Data & Research RESEARCH
Cherry Murray
Sr. Vice President Physical Sciences Research
Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies

Papers and Presentations, Mathematics and Science Initiative
Archived Information


Bridging Formal and Informal Science Learning – how can industry help?

The US economy today is based more on high tech business than ever before in history. Continued growth of our technology industry and economic base will require an increased focus on science and math education to create a larger US skilled science and technology workforce as well as a technically literate population as a whole. We live in the “Information Age”: large high tech firms based in the US are global companies, who will hire their technology workforce and locate their R&D centers in countries where there are excellent resources at the lowest cost to the corporation. The most important resource for corporations is a large and increasing pool of skilled scientists and engineers at the masters and PhD level. Unless we maintain the excellence of our science and engineering education for US K-16 students, maintain the caliber of our graduate education in the sciences and increase the pipeline of American students into our graduate schools, we will see an increased outsourcing overseas of not only manufacturing jobs, but also development and then research jobs. High tech firms can help increase interest in going into science and technology careers by sponsoring formal hands-on science learning and teacher training - but equally important, encouraging their scientist and engineer employees to participate in informal science learning experiences near their R&D centers.

Despite the turmoil in the telecommunications industry over the last three years, Lucent Technologies has continued to support science and math education and teacher development programs. The Lucent Foundation spends 65% of its budget on education programs in the local communities near major Lucent locations. ( Roughly half of this is for K-12 and about 12% is outside of the US.)

Over and above Lucent Foundation’s grants to programs, Bell Labs researchers volunteer their time as mentors to students and teachers from the junior high school level to graduate school, often in conjunction with programs that the Foundation sponsors. Bell Labs hosts and pays the salaries of student interns and local high school science teachers who come to work on research projects usually for 10-12 weeks during the summer. Bell Labs scientists also serve as hosts for visits of school groups to see what research scientists in industry actually do.

Generally, we find the most successful programs that bridge formal and informal science learning have one or more of the following features:

  • Students and or teachers have the ability to work directly with a practicing scientist or engineer with a background in science who serves as mentor.
  • The mentor relationship is over an extended period so that an informal and friendly relationship can develop, for example throughout the year or even throughout graduate school and beyond.
  • Students conduct research alongside real scientists, teachers and mentors who are similar to themselves ( background, race, gender, ethnicity. )
  • Students have fun learning and doing science, math and computers and the activities they do are relevant to the real world.
  • Students get to be the expert and present their findings.
  • Students get to take science and engineering field trips where they can see science and math in action, do an experiment, or learn about a field or career.
  • Opportunities are provided for parents to learn about their child’s science and math education.

Some examples of programs that have been judged successful by participants, the Lucent Foundation and outside evaluation firms over the years:

K- 16 Programs

  1. National Science Resource Center - reform of formal science learning in the classroom combined with informal scientist mentors to teachers and school districts.
  2. Since 1999, Lucent has supported the Smithsonian Insititution/National Academies National Science Resource Center’s LASER initiative, a non-profit – school district partnership in science education reform at the elementary through junior high school level. A Lucent executive ( me ) sits on the NSRC Advisory Board, along with representatives of six other major high tech corporations, universities, science museums and nonprofits. The NSRC’s mission is to catalyze systemic science education reform by developing, collecting and disseminating effective hands-on science teaching resources and to develop informed leaders and work with individual districts to spearhead local, regional and state education reform. This program was recently lauded by Koffi Annan in the Feb. 13, 2004 issue of Science Magazine as a model in science education reform. We have supported efforts in 9 local school districts throughout the US. Each of these districts has benefited from local volunteer Bell Labs mentors. The districts liked interacting with the mentors so much that the Plainfield, NJ school district – an inner city school district - hired a PhD retiree to be a mentor to several teachers full-time in the classroom.

