By Jeffrey Whitford
Curiosity, in my view, is one of the driving forces behind everything we do—and everything we are capable of doing. Through curiosity in science, I believe we are given a unique way to help make a difference. Or, as we like to say at MilliporeSigma, science enables us to help solve the world’s toughest problems.
Yet, despite its limitless possibilities, science education isn’t what it once was. Due to changes in education policy globally and financial constraints, science education for most students no longer includes hands-on labs or the ability to connect to careers and professionals. This leaves students less likely to choose a career in the sciences—even though STEM careers pay 26 percent more than non-STEM careers. And, this issue isn’t just about the students; it’s also about the teachers. Reduced funding and a focus on standardized test performance have put many teachers at a disadvantage for teaching STEM subjects.
As head of corporate responsibility for a life science company that relies heavily on a STEM-ready workforce, I am both a witness and participant in conversations with colleagues, customers, community leaders and corporate responsibility peers on ways to re-ignite interest in science and STEM. And, I’m fortunate to work for a company that is not just committing financial resources, but is also contributing the experience and expertise of its workforce to create stronger STEM ecosystems in the communities in which we operate and live.
Tapping Our Greatest Assets: Employees and Partners
With resounding support from our employees, in 2016 we launched SPARK—a global skills-based volunteer program that taps our network of 19,000 employees to bring science to life in classrooms around the world.
We collaborated with the Institute for School Partnership at Washington University to develop an inquiry-based, hands-on science curriculum catalog—the Curiosity Labs™ program—using the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Through this program, delivered by employee volunteers with materials we provide, students engage in experiments used in real-world applications such as DNA extraction, to chemiluminescence, to water filtration. And, we use these opportunities to talk with students about careers in science.
We continued to invest in teacher education through partnerships with like-minded public and private sector organizations through our membership in organizations such as STEMpact in St. Louis, MO.
We are encouraged by what we’ve heard from the more than 40,000 students around the world who experienced a Curiosity Labs™ lesson over the past year:
- 79% reported an increase in content knowledge.
- 80% demonstrated confidence in science by indicating they know “quite a bit” or “very much” about science.
- 81% stated that they enjoy science.
Expanding to Spark More Curiosity
We recognize that keeping this spark alive will require more from us. So, this year, we are planning on adding four new lessons to our already extensive Curiosity Labs™ curriculum to find new ways to showcase how science is exciting and relevant in real life.
To help us expand our reach, we recently introduced the Curiosity Cube™—a 22×10 retrofitted shipping container that has been transformed into a mobile science lab with hands-on activities built on the Curiosity Labs™ lessons. We are piloting the Curiosity Cube™ in the U.S. this year, with a goal of visiting more than two dozen cities across the country to reach 350,000 curious minds of all ages. The Curiosity Cube™ will also make a special appearance at select STEM-related trade shows—giving current and future leaders in STEM a chance to experience curiosity in action.
What and how students learn today will impact their decisions tomorrow. By providing both students and teachers with the tools they need—and engaging families in the process—we hope to spark enough curiosity to make an impact that will last generations. I hope you will #SparkCuriosity with the children in your life.
To learn more about our Curiosity Labs™ program please visit www.sigma.com/curiositylabs.