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Q&A with Academy Board Member Grace Wang

Grace Wang is the President of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and also a member of the Board of Governors for The New York Academy of Sciences. With an extensive background in STEM, she brings a valuable perspective to the Board, helping to guide the Academy in its decision-making. We interviewed her to learn more about her background, what motivates her, and why she chose to get involved with the Academy.

*some quotes have been edited for length and clarity


What does being a member of the Board of the Academy mean to you?

I’m very proud of my association with The New York Academy of Sciences. I’m an engineer and have spent my whole career in STEM education and research in academia, industry, as well as government. The New York Academy of Sciences is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the world. It’s had a tremendous legacy and a lasting impact, so I’m very proud to be part of this organization through being a board member. It’s personal and very meaningful to me.

The New York Academy of Sciences looks to the future and continues to empower the next generation of STEM professionals. As the science and technology landscape rapidly evolves, this is particularly an exciting time to be part of the Academy.

How did you first become interested in the Academy’s work?

I became a member in 2018 when I was working at the State University of New York (SUNY), and I’ve been familiar with what the Academy does. My former Chancellor at SUNY, Dr. Nancy Zimpher, was a previous member of the Academy’s Board. I learned some about the Academy’s mission through her — she was very enthusiastic about her involvement.

How did either your professional or your personal background inform your commitment to the Academy?

WPI is a STEM university and focuses on enabling not only the future STEM professionals, but also the future STEM leaders. We are very proud to provide distinctive STEM education through project-based learning. Today, over 85 percent of our students can have off-site project experience – they work on real-world problems in real-world settings – at one of our over 50 global project centers. Through this transformative experience, our students learn to be great team players, communicators, problem solvers, and value creators. They are prepared to be future STEM leaders. The Academy’s mission resonates strongly with what we do at WPI.

Of all the various things that the Academy does and the various programs, is there a particular program or initiative that excites you more than the others? Why is that?

I am excited about the Science Alliance program. It supports emerging STEM leaders and continues cultivating their passion in STEM fields.

I also like the Academy’s awards programs. They not only recognize star researchers, which of course is important; but beyond that, they also inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers to explore research frontiers and pursue their careers in STEM.


“The New York Academy of Sciences is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the world. It’s had a tremendous legacy and also a lasting impact, so I’m very proud to be part of this organization through being a board member. It’s personal and very meaningful to me.”

DR. GRACE WANG
PRESIDENT, WORCHESTER POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE
BOARD MEMBER, THE NEW YORK ACADEMY OF SCIENCES


Grace Wang

President
Worcester Polytechnic Institute

The New York Academy of Sciences looks to the future and continues to empower the next generation of STEM professionals. As the science and technology landscape rapidly evolves, this is particularly an exciting time to be part of the Academy.

Jerry and Jill Hultin

Chair and Co-Founder
Global Futures Group, LLC

As Chair of the Board of Governors, Jill and I are thrilled to support The New York Academy
of Sciences’ renewed drive to create a positive impact and encourage science-informed
decision-making to address the most challenging problems of our times.

Investing in Teachers Yields Smart Returns for Students

A teacher and students inside a high school science lab.

Developing a strong future workforce starts with training teachers to be confident in their instruction of computer science, starting in students’ early school years.

Contributed by Ravi Kumar S., President, Infosys Ltd. and Chairperson, Infosys Foundation USA

Ravi Kumar S
President, Infosys Ltd. and Chairperson Infosys Foundation USA

Over the past few years, there has been growing acknowledgment that it is important to make computer science a core component of K-12 education. And how could there not be? With 500,000 jobs currently available in the computing sector and projections that these jobs will grow at twice the rate of others, there is no ignoring that computer science is not just the future of work, but very much the present.

K-12 education should be setting our children up for postsecondary success, but multiple studies show that if students are not meaningfully exposed to STEM subjects by middle school, especially girls, they will never take an interest in them later on. How do we ensure that our children study these subjects early and continue them into their careers?

The answer is training teachers. Too often we bypass these critical members of our workforce, but that is a mistake. The average teacher will reach thousands of students throughout their career so their potential for impact in the classroom is huge. Developing a strong future workforce starts with learning computer science at a young age, and that means training and retaining confident teachers.

Here are five ways to make computer science professional development effective for teachers:

1. Offer multi-day trainings through multiple channels

Computer science can be challenging and intimidating. In order to get teachers more comfortable and familiar with the material, professional development should be sustained for multiple days rather than a one-day meeting or a single intervention seminar so they gain the confidence and competence to stand in front of their classes and teach the subject. Additionally, in-person trainings should be supplemented by online resources and coursework so teachers can continue to develop their skills and increase their facility with these concepts. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) outlines specific requirements for professional development and underscores the importance of sustained Professional Development (PD).

