SoE offers many programs aimed at diversifying the pool of future scientists and engineers to include underrepresented minorities, women, and students who are first-generation college prospects or from low-income families. Carter himself is an alumnus of the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) summer program, which hosts rising seniors from across the nation. Typically, some 80 percent of MITES alumni have gone on to major in science, technology, engineering, or math disciplines, and a third have enrolled at MIT. That number is rising: the Institute granted early-action admission to 59 percent of the most recent class. SoE’s latest endeavor, launched on techtv.mit.edu in February, is MIT Insite, which tries to excite middle-school students nationwide about math and science through videos and blogs.
Innovation Trumps Standardization
When speaking to federal commissions and panels, President Hockfield advocates access, innovation, and competition, rather than a standardized curriculum or mandatory testing, as ways to strengthen K-12 preparation in science. The Lemelson-MIT Program promotes such healthy competition through its InvenTeams initiative, which offers grants of up to $10,000 to teams of high-school students, teachers, and mentors developing problem-solving prototype inventions. Currently funded projects include an adaptive communication device for people with cerebral palsy and a weight-stabilizing compact stretcher.
MIT programs also enhance classroom curricula. The Seminar Series for High-School Teachers established by the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research presents nine lectures a year on cutting-edge biomedical research and pairs teachers with Whitehead scientists. “The seminar series rejuvenates my excitement and love of biology,” says Julie Snyder, an AP biology and genetics teacher at Hudson High School in Massachusetts, who has participated since 1997. “When the teacher is excited, it’s easy for the students to also get excited.” Snyder’s Whitehead partner, MIT graduate student Sudeep Agarwala, talked to her biology class about switching mechanisms in yeast, and Snyder added a lab on yeast mating to her curriculum on gene regulation.
Many MIT alumni clubs sponsor local participants in the Science and Engineering Program for Teachers (SEPT), which selects 50 educators for a weeklong summer campus visit. They recharge their disciplinary knowledge by learning about MIT research in areas such as protein synthesis and particle cosmology, and they refresh their classroom styles through exposure to new teaching techniques, such as tips for delivering physics lessons from MIT’s legendary physics professor Walter Lewin.
These efforts to inspire passion in future innovators and problem-solvers advance what many consider a vital Institute mission. “It’s important to get students awakened, alive, engaged, and hungry to ask these ‘why’ questions that really are at the heart and core of engineering and science,” says Carter.