SACNAS Science Policy Report

The science policy program at SACNAS has made great strides in the winter and spring of 2009—including continued interaction with White House personnel; creation of a permanent home for SACNAS in Washington, DC, at the American Chemical Society building; and response, as an organization, to pressing public policies and research that impact the lives and experiences of Hispanic/Chicano and Native Americans in science. 

SACNAS DC Presence

In the language of my preceding SACNAS News policy column, our recent Washington, DC, activities are examples of SACNAS both as a “connector” and as a “maven” society.[1] 

SACNAS represented at White House activities: SACNAS president-elect Dr. Ernest Marquez, his wife Mrs. Toni Marquez, SACNAS board member Dr. Marigold Linton, and I attended the public portion of the visit by Mexico President Felipe Calderon to President Obama on May 19. Our goal to serve as a “social entrepreneur”[2] organization is greatly enhanced by our relationship with the Office of the President. Therefore, invitations of this sort mark an important step in SACNAS policy activities.

Science policy fellow John Christensen attended a White House briefing on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization[3], where he met with Juan Sepulveda, director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. 

SACNAS participation on national STEM issues: SACNAS is increasingly being seen as a significant STEM organization on a national scale and has been asked to participate in a number of recent activities. During this last season, I participated in meetings at the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society (ACS), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), and the U.S. Department of State (regarding the appointment of its next science advisor).

Dr. and Mrs. Marquez attended the NSF National Science Board dinner at the Department of State, where a variety of significant science awards were given. Dr. Marquez also attended the Fundación México-Estados Unidos para la Ciencia (FUMEC) Board of Directors meeting, where he connected with Congressman Mike Honda’s staff, and the 15th HACU Annual National Capitol Forum on Hispanic Higher Education. He was invited to help the U.S. Department of the Interior attract more urban Hispanics to the American Great Outdoors program. Finally, Dr. Marquez attended the Latino Magazine conference called Nuestro Futuro, which addressed underrepresentation of Latinos in STEM.

Moreover, John Christensen recently met with the National Park Service and its science advisor, Gary Machlis. In addition, there have been various SACNAS informational connections with relevant congressional staffs, such as with Congressman Grijalva’s office regarding the NSF’s proposal to bundle together several diversity programs. 

SACNAS Responds to Policies and Research 

Arizona immigration law: Science thrives best in an open society without harassment. Many SACNAS members are familiar with the recently passed Arizona immigration law SB1070 and the ensuing SACNAS statement about its effect on the location of future SACNAS annual meetings.[4] SACNAS’ goals of encouraging Hispanic/Chicano and Native American students and professionals in STEM fields means that a minimal requirement for meeting sites is that there not be the likelihood of undue harassment of our members. SACNAS chose to let the Arizona governor and other policy makers know about our decision to pursue other conference locations. 

Response to Salzman research: Occasionally, reports or articles are written that claim there are too many scientists. This statement overlooks the fact that the majority of new American jobs over the last 50 years have been in high-tech fields. Moreover, most of these high-tech jobs are in small, not large, companies. In reflection of this economic reality, other industrialized nations have successfully imitated aspects of America’s higher educational system in STEM fields, leading us to ask, “What is still, in large part, uniquely American about STEM education?” The answer is the intertwining of education and research in American universities, coupled with a remarkable national ability to turn discoveries into new high-tech products and services. The key word is “innovation."[5] A major reason for the significant role that smaller companies play in embracing and promoting innovation is their agility and small size, which fosters a culture of empowerment and creativity for innovative scientists.

A recent report entitled “Steady as She Goes? Three Generations of Students Through the Science and Engineering Pipeline” by Hal Salzman (et al.), a professor at Rutgers University, has recently brought these issues to the fore. The Salzman report (as it is commonly known) has received a fair amount of notoriety, mostly because it seems to have been misquoted or misinterpreted by some people to Congress.

The SACNAS science policy team, along with several SACNAS board members, felt it was important to respond to the discussions generated by the Salzman report.[6] A very brief summary is the following: Some of the top-rated STEM BA graduates in this study have taken “non-STEM” jobs. The authors of the Salzman report recommend that companies and firms in STEM fields make their jobs more attractive so that these “best” graduates don’t go into finance or other non-STEM fields.

As you see, it is a leap to go from this recommendation to saying that there are too many scientists. In fact, I would argue that the definition of a “STEM job” should be “a job for which STEM training is advantageous.” This greatly broadens current definitions of economists, but seems to describe current reality. Thus, returning to “innovation,” let us use this term to include new and ambitious career paths as well as more traditional meanings. These arguments take on an even greater sense of urgency in light of Congress’ failure to pass HR5325, reauthorizing the America Competes Act (America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act), by a two-thirds majority. Now more than ever, Congress needs to foster the expansion of science. SACNAS will continue its policy role by being an effective advocate for Hispanics, Chicanos, and Native Americans who are essential to this endeavor.

About the Author

Dr. Robert Barnhill is SACNAS’ vice president for science policy and strategic initiatives. His career in mathematics and computer science included creating the subject of computer-aided geometric design, as well as supervising and mentoring many students and faculty at all levels of higher education. He was vice president for research for a total of 15 years at Arizona State University, the University of Kansas, and the University of Texas system.

References Cited

[1] These terms are a reference from Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, which is about social movements. In his book Gladwell introduces such terms as connector, maven, and salesman societies. For more information about how SACNAS is employing these concepts, please read “SACNAS and 'Social Entrepreneurship'” from the Winter/Spring 2010 issue of the SACNAS News.

[2] Ibid.

[3] For more information on the ESEA reauthorization, go to www.ed.gov/blog/topic/esea-reauthorization.

[4] To read the full press release on the SACNAS response to SB1070, go to TBD.

[5] May I strongly suggest that you read The Innovator’s Dilemma, which discusses the topic of “disruptive technologies.”

[6] The full document based on input from Drs. Robert Barnhill, Lino Gonzalez, Greg Villareal, Ed Ramos, and Mr. John Christensen can be accessed at TBD.

 

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