been a privilege to be associated with the K- 12 Science Outreach Team
and work with an amazing array of faculty
The goal of fully preparing students
to study science in college persists. I am
proud of our achievements and continue
to work with dedicated professionals who
know the best in K- 12 outreach is yet to
come. But little did we know that what we
began 25 years ago would make STEM a
core before STEM was cool!
APPROACH TO K- 12
BY ISIDORE JULIEN