Jun 30, 2014
My work with in the Triple Helix Program is centered on utilizing unrecognized capital in the scientific community and in the youth of the Capital Region to create effective STEM outreach programs. In this post I will discuss the types of capital that are currently being used in traditional outreach programs.
Capital as per the finance world is any asset that can be used to make money. In the social science setting, capital can be used to describe an asset that can increase the value, knowledge, ability or standing of a person or community. Obvious types of community capital include transportation infrastructure (to get to and from work or school efficiently), good schools (increases the academic performance of students), or a respectful and effective police force (providing safety and security while respecting the rights of the public). Personal capital can range from a college degree to a supportive family setting. In short, capital is anything that can be used to do something that provides value.
In the case of STEM education, there are many traditional sources of capital. A home that values academic success, a parent who is a scientist, a love for reading or an interest in robotics could all be potentially viewed as sources of capital for a student. All of these types of capital are linked to valuing academic success for its own sake. These types of educational capital are already recognized and encouraged within the traditional STEM education system. In traditional teaching approaches that are centered on classroom interactions and assigned reading, successful student outcomes are predicated on their possession of this traditional form of educational capital. A student from a home that doesn’t place an emphasis on academic success is not equipped to succeed in this environment.
The STEM education pipeline also places an emphasis on traditional educational capital by presenting science as a distinct activity that offers value that the students can either accept or reject. This approach favors students who are already predisposed towards an interest in the STEM fields. An example is that a campus engineering day will only reach students who have want to participate in an engineering day or parents who value science enough to bring their children. In this manner, traditional outreach efforts often don’t reach the students with the greatest need for engagement with interesting scientific material.