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Good chemistry: Creating more scientists in Maryland

Here’s a quote from a presidential commission on the state of our education:

What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur–others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.” That commission released its report in 1983.  The report was called “A Nation at Risk,. ”So here we are nearly 30 years later and not much has changed. The United States ranks 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college graduates with degrees in science or engineering.  Two-thirds of all college students who begin as science and engineering majors don’t complete that degree. So how can we change that figure? We found one university where they’ve come up with an answer to that question.

Alison Stewart visited the University of Maryland Baltimore County to find out how that school is turning more college students into scientists.

Watch more segments from Need to Know’s special education episode.


  • Carolina

    Good quemistry = Excellence + Diversity =Equal success to all US.
    Teachers and society needs to stop stereotyping students.

  • Carolina

    Oops!Good chemistry!!!

  • Robert Nepper

    Too bad that these eager STEM students will lose much of theri enthusiasm when they discover that the “employee agreement” (EA) they will be required to sign (as a condition of employment) l claims blanket ownership of their inventions, but with no obligation to actually USE them. Employers use this scheme to contractually stifle employee creativity. Our workforce is thus NOT FREE to create the millions of new jobs we urgently need now!

    For example, one day I discovered that had I invented the fantastic Xerox copier, my employer would have already (rightly) owned it, but most assuredly would have (wrongly) ABORTED it – in favor of his dreadful (thermal) copier! And since he would have OWNED it I could not take that invention any further.So because I DIDN’T invent that fabulous copier, you have that precious copier in your office today!
    In another case my employer actually confiscated my new product (citing his EA) which I independently developed in my own worshop totally unrelated to my day-job!
    The EA (which most high tech employees must sign), is a vestige of slavery!

  • Matt

    I carefully reviewed the 2/11/11 episode about education and I want to critique the show’s stances about science education. I have BS and MS degrees in chemistry, have been a high school chemistry and physics teacher, and have about 10 years professional experience as a scientist. First, it seems that the editorial stance seems to be that better science education will firstly, as the statement from Jefferson illustrates, create “good sense” among the common people, who presumably will thus vote wisely and with an informed conscience, and thus “preserve liberty.” This is the essence of the American experiment in representative democracy, and the verdict is still out whether we are preserving liberty very well.

    But what I want to address is the other prong of what the show seems to purport as the ultimate education of science education: that of creating new scientists. Very few students truly appreciate “liberty” as the ultimate goal of their education. But they do think intensely about what kind of CAREER will be their destiny. Thus, I think it is vitally important to fully inform them about the career implications of their choice of field of study. Your show is woefully inadequate on this issue.

    I believe that luring young people into science careers is a dubious, if not immoral, prospect, given the economic and professional landscape in our country. I LOVE science, and I believe a better educated citizenry would solve so many problems. But I would not advise any student to go into science or engineering, except those who are the truly most gifted and innately talented candidates. Why?
    Because ambition towards having a career in the sciences is not virtuous in itself, as the program seems to purport. Just because we have declines of students going into the sciences does NOT mean we have to get more. What about their career prospects??!! I think it’s very cute that your program showed those nice two young people posing in the lab, but I can tell you from firsthand knowledge, about a decade in the field of professional chemistry, that the science as a career is not nearly as cute. Careers in chemistry have vanished. Most of them that are left are under brutal or demeaning working conditions. And it does not get any better if you get an advanced degree either. There are FAR too many master’s and PhD’s in most or all of the scientific and engineering fields, and our young people who opt to venture this as a career route will face fierce competition for even the most brutal jobs, will be hard-pressed to make career advancements should they even land a position, and will find it very hard if not impossible to make professional advancement in a company or even an industry they happen to be lucky enough to get into.

    A well-written blog will give one a good appreciation of what I have described, available at

    By way of illustration, one traditional career route of professional scientists has been the pharmaceutical industry. But it has become so decimated as a result of more difficult market conditions, decreased funding, vastly increased regulatory requirements, and ‘globalization,’ that it has now all but disappeared– thousands of displaced scientists, highly-trained, and with nowhere to go. Why the he** should we create even more of them???! In fact, the situation has become so dire that some leaders are gravely concerned for the prospect of new drugs and have proposed a desperate measure to start a federally-funded institute solely for new drug development.

    The hard reality is, as this author states, that “our young and talented people are being let down by the economy. Simply put, they are no longer needed.”

    The evidence shows that we are creating far more scientists than we actually need. Huge numbers of young, well-trained scientists end up unemployed and/or in a job that is not what they anticipated– for example, physicists as computer programmers or in finance, as described in the report, “The Real Science Crisis: Bleak Prospects for Young Researchers.”

    According to The Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, chemists face a bleak 2% projected employment growth for 2008-2018.
    Other fields are projected to grow about the same as other occupations, including for engineers ( ), science technicians ( ) and microbiologists ( ). The only bright spot may be biochemists ( ) and geoscientists ( ) whose fields are projects to be a bit more robust.

    But again, science careers are very often not cushy offices– many of them involve handling dangerous chemicals, long hours, remote locales, dangerous conditions, bulky and uncomfortable safety gear, and thankless, anonymous, highly-repetitive work. Many scientists remain in these fields because they simply have to pay the bills. I think if a student chooses not to go into science, s/he is being pretty smart if only for this consideration.

    What’s more: We have a vast capacity to train a vast cadre of scientists and engineers, which is what we have done with vigor for the last 50 years, and with equal enthusiasm whether the student was foreign-born or not. But we have been training the world’s scientists, and they are largely going back to their home countries or OUT of the U.S.A. now. In essence we have created and fine-tuned our own competition!! and they have spawned science and industry globally, outside the U.S., and now Innovation is ‘Outsourced.’ This is the New Reality. And many U.S. scientists are moving permanently to other countries.

    It’s fine to get excited about making a better education system. There is no doubt we need to do that. But to enshrine science education just for education’s sake largely only tricks young people into a future they will not eventually want.

    Matt the Chemist

  • John

    “We need more scientists and engineers.” Yeah, right. Sitting with me at a table were about 6 other chemists – a PhD from Duke, another from Kentucky – not getting even invited to interview for any job.

    Let me give a shout out to my graduate chemistry professors at Penn State and SUNY Buffalo – the most horrible and demotivating people in my life (with the exception of Roy Olofson). And to the large assembly line lecture halls at Rensselaer more intent on failing freshman. And to my unqualified high school chemistry and physics teachers.

    Self-tutoring with interactive software is the way to go. Far more cost-effective.