Leon Botstein conducts the American Symphony Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York. The ASO plays at Avery Fisher Hall. Photographer: Richard Termine/21C Media Group via Bloomberg

President Leon Botstein of Bard College is using an innovative approach in higher education with his new project, Citizen Science. President Botstein is a musician, having served as conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra {I have a number of his recordings in my collection.}

About two dozen scientists have been recruited to teach non-science majors at Bard College – sign me up!

According to President Botstein:

The most terrifying problem in American university education is the profound lack of scientific literacy for the people we give diplomas to who are not scientists or engineers,

The hidden Achilles’ heel is that while we’ve found ways to educate scientists in the humanities, the reverse has never really happened. Everybody knows this, but nobody wants to do anything about it.

Citizen Science is a two week intensive program during the winter break. Students learn about science by:

Using lab equipment, computer modeling and classroom discussions, they have explored all aspects of disease, including detecting germs and managing pandemics.

Students do not receive course credit or a grade for the program, “to promote learning for learning’s sake.” That point may well be a hard sell at most college campuses. Nevertheless, each student does a final project.

My favorite example of a final project:

Ms. Batkin and six classmates came up with an idea that is pure Bard: a dance performance that illustrates how an influenza vaccine works. Students assumed the roles of the antigen, B cell, T cell and antibodies.

To President Botstein, to his faculty, students, recruited scientists and to his brother Prof. David Botstein (a geneticist at Princeton University), I say “Bravo!”


  1. #1 becca
    January 24, 2011

    Judging from my father’s stories (he went to Bard) there are worse ways to use winter break…

    If I’m ever fabulously wealthy and looking for a legacy (AHAHAHAHA), I’ll endow a university with a Bard type educational philosophy for science.

  2. #2 Jeff
    January 24, 2011

    Indeed, I will do the same.:) Nevertheless, I believe that this approach could be used on other campuses as part of a Winter Session, especially with an incentive of course credit towards graduation, either as an elective or general education requirement.

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