Dr. Jay Labov, Senior Advisor for eduation and communication for the National Academy of Science, visited the Elizabethtown College campus this week to present lectures and visit various classes.
At the age of 13, Labov, who spent his childhood in Philadelphia, received a book written by Jacques Cousteau about marine biology, which sparked his interest in the subject. His interest continued to grow when his high school biology teacher convinced him it was a career he should pursue.
After high school, Labov attended the University of Miami in Florida, but once there he realized most students wanted to become marine biologists also. After taking biology, he gradually branched out and ended up majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry.
Labov then attended The University of Rhode Island for his master’s degree and Ph.D., where he wanted to work with a professor who was doing oceanography research, but he discovered that the professor was not taking students. However, he found another professor in the department of zoology and began working with him, which resulted in a master’s in zoology and a Ph.D. in biological sciences.
This week, Labov came to Etown not only to present three lectures, but also to interact with students and faculty and visit some classes. He gave lectures at the Bowers Writers House called “Educating Teachers of Science, Math and Technology” and “Creativity and Curiosity: Science, Education and Technology.” An additional lecture was given at Leffler Chapel and Performance Center entitled “Science, Evolution, and Creationism: The Critical Need for Science as a Liberal Art in the 21stCentury.” Labov also visited various classes, including a biology class, to discuss the relevance of biology to the topics students are studying and to the real world. He also visited an education class to talk about various things going on with science education at a national level.
What Labov wants students to take away from his visit and lectures is that science is relevant to our lives, and everything a person does or thinks about is influenced by science or technology in some way. He said, “Learning about these things and learning about the implications and the relevance of science and technology are absolutely essential for dealing with our lives in the 21st century.”
Labov was here, not only to lecture students, but also to listen to what they had to say and understand what is on their minds.
Labov wants the chance to talk to students and let them know there are a lot of options when you have a degree in science. Labov said, “I work in Washington, D.C. about six blocks from the Capitol and it turns out that a lot of the people there are graduating college and becoming the staff to senator and Congress representatives who are working on things related to science and technology. However, a lot of these people don’t like science and technology from their experiences and this needs to change.” Labov is hoping that colleges, like Etown, are helping to change this, but every place can do it better. He wants to engage in discussions about improving this and that is why he is working for the National Academy of Science.
Prior to the 16 years he has worked at the Academy, Labov spent approximately 18 years on the Biology faculty at Colby College in Maine. At the Academy, Labov works on various types of activities related to the improvement of undergraduate education in science, math, technology and engineering. The Academy prepares many reports for the United States government and was chartered in 1863 by an act of Congress during the height of the Civil War, when Lincoln realized that, in order for the Union to be preserved, science was going to have to play a major role. The Academy’s role is to respond to any question on science or technology the government might ask. Those at the Academy do not receive any compensation, so the Academy consists of people who volunteer anywhere from six months to two years of their time, who serve American people by answering all kinds of questions. Approximately 200-250 reports a year are produced; Labov has been the Study Director for about a dozen of them. Some that are most relevant to Etown are the Science Education Standards, with which we grew up.
Etown is the third school Labov visited with the Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow Program. He also travels to four to five college campuses per year with other programs. When asked if he enjoys what he does, Labov replied, “I have been doing this for 30 years; I see no end to it. I can’t even think about retiring at this point. There is too much work to be done and too many good things are happening. We are finally beginning to see the fruits of our work in changing undergraduate science education.”