One Friday afternoon a month, you’ll find Butler faculty members from across the disciplines at the Bent Rail Brewery, discussing—often loudly, sometimes with a beer in hand—topics as varied as the “new conservation” movement and the biological and social causes of mental illness. We call this STS School, short for Science, Technology, and Society. It’s a place where scientists and non-scientists learn from each other about new developments at the intersections of our disciplines, and talk about how to bring these ideas into our classrooms.
Our students learn about the state of the art, but our focus is on knowing how—how to observe; how to experiment; how to find and absorb new research; how to collaborate both within and beyond their disciplines to create and apply new knowledge.
This know-how is important for our graduates who pursue professions in scientific research, but it is equally important for those in the many professions that rely upon and support scientific exploration and technological innovation. The flexible foundation our students get can take them in many directions.
Science education at Butler starts in our core curriculum, where every student must take a course that includes a lab. This might mean anything from a neuroscience of music class, which gets non-science majors involved in research on how music affects dementia patients, to a course that uses the case of “HeLa” cells used in cancer research to explore genetics and molecular biology while examining questions about the commercialization of science and the ethics of research.
Over 40 percent of Butler students study traditional STEM disciplines like physics, biology, mathematics and engineering that are located in our College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as do all students in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (COPHS) and our interdisciplinary and cross-college majors in Science, Technology and Society, Environmental Studies, and Healthcare and Business. We also have students with a primary major in a non-STEM discipline who pursue pre-med or other pre-health courses in the sciences, and we have education majors who either pick up secondary STEM majors or do required course work to support their licenses.
As a philosopher of science, I was welcomed by Butler’s scientists when I came here 25 years ago, and in my time I have collaborated with them in the founding of three popular interdisciplinary programs—the science, technology, and society major, the neuroscience minor, and most recently, our environmental studies major. These programs have been led by scientists and non-scientists, and have drawn faculty from the sciences, social sciences, humanities and from Butler’s professional schools. We talk together and teach together.
The world is a big place, and none of us can know but the smallest bit of it. But we—faculty and students—can cultivate the skills and attitudes that will help us learn new things and do new things that will make a difference for ourselves and the world around us. And, if we have to argue with our colleagues over beer to do it properly, well, that’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make.
- The keystone of our science education is getting students to apply science through undergraduate research.
- The Chemistry and Mathematics programs have developed “research boot camps”—intensive week-long summer experiences where students learn the tools of the trade.
- Most students in Psychology choose to join a faculty-led research group. Over their career, it is not uncommon for Psychology students to present their research not only at Butler’s and other undergraduate research conferences, but also at national meetings where most presenters are graduate students, post-docs, and faculty.
- Astronomy students take advantage of a consortium that allows access to telescopes around the world to explore the stars. Students present their discoveries at national professional meetings and publish their work in scientific journals.
- While most student research is done at Butler, some of it is done afar—like the tropical field biology course in Belize or internships at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. (Visit butler.edu/magazine for a related story.)
- Another feature of butler’s STEM education is the push to take science education beyond the walls of science buildings—to have students learn from, and give back to, the communities to which we all belong.
- Computer Science and Software Engineering majors take a required Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) course, where the class collaborates on a software project in support of the mission of a non-profit organization.
- Students in Biology, STS, and Environmental Studies often enroll in the Environmental Practicum, where they take on a sustainability project in support of the Indianapolis community.
- Students from a number of STEM fields get true hands-on experience working on Butler’s farm—managing crops that are served on campus and in local restaurants while engaging in NSF funded research.
- The Chemistry department has begun a series of successful short-term study abroad trips in which students have traveled to Europe, integrating scientific and cultural learning as they explore the chemistry of sustainable energy production, food, and art.
- Students from a range of fields intern at local hospitals and research facilities, tech firms, museums, governmental agencies, and non-profits. There are the clinical rotations that are central to the training of health care professionals in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.