Improving diversity in the sciences

michael-svecCurrent statistics from the National Science Foundation on women and minorities in science and engineering suggest that the demographic composition of scientists and engineers does not reflect the large diversity of the American population. Over 70% of scientists and engineers in the United States are white, 12% Asian, 6% Hispanic, and only 5% black. Furman education professor Michael Svec has been involved in science education for more than 20 years, primarily as a teacher educator, and he has observed firsthand the efforts for improving diversity of both teachers and scientists. In an article for The Conversation, Svec writes that improving diversity in the sciences is a serious challenge that demands immediate attention.

Internet, mass media impact press-government relations

In today’s world, talk about what goes in our nation’s Capital is common place. But are we really being told everything that takes place?

On Feb. 24, former host of CNN’s Crossfire and nationally syndicated radio show host Bill Press spoke to a group of about 15 Furman students and faculty members in McEachern Lecture Hall about the relationship between media and politics. The lecture was called Political Press: Washington Perspective.

In his lecture, Press explained the fundamental goals of the media and the government in their contributions to Washington. The media, he said, is working to inform the people and does so by investigating the activities of the government while the government works to address the people’s needs. Press said that there is a constant “tension between elected officials and the media as to what information is released”.

In the age of news streaming, most media outlets are eager to generate content that can be replayed during daytime broadcasts. Press warned that this content isn’t always quality and could be inaccurate or watered down from the actual report.

However, Press argued that the relationship between politicians and the press wasn’t always a distant one. Press gave the example of Teddy Roosevelt, who served as U.S. President from 1901-1909 and would often take reporters and cameramen on camping trips in what would become Yosemite to build support for national parks.”

This close relationship between politicians and the media is one that has been changed by the evolving Internet and new media platforms. “Politicians can now make the news instantaneously through a tweet or video.” Press said. “Hilary Clinton announced she was running in the 2012 elections with a video.”

However, with all of these changes, Press stated that there is “very little quality control.” Everyone with Internet capabilities is a journalist but it is important to figure out how to use these assets wisely. In order to encourage the production of quality media, Press emphasized the importance of finding a good substantive media outlet and supporting it. “We get what we want from the media” he asserted “and it’s entirely our responsibility to interpret it.”

The event was sponsored by the Paladin Network, a student run TV broadcast group that produces videos for YouTube upload.

(Image courtesy if Shutterstock.com)

By the work of their hands

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In his now famous commencement address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs said, “You’ve got to find what you love . . . the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

For many, it takes stepping outside their comfort zone to find what really inspires them. Earth and Environmental Sciences graduate Virginia Batts ’11 took a giant step into India, “land of a thousand languages” to follow her passion.

As winner of one of only 10 Compton Mentor Fellowships awarded to students across the nation in 2011, the Nashvillian paired her interest in India’s history and culture with her concern for land and water resources.

As part of her fellowship application, Batts approached WOTR, Watershed Organization Trust, based in Pune, India, a non-profit NGO that works with vulnerable rural villages to help them adapt to climate change. She teamed with WOTR mentors to compile a “how-to” manual for a participatory mapping process which bridges local knowledge of terrain together with topographical and other geophysical information.

In P3DM, or Participatory 3-D Modelling, the idea is to craft a scaled relief model of the landscape showing features most important to locals—disaster prone areas, protected areas, village dwellings, temples, streams and forests, for instance. The purpose? To ultimately put the villagers in the driver’s seat, so to speak, when it comes to dealing with the effects of climate variability, so they may reach a state of economic and ecological resilience.

The handbook, “CoDriVE (Community Driven Vulnerability Evaluation) Visual Integrator for Climate Change Adaptation,” is the offspring of Batts’ and WOTR’s work in villages where livelihoods are most directly and severely impacted by shifting climate.IMG_1546

Once completed, the cooperatively constructed relief map generated through CDVE  remains in the community, serving as a tangible tool for assisting in sustainable agriculture practices, water budgeting and irrigation, diversification of livelihoods, and identifying alternative energy sources, among other uses.

While participatory mapping has been around since the late 80s, Batts focused on retrofitting P3DM into WOTR’s climate change adaptation initiative in at-risk villages in the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh. To date, CDVE has been implemented in five different villages. Of those, Batts participated in two of the mapping workshops.

CDVE spans the often large gap between indigenous people, development workers, and policy makers. Historically, people in developing countries haven’t had a seat at the table when it comes to voicing concerns over land use. By getting buy-in from the local community at the grassroots level, whole villages are better prepared to take ownership of development issues and take steps to prevent or mitigate the effects of climate change.

