Monday, January 21, 2013

"We can do it!"

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! Some of you are lucky enough to get MLK day off. For us at the Colorado School of Mines it's just another day full of classes and meetings. I bet some of you think that is disrespectful to Martin Luther King Jr. But after being at Mines for three MLK days I think they have it right!  Here at Mines instead of taking the day off we actually celebrate the man and his ideas with Delta Days. Delta is a Greek symbol that is used to denote change in equations. If there is one word that sums up the ideas and goals of  Martin Luther King Jr. it is change.

Martin Luther King Jr. 
My favorite quote from Martin Luther King Jr. is "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." King wrote that in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail". It was a letter he wrote to the leaders of churches that were against his movement. If you've never read it then I would suggest you do. 

What does King and his goals have to do with science? Well, I wouldn't have a good answer for that if I hadn't attended the Rocky Mountain Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) this past weekend. CUWip ("cool whip" which my boyfriend pointed out) brought together undergraduate women in majoring in physics from the Rocky Mountain area. 

Much of it focused on future careers and skills needed but the keynote lecture was titled "Why Diverse Teams will Meet the Science and Engineering Challenges of the 21st Century" given by Dr. Margaret Murnane. One of Dr. Murnane's points was that a group can be smarter than the individuals. Science takes collaboration and that collaboration is becoming more diverse. Scientists from different fields are working together to solve some of the world's tough problems. Now I understand that the diversity found in science is much different than the diversity King faced during his day but on some levels they are the same. The fact that there is a Women in Physics conference demonstrates that change can occur. It was great to see all the women together and I can imagine how they will continue to create change during their lives.

Rosie the Riveter
I think both King and Murnane would agree that to conquer any problem the world needs to work together. So on the day of celebration of King's life, I'm glad to be a women in science and I have hope of what the world will be able to accomplish in the future. Like Rosie the Riveter says, "We Can Do It!"

Monday, December 10, 2012

Overwhelmed oilman

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill is one of the largest environmental disaster to occur in U.S. history. If I asked each one of you what you remember most about the whole situation I think a few of you at least would answer with one of Tony Hayward's upsetting statements.

Tony Hayward, the former CEO of BP.

Here are some of the more well-known: "I'd like my life back;" "The impact to the environment is very, very, modest;" "The ocean is big;" and "It's America– of course there will be illegitimate claims." Most of these outrageous statements were filmed and can be found on YouTube - go HERE

The sad part of these statements is that they got Americans to hate Tony Hayward instead of uniting the country to work to stop the oil spill. 

In the research paper I wrote as the culmination of the Advance Science Communication course, I examine Tony Hayward's character during the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. 

Now how do you analyze someone's character? Well, you use rhetorical analysis. No, not the same as rhetorical questions. Rhetoric refers to the type of words, tone, structure, and meaning used when speaking or writing. It's sort of like what your English teacher made you do with Shakespeare's sonnets. (Oh memories of high school English!)

Oh yes, I did. Mr. Ford's 2006 AP English class. Check out the girl in the gray sweater! (This is an earlier Christmas present for you, readers.)
I read articles from The New York Times and The Washington Post about Hayward really focusing on word choice and actions that suggested a certain type of role. What I found was that Hayward's character changed from before, during, and after the oil spill. 

Before the spill, Hayward took on the role of a reformer. He became CEO in 2007 and started to changes things up. His goal was to improve safety and he did so by instituting changes.

During the spill, Hayward was at first a strong leader. He spoke confidently and assured the American public that things were under control. The problem was they weren't under control and after awhile Hayward turned into an overwhelmed oilman. That's when it went downhill for him. Soon after utter some of those saying I listed above Hayward was out of a job. Good thing too because he made it harder for America to clean up and move on. 

What's Hayward up to nowadays? Well, he's back in the oil business - a much riskier, small oil business. Really nothing has changed. Hayward's still the leader of an oil company but now he's trying to redeem himself by playing a more challenging game. 

Why do we care about Hayward's character? Well, it says a lot about how industry treats communication. Without good communication, the information from authorities won't be trusted and the we have a much harder time figuring out what is correct. We hope that understanding the typical roles a CEO spokesman falls into may us figure out who to trust. This story also highlights that people should be held accountable for their communication choices. But how do you hold a CEO accountable? I have no idea. 

I think a great start is to teach young scientists and engineers about good communication. Any Mines students out there - take Advanced Science Communication (LAIS 423/523)!!! You will enjoy it (no, long essay for undergrads). I also think it is my job to take what I know about communication and share it within industry. But these are just my thoughts. What other solutions do you guys think are out there? 

Thanks for tuning in!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Science and play

Anyone who made it through high school knows that science can get boring. There are so many rules and processes that must be completed to discover anything. It's not surprising then that U.S. students were ranked 25th in math and 17th in science in a study of 31 countries. As a fan of math and science, I find this really sad. I was fortunate enough to have the right people to show me the fun in math and science. A big question that needs to be answered is: how can we get more students involved and excited about math and science? I certainly don't have the answer but check out the TED video shown below.

Beau Lotto took a simple idea about play and turned it into a serious scientific study completed by 25 8 to 10-year-olds. I'll let the video tell you more. Here's a link to the video on the TED site.

I like how Beau Lotto takes a completely out-of-the-box approach to science. It's refreshing and funny. This video inspires me to get out there and help inspire kids to play with science!