2. Create a community

Creating a community is key when it comes to teaching computer science, especially for teachers who are new to the subject. Successful PD should foster peer networks through online forums that encourage teachers to connect with one another, ask questions and share best practices so that success is shared across schools and states, and pain points can be worked through collaboratively.

3. Keep it collaborative and hands-on

Computer science is collaborative, so learning how to teach it should be as well. Beyond the hard-technical skills that are gained from the subject, students and teachers alike will benefit from a wide array of soft-skills — creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration. And these skills are necessary for all disciplines, so the applications are much wider than just the computing space. Furthermore, group learning helps to strengthen the community that teachers will walk away with once the PD is over.

4. Offer variety

Just like math, science or history, computer science covers a multitude of skills and subject areas, so there is no one-size-fits-all course when it comes to PD. In order to successfully integrate computer science principles across grade-levels and skill-levels, there needs to be a diverse offering so every teacher can find something that is relevant to their grade, ability and comfort-level.

5. Make it classroom relevant and contextual

PD should go beyond abstract theories and concepts, and the content should be relevant for the context in which it will be used. This means teachers should receive tools, such as lesson plans, teaching guides and other resources to support classroom instruction, and the materials should be adaptable to real-life scenarios and common core subjects so all students can take interest in what they are learning.

Underinvesting in the PD of teachers hinders the growth of our students. But if we ensure that teachers have the confidence and tools they need to bring the principles of computer science into the classroom, it will reverberate through to their students and help to light a spark in all students and build a healthy pipeline of tech talent for the future.

How Can Humans Compete with Artificial Intelligence?

A graphic illustration of a human brain, meant to represent artificial intelligence.

The Intelligence Revolution raises fundamental questions about what it means to be human.

By Jerry Hultin, Chair, The New York Academy of Sciences Board of Governors

Machine learning. Advanced manufacturing. Autonomous vehicles. Robotics. Drones. Welcome to the rise of smart machines! This revolution — let’s call it the Intelligence Revolution — offers the world benefit and harm at a scale exceeding that of the three earlier Industrial Revolutions. But it also raises fundamental questions about what it means to be human.

Will science and technology of the 21st century make us irrelevant? Will this lead to massive social unrest when smart machines take worker’s jobs? More fundamentally, how will a world operate where everyone may have the luxury of leisure, but not the economic resources to enjoy it?

In 2017, I chaired a study into the impact of artificial intelligence and automation on the Pentagon’s “business processes.” Based on what corporations in America have already achieved, we estimated that the U.S. Department of Defense could save nearly $60 billion a year by using the existing tools of automation and artificial intelligence.

The Growing Role of Automation in the Workplace

In addition, the quality and speed of decision-making in the Pentagon would be quantitatively better. Conversely we cautioned that the job losses and the redistribution of work functions would be huge. Thus the Pentagon would face a major challenge in finding jobs and providing training for the thousands of displaced employees.

According to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report on the growing role of automation in the workplace, at least 30 percent of the predominantly repetitive, routine and physical activities in 60 percent of current jobs can be automated. With efficiency gains and cost reduction of such magnitude the commercial, industrial, healthcare and construction industries will see AI and the automation that springs from AI, as compelling.

So how will the accelerating application of AI play out around the world? Here in the United States, the people most at risk include 14.7 million young workers, 11.5 million workers over age 50 and 11.9 million Hispanic and African-American workers. This accounts for more than 20 percent of the full-time employees in the United States. Amazon, which attributes the success of its one-day shipping to AI, is now committing some $700 million to retrain or up-skill its workers for the increasing technical demands of new jobs that will help them stay ahead of displacement by AI.

Automation Implications in India, Africa

But what about a country like India? With a population over 1.3 billion, nearly 750 million young people under the age of thirty, and an overall literacy rate of 71 percent, India is striving to radically increase jobs and reduce its level of poverty. But India may not get this chance if automated technologies supplant available jobs.

Much the same can be said about the future fate of Africa as its population of approximately 1 billion people grows to 2 billion by 2050. If Africa only has access to the educational and economic tools available today, the likelihood that it can match the growth rates of China and other Asian nations is remote.

The challenges presented by AI require a fundamental reworking of key components of how we learn and live. A recent Atlantic Monthly “conversation” between Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Dan Huttenlocher about the future of AI concluded with the following:

The three of us differ in the extent to which we are optimists about AI. But we agree that it is changing human knowledge, perception, and reality — and, in so doing, changing the course of human history. We seek to understand it and its consequences, and encourage others across disciplines to do the same.

Looking Ahead

Fortunately, the Academy under Ellis Rubinstein’s leadership has taken seriously the importance of increasing scientific and technological skills among young people around the world. Propelled by his concerns about their future prosperity and security, Ellis enlisted the business community, NGOs and philanthropists, in an unprecedented series of cooperative programs designed to increase skills. Through the collective action of our partners, benefactors and Members, we can lead a global conversation to better understand, develop and employ the power of AI.