Says Batts, “No governing body or development official knows the land better than the villagers. With CDVE, that knowledge is transposed onto something the community creates, in a workshop where lines of communication between participants and facilitators remain completely open.” Batts says the transparent nature of the process goes a long way toward building relationships and trust, and lays the foundation for future work.

After project objectives are clearly articulated among facilitators (like WOTR) and community members, and supplies are gathered, the model is ready to be constructed—a process that takes anywhere from three to seven days. Objectives might be to map land uses in the region, locate biodiversity hotspots, landslides, or map sources of water, for example.

Using readily available materials—cardboard, newspaper, paint, glue and yarn—participants go to work on the base map. First, a large topographic (or contour)map is used for reference. With carbon paper, participants trace contours (or elevations) onto cardboard, one contour at a time. This process is repeated on a different sheet of cardboard until all elevation contours have been traced. Once the contour layers are cut and trimmed, the model is ready for assembly.

Like a wedding cake, layer upon layer of cardboard contour cut-outs are stacked onto the base with glue. After the model is completely dry, small strips of paper are applied to the model a la paper mache with white acrylic primer. What results is a white, blank canvas depicting the hills and valleys of the region.map

At this point in CDVE, the model is ready for demarcation, the stage where indigenous knowledge comes into play, and where the model’s objectives should be revisited to keep stakeholders on the same page. Penciled-in features such as roads, bridges, and rivers, village boundaries, conserved forest and farmland are delineated with pins, yarn, and paint.

The completed model isn’t just functional; it’s a work of art. Beautiful and brilliantly colored, the model becomes a valuable planning tool, and represents a source of pride and empowerment for the community as it embodies generations of collective knowledge. And the model’s life is extended through aerial photographs which are transferred to a GIS so the information may be used for further planning.

Batts appreciates the idea that with CDVE, locals are in a better position to adapt to dramatic swings in climate. She says a science and technology-only approach to resource degradation can only go so far. The participatory nature of CDVE helps indigenous communities understand the sources of resource insecurity so villagers can help themselves adapt to conditions like excessive drought and soil degradation.

Batts, who is working on a master’s in water resources science at University of Minnesota, says her experience in India and other places fueled her interest in water resource regeneration. “Water connects everything. When I think about why I study water, I’m reminded that the beauty of the natural world, access to high quality food, and excellent health are essential ingredients to a fulfilling life—and I’m lucky to be able to say I’ve enjoyed them all so far. Water is at the nexus of all three . . . I like the idea that I can potentially make a difference in someone’s life just by redesigning water use and treatment in a way that doesn’t harm the resources of the less privileged nor those of generations to come.”

Learn more about CoDriVE, or download a pdf of the handbook, “CoDriVE Visual Integrator for Climate Change Adaptation: Guiding Principles, Steps and Potential for Use.”

Benefits of hopping, running and jumping

julian-reedFurman health sciences professor Julian Reed says that if children are hopping, jumping and running while they are learning math, English and other school subjects, they will not only be fitter, but they will learn better. Mike Switzer, editor of the South Carolina Business Review for South Carolina ETV Radio, interviewed Dr. Reed about his research in this area. Reed is the founder of ActivEd, which recently received the Innovation in Education Award from South Carolina’s Innovision Awards program. He is also among the nation’s leading researchers exploring the relationship between obesity, cognition and academic achievement. Listen to the interview on SCETV Radio.

A defining challenge of our era

david-gandolfoFurman recently announced that it had received a $500,000 gift to support its rapidly growing Poverty Studies program. Meanwhile, on the same day, the University of North Carolina announced that it was considering closing its poverty studies program. According to philosophy professor David Gandolfo, who chairs Furman’s Poverty Studies program, one of these universities is headed in the wrong direction. As you might imagine and as Gandolfo explained in an op-ed for The Greenville News, he doesn’t believe it is Furman.

CLP Thurs.: Hinduisms: Debating Tradition & Origins

4:30 p.m., Thurs., Mar. 5, Daniel Chapel. World Religions Symposium hosts Asian Studies’ Lisa Knight, Ph.D.

Wednesday: Faculty Recital

8 p.m., Wed., Mar. 4, Daniel Recital Hall. Music dept. presents Ruth Neville & Daniel Koppelman as duo runedako.

CLP Wed.: Citizen Skeptic: Cicero & Critical Public Virtues

7 p.m., Wed., Mar. 4, Johns Hall 101. Philosophy dept. presents Vanderbilt’s Scott Aikin, Ph.D., who is introduced by Aaron Simmons, Ph.D.