UHC Partners with CMU and the Science Ambassadors Program of the National Academies of Science and Engineering

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By Edward McCord

In May of 2012, the presidents of the National Academies of Science and Engineering announced that they had selected Pittsburgh to be the site of a pilot project to establish a Science and Engineering Ambassadors Program to educate communities to meet their energy challenges.  Samuel Taylor, formerly head of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, was appointed the program’s first director.  The mission is ultimately to educate communities nationwide, one by one, starting in Pittsburgh, about what the communities must know to determine their most effective energy policies.  The strategy is to appoint a team of energy ambassadors from among the experts in each community and to train the ambassadors in the communication skills that are appropriate to help varying audiences learn to address their energy challenges and opportunities.  Twenty-six ambassadors were selected for the pilot program in Pittsburgh. 

Last Fall, Sam Taylor brought the ambassadors program to the attention of Dean Stricker and Ed McCord for consideration of how the Honors College might contribute.  At Stricker’s inspiration, a proposal emerged at once: one of the first vehicles for the ambassadors’ presentations might be an Honors College course designed for that purpose.  It was suggested that Carnegie Mellon University might join in as well, and in short order, an interdisciplinary group of undergraduates were enrolled by the Honors College and Carnegie Mellon in a cross-institution course that is underway this term, “Energy: Science, Society and Communications.”  The ambassadors make up the majority of the guest lecturers, with the remaining classes coming from the co-instructors and from science communication experts.

As the course moves forward, the Honors College is well represented not only by the students in the class, but also by two of the ambassadors who were active in the Honors College community as undergraduates—Paul Ohodnicki, a former Chancellor’s Scholar who is now a materials scientist at the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, and Emmanuel Taylor, a graduate research fellow in electrical engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering—as well as by the University of Pittsburgh co-instructor of the course, Alexander Dale.  Alex is joined by Carnegie Mellon’s co-instructor, William Alba, Director of the Science and Humanities Scholars (SHS) Program, who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Cornell University.  Together Alba and Dale afford the Pitt and Carnegie Mellon students exceptional course leadership.

Before joining Carnegie Mellon as the first director of the SHS Program, Dr. Alba was associate dean of studies at Bard High School Early College in New York City, a cutting-edge institution that allows high school students to complete two years of college while they earn their high school diploma.  He has taught science and the liberal arts at premier institutions including St. John's College, Bard College, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Phillips Academy and the University of California at Berkeley.  His courses at Carnegie Mellon have encompassed the circle in philosophy, mathematics, science, and literature; time capsules and communication with potential extraterrestrial intelligence; Ancient Greek; and the science and history of optics.

Alex Dale was highly engaged in the Honors College community throughout his undergraduate years, taking many Honors College courses.  He received his B.S. in engineering physics in 2009, and he earned his Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering in 2013 through a program of research focused on regional environmental impacts of future energy and water supplies.  Today he is National Executive Director of Engineers for a Sustainable World, among many projects underway from his base in the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Development in the Swanson School of Engineering. 

For more information about the National Academies Ambassadors Program see its website, http://scienceambassadors.org/