Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 9,
Number 3

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Faculty Involvement
Science, Diversity, and Global Learning: Untangling Complex Problems
Breaking the Pyramid: Putting Science in the Core
Geologic Science for Global Citizenship: Under the Radar, but on the Web
Science and Global Learning at Carnegie Mellon University
Campus-Community Connections
Science and Citizenship: Habits of Mind for Global Understanding
Curricular Transformation
Connecting Global Learning and Science Education in the General Education Curriculum
Science, Gender, and the Environment
Student Experience
Seeing the World Around You
Institutional Leadership
Developing a Scalable, Sustainable Campus Diversity Initiative
Resources for Science, Diversity, and Global Learning

Science and Global Learning at Carnegie Mellon University

By Michael J. West, teaching professor of French and Francophone studies, and Indira Nair, vice provost of education and professor of engineering and public policy, Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon was founded in the “Institute of Technology” tradition, with a philosophy of interdisciplinary problem solving and practical learning. When President Jared Cohon and Provost Mark Kamlet recently made the globalization of undergraduate education a priority for the university, they envisioned a multidirectional process that would require creating space (both physical and virtual) for “Carnegie Mellon in the world” as well as space in which to welcome “the world at Carnegie Mellon.” A Global Working Group representing all constituencies was appointed to define a vision for globalizing our education and design strategies to achieve this vision.

The working group’s mission is to create a community “that is dynamically engaged with other peoples and other cultures.” Such engagement, the group has determined, requires “an understanding of history, culture, and worldviews,” an awareness of “the interaction and transformation of the world through technology,” knowledge of “the great intellectual debates in history and in the contemporary world,” and “an ability to work with people of diverse cultures and in diverse countries.”

For the first implementation project of the Global Working Group, Carnegie Mellon pledged to create and fund global courses in each of the schools and colleges that offer undergraduate degrees. The group is developing an intellectual community of educators, students, and administrators through regular meetings, shared readings and discussions, and the creation of a Wiki-based Web site where faculty and students can post materials, exchange information, and participate in online discussions.


One of these newly funded “global courses” is B.I.O.S.3: Biotechnology Impacting Our Selves, Societies and Sphere. This course engages students with questions arising from the impact of biotechnology on individuals, societies, and the globe. It reflects the fact that our vocabularies must expand to include words such as stem cells, genomes, SARS, and anthrax while our hearts and minds grapple with issues such as human cloning, DNA profiling, epidemic control, and bioterrorism. Understanding and responding to such personal, societal, and global challenges requires a level of scientific literacy currently lacking in much of the general citizenry. In addition, scientists of the future must be able to apply their disciplinary knowledge while also considering relevant ethical, legal, and societal concerns. B.I.O.S.3 will foster the development of biotechnology literacy and decision making in a global context.

The B.I.O.S.3 course and its materials are being developed in a modular, Web-based format to ensure that course content is current and accessible. The guiding course design reflects the central principles of biotechnology. That approach can be described as the “transcription” of core knowledge into context, much as the genetic code of the DNA is translated into messenger RNA, followed by the “translation” of that knowledge into global perspective and personal action, just as the mRNA translates the original message into functional proteins.

With a desired general outcome of “scientific and global literacy,” the course will help students become familiar with the basic science and technology of the global biotechnology revolution. It will also encourage them to gain an appreciation of the possible impact of biotechnology at the individual, societal, and global level.

The initial six topic modules to be developed are organized around a set of complex problems:

  1. Stem-cell biology: Is research and treatment potential in the U.S. being compromised by policy?
  2. Bioterrorism: Are we scientifically ready and flexible enough to respond to this threat?
  3. Genetically-modified foods: Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
  4. Tuberculosis and malaria: Why isn’t the problem solved?
  5. Emerging infectious diseases: Can we keep ahead of the pathogens?
  6. HIV/AIDS: Why is having a cure not enough?

All three of the faculty facilitators for this proposed course have extensive experience in science curriculum development, implementation, and assessment in biology. Their combined efforts to reframe the science curriculum at Carnegie Mellon offer a glimpse of how a globalized curriculum can promote the scientific literacy essential to socially engaged undergraduates.

For more information about globalization efforts at Carnegie Mellon University or about the proposed B.I.O.S.3 course, please contact Professor Michael J. West at mjwest@cmu.edu or Professor Amy Burkert at ak11@andrew.cmu.edu.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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