Moving Forward Together: Leadership Spotlight
Lynnette Noblitt, Director of Paralegal Programs and Associate Professor in the Department of Government
Six program initiatives have been developed by EKU faculty and staff to advance the University’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) and reviewed and approved for content by the University’s QEP Committee. Throughout the fall semester, this regular feature in EKUpdate will take a look at these proposals through those who developed them. The second profile in this series takes a look at the Science in Society Project, developed by Lynnette Noblitt, director of Paralegal Programs and associate professor in the Department of Government.
What is the Science in Society Project?
National leaders from all levels of government and sectors of industry are emphasizing the importance of increasing the scientific and technological knowledge of our student population. While it is hoped that this will lead to increased numbers of students who major in science and pursue careers in science, this is not the only reason for the call for increased scientific study. As scientific and technological innovation increases exponentially, all members of society must attain a level of scientific literacy so that they may be informed, rational members of the U.S. democracy and the larger world-wide community who will help decide how modern society will react and adapt to scientific and technological innovation. To accomplish this, individuals will need to analyze a variety of issues, including social, ethical, and political consequences.
The purpose of the Science in Society Project is to assist EKU faculty in designing interdisciplinary coursework that can be implemented across the general education curriculum to promote student literacy and empowerment in addressing issues of how science affects society. The Project will also strive to promote an inclusive campus environment that invites informed, critical discussion of controversial topics and welcomes creative, innovative solutions to societal problems. Promoting critical thinking, especially in an interdisciplinary setting, can be quite difficult.
The Science and Society Project will simplify this task and provide encouragement and support to faculty in course design and implementation. The Science in Society Project will begin as a pilot project course that faculty from different departments and disciplines across campus will design and teach. The purpose of this pilot course will be to develop discreet course lesson plans with coordinated faculty support services on issues relating to Science in Society that will be later incorporated throughout the general education curriculum. The Science in Society Project will also provide a lecture series and other related supporting activities that will provide an inclusive campus-wide forum in which to debate scientific and technological issues and to propose possible solutions to such problems.
How will it address the objectives of the QEP?
The goal of the Science in Society Project is directly related to the QEP Focus Statement: “Eastern Kentucky University will develop informed, critical and creative thinkers who communicate effectively.” The Science in Society Project will inform students of current scientific and technological issues in society through the presentation of substantive scientific and technological facts and observations and will equip students with the skills necessary to investigate future scientific and technological developments as they arise.
The Project will also expose students to various schools of academic thought (e.g., philosophy, ethics, political science, medicine, and law) outside the realm of science and technology so that they may begin the process of analyzing the scientific information they discover and making appropriate inferences and assumptions. The project will then empower students to form opinions on scientific issues and generate ideas and solutions to resulting societal problems.
Throughout this process, students will be encouraged to constantly challenge their observations, assumptions, and opinions and to develop an awareness of varying perspectives and alternatives. Students will also be encouraged to clearly articulate their assumptions and opinions both orally and in written form in a supportive, inclusive campus environment.
How did you, as director of paralegal programs, come to develop this project?
While I was in college, I studied science in the same manner most science majors do – I focused solely on scientific facts and concepts, largely to the exclusion of other topics. I only took those courses outside of science that were required for general education requirements. My focus changed dramatically, however, when I took a course from the late Dr. D. Allan Bromley, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology under former President George H.W. Bush.
Although he had spent the majority of his life in a lab, like all my other science professors, the focus of his career had changed. He held a variety of positions, culminating in his job as the “President’s Scientist,” in which he stepped back from the science and instead focused upon how society was changing due to scientific and technological development, what society must do to adapt to this development, and how society could promote the greatest benefit from this development. This course really broadened my thinking about science and changed the way I looked at the world. I later attended law school and ultimately practiced patent law. During my practice, I learned first-hand how scientific advancement changes the law and how the law must change to control the effect of scientific advancement.
I hope that the Science and Society Project provides the same excitement and alternative, unique perspective for EKU students as Dr. Bromley’s class did for me. I also hope that the Project can serve as a catalyst for debate of controversial topics across campus. As an attorney, I firmly believe you can only truly be convinced of your position once you have understood and argued the opposite.
Why is important that students gain these skills?
In their lifetimes, all EKU students will have to form opinions and make informed decisions about a variety of issues involving modern science and technology. These topics cross a wide range of scientific and technological fields. Some of these topics, such as the global climate change, adoption of alternative fuels and stem-cell research have been well-publicized. Unfortunately, the press coverage on such topics is highly politicized and it is difficult for the public to obtain unbiased, credible information on basic facts and concepts surrounding the issue.
Other topics, such as network neutrality of the Internet, commercialization of the human genome, and pharmaceutical patent protection, are virtually ignored in the press, often causing issues that will have a profound effect on the daily lives of individuals to be legislated without comprehensive democratic debate.
The issues discussed above merely illustrate what will doubtless be a growing problem for society. As scientific and technological advancement inevitably continues, a raft of related societal issues will develop.These issues will require our students and the public at large to synthesize complex scientific knowledge with information and assessment tools from a variety of disciplines including philosophy, ethics, political science, sociology, and law. Our students will then need the capability to analyze the effect of technological advancements on society and generate and articulate their own opinions while also understanding and debating opposing viewpoints.
How will students be engaged in this project?
I hope that students will not only take the class that develops the course lesson plans, but will also attend campus-wide lectures and debates that the Project will sponsor.