Science and Global Learning at Carnegie
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 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
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
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:
- Stem-cell biology: Is research and treatment potential
in the U.S. being compromised by policy?
- Bioterrorism: Are we scientifically ready and flexible
enough to respond to this threat?
- Genetically-modified foods: Do the benefits outweigh
- Tuberculosis and malaria: Why isn’t the problem
- Emerging infectious diseases: Can we keep ahead
of the pathogens?
- 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
Professor Amy Burkert at firstname.lastname@example.org.