  1. Young Science Achievers Program - supplementing the formal science program in local inner city high schools with extracurricular science projects and a Bell Labs scientist as mentor.
  2. Now in its 16th year, the young science achievers program is designed to encourage, assist and mentor traditionally under-represented high school students throughout New Jersey and parts of New York, especially targeted at inner city schools. Each of more than 100 students per year get a mentor and up to $1000 to perform a science project, either of their own choosing, or a project suggested on the program website. The program runs from January to June, when there is an awards banquet to showcase the projects, with the best three receiving awards. Mentors often also invite the students and their teachers to Bell Labs to talk about their research or make a connection between the student’s project and innovations at Bell Labs. This program is jointly run with various AT&T spin off companies after the Trivestiture.

  3. Youth Science Initiative – sponsoring science clubs at science museums and other informal learning outside the classroom
  4. In the late 1990’s Lucent Foundation sponsored the Youth Science Initiative with a broad goal of supporting the development of participating youth ages 11-18 years so that they can become productive, effective and engaged citizens with an interest in science and technology. The informal learning experiences supported were planetariums, aquariums, science museums, botanical gardens, parks, after school enrichment programs and community centers. The RFP required providing recruiting students with a strong interest in science, developing a positive peer group environment through collaborative opportunities, involving middle and high school teachers, opportunities for students to communicate with other participants at different sites, use technology, and present their work to others. The RFP also required an evaluation component, and successful applicants could obtain up to $150,000 /year for up to three years for support. Of the 75 proposals received, Lucent funded 16, from such diverse organizations as the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the National Aquarium in Baltimore and the China Science and Technology Center in Beijing. Based on the results of an outside assessment firm’s surveys of 185 student participants from all of the sites, students rated the programs as ‘4’ or slightly above on a scale of 1-5, ( where 5 is strongly agree ) on the following questions: I am better at presenting scientific information to others; my leadership skills have improved; my knowledge of science and technology has increased; my confidence in science and technology has increased; and my work habits have improved.

  5. Global Science Scholars Program – a program that recognizes and rewards high school seniors across the world for outstanding achievements in math and science
  6. The Global Science Scholars Program was established by Lucent Technologies in 1999 to provide an incentive to students around the world to direct their careers towards communications technology. Winners of the Global Science Scholars Competition receive a one-time award of $US 5,000, are invited to the Global Science Summit, which is an opportunity to visit Lucent Headquarters and Bell Labs in New Jersey. During their week long stay at Bell Labs students learn about the latest advances in communications technology from researchers, work with researchers in their labs, meet Nobel prize winners, and work on a team project with other Scholars which they then present to each other. The Summit is sponsored and hosted by the Lucent Technologies Foundation and provides - along with the science schedule - times to relax, picnics and evening entertainment, including a Scholar talent show. A year after the Summit, where an appropriate placement can be found Scholars are offered internships at Bell Labs or a Lucent facility within their home country.

    Graduate Fellowships

  7. The award-winning Bell Labs Fellowship program, first started over 30 years ago when Bell Labs was part of AT&T is a merger of two former programs, the Cooperative Research Fellowship Program ( started in 1972 ) for underrepresented minorities and the Graduate Research Fellowship Program for Women ( started in 1974). The program is designed to increase the number of US citizen or permanent resident women and underrepresented minorities in science, math, engineering and technology. It is directed to graduating college seniors entering a PhD program in these fields. It is a highly selective fellowship competitive in money with other major graduate fellowships, but includes a Bell Labs scientist mentor in the same field who hosts the student at Bell Labs for at least one summer and follows her or him through their graduate career and beyond, often acting as an academic advisor and a safety net to the student navigating through graduate school. Upon AT&T’s trivestiture in 1996, the majority of Bell Labs went with Lucent and a portion was retained as AT&T labs. The Graduate Fellows Program has been so successful that it was split between AT&T and Lucent and continues in both companies today. The programs in AT&T and Lucent together have awarded over 500 fellowships or awards since 1972. The PhD completion rate for the years 1972-1995 is 74%, with at least 86% completing a masters degree. Approximately 30% of the graduates have gone on to become professors, deans and administrators at nearly 70 US universities, some are founders of companies, while others hold executive positions in industry. Lucent and AT&T have held alumni reunions, including a joint 30 year anniversary celebration.

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Last Modified: 03/24/2004