IF scientific knowledge is being spread more widely around
college campuses today, at least part of the credit goes to Zafra
Professor Lerman teaches at a relatively obscure institution
with an open-admissions policy. Columbia College in Chicago serves
a largely minority urban population and specializes in the arts and
communication. She joined the faculty in the late 1970s, after
stints as a research chemist at Cornell, Northwestern, and other
She decided, she says, to "change careers and help out in
teaching." Columbia College had never offered science courses
before, and "everybody looked at me as if I had just landed in a
UFO," Lerman says.
But she soon devised ways of connecting chemistry to things in
her students' everyday lives - from food ingredients to headlines
about nuclear accidents. Before long, her classes had no shortage
of takers. Since 1991, she has been head of Columbia College's
Institute for Science Education and Science Communication.
Also since that year, Lerman and fellow chemists from Princeton
and Indiana University have been building a "common curriculum"
for undergraduate nonscience majors at their very diverse schools.
Tom Spiro, a professor of chemistry at Princeton, had already
developed a curriculum based on current environmental concerns, and
his ideas were employed to launch a course now being taught at all
three institutions - "From Ozone to Oil Spills: Chemistry, the
Environment, and You."
Dr. Spiro says he teaches the course to between 30 and 40
students a term at Princeton. While his students have different
backgrounds than those at Columbia College, and his teaching style
may be quite different from Dr. Lerman's, the course's content is
Measured by student enthusiasm and the quality of the projects
presented at a yearly symposium that brings students from the three
schools together, the goal of engaging nonscience majors in the
study of science is being met. You might think kids from Columbia
College would be a little intimidated by a visit to Princeton, says
Lerman. "But when they sit in classes at Princeton and do their
demonstrations, they feel second to none."
Her students have been particularly adept at merging their
artistic and communicative talents with scientific knowledge. One
group of students, for example, created a dance to illustrate the
depletion of the atmosphere's ozone layer. Their instructor
emphasizes, however, that there's nothing depleted about the course