The power of scientific knowledge can serve as the great equalizer for the future. What we do now to prepare our youth who are most at risk of getting left behind will echo for generations to come.

Our youth are our future, and what we do today to grow science literacy will shape that future. According to Pew Research Center, only 30 percent of Americans seek out scientific news, and on international tests, the U.S. stands, at best, in the middle of the pack on science and math scores.

As John Adams famously stated, “facts are stubborn things,” and the lack of trust in science coupled with our setbacks in preparing the next generation in science-based fields raises an alarm. It illustrates that now is our moment to act for science literacy.

As we navigate this unprecedented moment, the future of Columbus will be defined by our ability—across racial and social divides—to provide our youth with scientific knowledge, enabling us to lead through innovation, technology and societal equity. To echo another historic figure in Wolfgang Mozart, “Be silent if you choose, but when it is necessary, speak and speak in such a way that people will remember it.”

This piece of thought leadership is part of 11 Moonshot Ideas to Move the Columbus Region Forward: A Future 50 project.

THE IDEAS

The need for a civic renaissance

The private sector should fight inequity

Closing the digital divide

Driving equity by funding women-owned businesses

Designing a more equitable region

Using data to guide public policy 

Customer-centricity in social services

A radical recalibration of education

ISO: Ambassadors for science

Finding true work-life balance post-Covid

Reimagining community-police relations

Why we did this project

If we do not act now, we may be relegated to second fiddle in the orchestra of other cities across the globe who are stepping forward to sing the chorus of science’s invaluable impact.

Why is science literacy important for our underserved youth and our future?

Jobs and economy: The population in Central Ohio is expected to reach 3 million by 2050, and future jobs will be driven by careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM jobs make up a significant part of our economy and are growing 76 percent faster than non-STEM occupations. STEM jobs also have relatively high earnings compared with many non-STEM jobs. People of color, women, and those from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, however, only represent a fraction of those in the STEM pipeline. Expanding scientific education and opportunities to these underrepresented groups would provide a pathway to future employment and economic growth. 

Our people and public health: Social determinants of health, STEM education and employment are inextricably linked. Delivering science to our underserved youth where they live, learn and lounge will have long-lasting impacts on their health and ability to succeed. Scientific concepts such as the importance of wearing a mask, social distancing and even getting vaccines are crucial to our shared success.

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Our global impact: Cultivating a diverse STEM workforce and new science-literate generations of residents can place Columbus on the global stage, while also contributing toward saving our planet. International challenges such as climate change threaten the very nature of our ability to grow. As we embark on bold local initiatives with global implications, such as confronting climate change, discovering a cure to end cancer, welcoming the era of artificial intelligence, and embracing the coming tech tsunami and digital transformation, our society’s understanding of science and its ability to lift up those living in poverty will be fundamental to our success.

What’s the solution? You can act. Each of us can become science ambassadors and create a science movement from the grassroots to the treetops of the Columbus ecosystem. In fact, what we do now to prepare our youth who are most at risk of getting left behind will echo for generations to come.

The power of scientific knowledge can serve as the great equalizer for the future, and its importance is underscored during this time of crisis and reawakening of societal inequities. We are all in this together, and together we will build a future leveraging science as our foundation.

COSI Learning Lunchbox initiative

A new model of distance learning was created during the Covid-19 crisis to address education equity and help our families and youth, especially those in the underserved and low-income communities.

This effort harnessed the power of a unique partnership with COSI, Franklin County, Children’s Hunger Alliance, libraries and other community partners. COSI delivered free “learning lunchboxes” as physical science education kits alongside free meal providers to help feed hungry lives and feed hungry minds.

Each STEM kit provided the student with a weeks’ worth of free science experiences that was fun and engaging. Each distribution site was converted into a free community Wi-Fi hotspot location to provide digital education resources for those who do not have access to the internet. As thousands of science kits were distributed across the Columbus region, it aimed to inspire countless underserved youth to become our city’s next diverse science generation.

Stephen White, Esq. is vice president for COSI.

With contributions from Jessica Fleming, Jacquie Bickel and Katy Smith