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Investing In Education

Dow Chemical teams with MIT and Texas A&M to set up science education programs

by Amanda T. Yarnell
April 4, 2011 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 89, ISSUE 14

Credit: Donna Coveney/MIT
Former MIT chemistry department head Timothy M. Swager; Jensen; Kotanchek; Ceyer; D’Oliveira; former ACS president and Dow’s director of innovation sourcing Catherine T. Hunt; and MIT materials science department head Edwin L. Thomas.
Credit: Donna Coveney/MIT
Former MIT chemistry department head Timothy M. Swager; Jensen; Kotanchek; Ceyer; D’Oliveira; former ACS president and Dow’s director of innovation sourcing Catherine T. Hunt; and MIT materials science department head Edwin L. Thomas.

As part of its effort to promote science education, Dow Chemical has set up a minority-focused program with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has established a fellowship at Texas A&M University that is aimed at promoting graduate student research.

The company and MIT agreed last month to work together to attract and encourage more underrepresented minorities and women to study science and engineering. On March 2, Dow announced it would give the university $2 million over the next five years to support science education from the high school to the graduate school level. The program will fund outreach to high school students and their science teachers and provide fellowships to promising graduate students from underrepresented groups in MIT’s chemistry, chemical engineering, and materials science departments.

“One of the most vexing problems in science is our inability to increase the number of women and minorities,” said MIT School of Science Dean Marc A. Kastner at a luncheon celebrating the announcement. “Dow’s gift will allow us to make progress more quickly.”

“Increasing diversity of backgrounds in science and engineering will catalyze new innovative solutions,” added Theresa Kotanchek, Dow’s vice president for sustainable technologies and innovation sourcing. The company wants to “attract all of the brightest minds to the field.”

Dow’s gift will help MIT expand a two-year-old chemical engineering program to the chemistry and materials science departments. The Access program offers select underrepresented minority undergraduate students the opportunity to come to MIT for a weekend of workshops, talks, tours, and one-on-one interaction with chemical engineering faculty. The program is designed to help such students see the potential benefits of a graduate degree in chemical engineering, said chemical engineering department head Klavs F. Jensen. The Access program offers students “useful advice on how to write grad school applications, interview, and present themselves,” he explained. Many participants have gone on to apply to grad school in chemical engineering, he added.

Also as part of the gift, MIT’s chemistry, chemical engineering, and materials science departments will each establish a graduate fellowship to support first-year underrepresented minorities and women.

In the hopes of attracting a more diverse group of younger students to these subjects, the Dow-MIT program will support outreach to high school students in several ways. For example, MIT plans to adapt course materials from its freshman chemistry classes for use in high school Advanced Placement chemistry classes. “In doing so, we hope to provide examples of the most exciting current research to high school chemistry classes,” said chemistry department head Sylvia T. Ceyer.

The program will also support the production of engaging chemical demonstration videos, along with materials to help high school teachers incorporate the videos into existing curricula. And it will fund the filming of inspirational videos with MIT scientists and engineers as well as videos that teach basic synthetic chemical techniques by following students through the lab, much like “reality TV, without the soap opera aspects,” Ceyer said. All of these materials and videos will be distributed freely on the Web via MIT’s OpenCourseWare, noted Cecilia D’Oliveira, OCW’s executive director.

In another move, Dow is working with Texas A&M to establish a $100,000 fellowship that recognizes graduate research excellence and innovation in chemistry. The fellowship will also pay tribute to Charlene B. Miller, an assistant vice president for research services at Texas A&M who died on Nov. 23, 2010, in a plane crash in Destin, Fla.

Miller spent much of her 30-year career forging public-private partnerships between the university and companies, including Dow, to encourage scientific and technological innovation. Dow’s effort to set up the fellowship “is an amazing testament to the character of Charlene Miller and to the time, commitment, and care she devoted to her critical role in strengthening the university’s relationships with partners like Dow,” said Jeffrey R. Seemann, vice president for research and graduate studies at Texas A&M.

To establish the fellowship, Dow’s lead gift will be combined with contributions from the Texas A&M department of chemistry and the Texas A&M Division of Research & Graduate Studies. Each year, the fellowship will provide for one or more graduate students to receive a total of about $4,500.



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