Educators and Scientists Praise Proposals To Award Scholarships to Science Students

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Washington--Legislation to award scholarships to college students who study science and mathematics would help alleviate the severe problems the nation faces in those fields, educators and science-society presidents told a House subcommittee last week.

Sponsored by Representative Doug Walgren, Democrat of Pennsylvania, the bill is nearly identical to a proposal recommended by President Bush in his address to the Congress last month. It would grant four-year scholarships of up to $5,000 per year to one male and one female high-school senior in each Congressional district.

Related bills have been sponsored by two House Republicans. Sherwood Boehlert of New York would require recipients to teach in public schools, while D. French Slaughter Jr. of Virginia would make service in a scientific position with the federal government a condition of aid.

The proposals are aimed at "raising the public's attention to the importance of science to our national well-being, in addition to encouraging individuals to pursue careers in science," Mr. Walgren explained.

The need for such a program is urgent, added Mr. Boehlert, in light of recent dismal statistics on student performance in math and science.

"Our public-school system," he said, "functions like a 'canary in the coal mine,' alerting us to grave dangers that threaten our economy and our society."

"We have convened this morning to diagnose and develop cures for one very sick canary," he continued.

'The Right Message'

Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, agreed that a scholarship program would be "clearly a step in the right direction."

"The Congressional scholarship program you propose," Mr. Boyer told Mr. Walgren, the chairman of the subcommittee on science research and technology, "sends precisely the right message--namely, that America cares about having the math and science talent it needs to move confidently into the next century."

"I do hope these awards carry with them the prestige associated with an appointment to a military academy," added Richard C. Atkinson, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Such prestige, he predicted, would send a "message that scientific talent is as important to our nation's strength as military capability."

Mr. Atkinson also expressed the hope that the award program would help ensure the diversity of the next generation of scientists.

Specifying that a scholarship must be awarded to a female student in each district, he said, "underscores the importance of bringing more talented young women into8science and engineering."

Moreover, he added, the plan "further emphasizes that technical talent can be found in all our communities."

Teacher Shortages

Mr. Boyer also praised Mr. Boehlert's proposal to require aid recipients to teach in the public schools. Under that plan, college juniors and seniors majoring in math, science, or engineering could receive scholarships of $7,500 if they agreed to teach for two years for every year they received aid.

"Something must be done to stop the decline in qualified math and science teachers," Mr. Boyer said. "This is a national problem that requires a national solution."

But Lynn A. Steen, president of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, warned that such a program would do little to alleviate the teacher shortage.

"To have a significant impact on the teaching needs of the nation would require many, many more than 1,000 [scholarships] a year," he said.

Mr. Steen also raised the possibility that the proposal would needlessly restrict the career plans of talented students.

"It may be very good for the country if a student discovered he could do a tremendous job as a research biochemist, rather than as a schoolteacher," said Mr. Steen, a professor of mathematics at St. Olaf College. "We shouldn't impugn his integrity for having done that."

Vol. 08, Issue 25

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