ENERGY Secretary James D. Watkins offers a refreshing report on the programs launched in his department's 20-plus laboratories to get more kids, especially girls and minorities, into science and technical careers. The programs are mostly one-by-one initiatives like summer internships and scientist-teacher partnerships that involve no great outlay of money or staff. Instead they make creative use of the kind of extra time or resources that are often assumed to be a-slosh in big bureaucracies.
In the most imaginative innovation, the department discovered that newly minted science PhDs who have been hired to conduct classified research at the department's Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico may languish for 12 to 17 months on the payroll before their security clearances come through. These young scientists will now be urged to spend some of that time making contact with public-school science teachers around Albuquerque, mentoring, providing equipment and letting kids see that scientists really exist. Other labs have been instructed to work with local public schools and bring students and teachers in to use the facilities. Some, like Fermilab in Chicago, have gotten involved in local school reforms.
It was at a joint conference with NASA last October that Secretary Watkins began the effort to figure out what was going on in his domains and to add to their activities. NASA itself, which has pioneered such science outreach, has been lending a hand with the planning. The recent surge of public interest in environmental matters is a boon for the Energy Department as well, since it provides current events pegs by which to enter the science curriculum, plus a little of the mystique that NASA can count on as a matter of course. Internships and field trips alone won't solve this country's science problem, but unlike grand strategies these specific programs can produce immediate change in individual lives.