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Links that foster science education

Elizabeth Brauer:
Links that foster science education

Standing amid blue plastic tubs filled with empty glass jars, Elizabeth Brauer pulls a twisted coat hanger from a nearby shelf and balances it on her head. In demonstrating the center of gravity, Brauer’s goofy enthusiasm is infectious. Coat hangers, baby-food jars, rubber bands–she clearly delights in “science from the junk drawer.”
But as coordinator for Science Linkages in the Community, her mission is serious business: to interweave Rochester’s resources to support science, mathematics and technology education.
“You do a lot with your fingers when you talk about this program,” Brauer laughs, entwining her fingers as she describes the goal of Science Linkages.
Science Linkages is an initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Thirty cities applied to participate in the four-year pilot program, funded by a $3.6 million grant from the Dewitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund. Rochester, Chicago and Rapid City, S.D., were the three cities chosen to launch the pilot in September 1993.
Rochester got the nod because of its existing enthusiasm and infrastructure for science education, Brauer says. Science Linkages adds an out-of-school component, working with community-based organizations such as the Urban League of Rochester Inc., Camp Fire Inc., Rochester-Monroe County Council and other groups that serve Rochester’s youth.
“Science Linkages is doing things for community groups so that they then can provide science, math and technology programming for the children of Rochester,” Brauer explains.
“I tell everybody that it’s not exactly the grass roots, but we keep trying to get the lawn mower set lower, you know? So it really belongs to the people of Rochester, and does what they want it to do.”
Brauer, 50, was hired by AAAS to coordinate the effort here, but she answers to a planning council that calls the shots. The council is fluid–participation is open to anyone with an interest in supporting science education. Roughly 70 people are active members, representing more than 100 community organizations in Rochester.
The council throws out raw ideas, says Patricia McGowan, a planning committee member and coordinator for the Urban League’s Comprehensive Employment Opportunity Support Center.
“Betsy makes sense of all that, pulls the ideas into focus and implements them,” she adds. “I believe that without Betsy things would not have happened with Science Linkages as quickly as they have.”
The mission of Science Linkages, as defined by the planning council, is to create a management structure so that all the resources for science, math and technology education in Rochester can operate as one.
“That’s a big, tall order,” Brauer acknowledges, “and yet you keep it out there in front of you, a vision. Is it possible to locate, identify and put in communication with one another all of those resources for science, math and technology so we can really take best advantage of the resources we have here?
“The answer is that I’m very hopeful.”
So is Kenneth Goode, director of the Monroe County Office of Government and Community Affairs, and a member of Science Linkages’ steering committee, which acts as an advisory board for the program.
“Weaving this tapestry is quite a challenge,” Goode says. “Betsy is up to it. I think she’s done a laudable job.”
Science Linkages already boasts tangible results.
Information sharing was a top priority; Brauer maintains a computer data base that now lists some 80 programs and organizations in Rochester supporting science, math and technology. If someone wants to know what summer programs are available for preteens in an outdoor environment, for example, Brauer queries the data base to find programs matching those requirements.
Last year, Science Linkages also funded more than a dozen projects in Rochester, touching nearly 800 students in the area.
At Baden Street Settlement, more than 200 youngsters received computer training with the help of a Science Linkages grant. Science Linkages also funded a hands-on science education program for urban children–the series of seven weekly lessons included sessions on water pollution and paper making.
Another Science Linkages project, called Learn and Serve America, is gearing up now. This program, managed by Helen Hightower, will train 100 teenage volunteers to teach hands-on science to younger children.
These programs target children who traditionally are underrepresented in science–girls, minorities, children with disabilities. Yet Science Linkages does not intend to push these children into science careers, Brauer notes.
“The definition I like best of what science is is the application of human intelligence to figuring out how the world works,” she says. “And to me, that’s what’s exciting about science and what we want to convey–we’re all scientists, and we intersect science every day. It’s not something dusty and dry and intimidating.”
Though she clearly savors the science, Brauer must deal with less-inspiring issues, like the major hitch of transportation. Yet even this topic fires passion, as she describes how she envisions the future.
“I see a science bus in Rochester every afternoon,” she says, “shuttling kids either from after-school programs home, or from school or a neighborhood site to the George Eastman House or the zoo or a fossil dig, so that a simple mechanical thing doesn’t become the hang-up in expanding the potential to expose kids to the excitement of science.”
Brauer says she always has been drawn to the wonders of science. Born in Washington, D.C., Brauer spent most of her childhood in the countryside near Portland, Ore. Her father worked as a civil engineer; her mother, a trained scientist, served on various boards and commissions, including the Oregon State Board of Education.
“People tease me about the apple that falls not too far from the tree,” Brauer laughs, noting that her elder sister also is a scientist.
Brauer attended Pomona College near Los Angeles, earning a bachelor’s degree in zoology in 1966. She attended graduate school in zoology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where she met her husband, Gary Brauer.
With a doctorate in hand by 1971, Brauer took a postdoctoral position in biochemistry, also at the University of Wisconsin. The move to Rochester came in 1975, when Brauer’s husband landed a job at Eastman Kodak Co.
“Rochester had enough colleges that I figured I’d get a job sooner or later, and did,” Brauer says.
In 1976, Brauer joined the faculty at SUNY College at Geneseo as an assistant professor of biology. As the only female faculty member in the science department, she became a mentor to many of her female students.
“It was interesting to begin to examine the decisions I had made relative to questions these young women were asking, such as how does one design a life in which career and family are compatible,” Brauer says.
When her daughter, Julia, was born in 1979, Brauer resigned from SUNY Geneseo. Son Neil was born four years later.
“I retired into motherhood,” Brauer says. “I found the two roles sufficiently incompatible.
“Two things you love so much–it’s tough. Yet I did make the decision, and I’d never make it differently, that this was the one chance I had to watch small children grow, that I could go back to being a professional later on, which is exactly what I’ve done.”
When Neil was three, Brauer began picking up part-time jobs that flexed her experience in science and education. She developed a community-based water-quality program for a local non-profit environmental lab, and wrote an environmental assessment for the Livingston County Board of Health.
In 1992, Brauer took a full-time position with A&C Enercom Inc., a utilities consulting firm. There she worked on an energy and environmental conservation program that Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. was developing for local schools.
Her current position has allowed Brauer to fulfill a lifetime fantasy of working for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Funding for Science Linkages is assured through 1997. To continue beyond that point, the program must gain financial support at the local level.
The transition already has begun. In its first year, Science Linkages was administered through the AAAS office in Washington, D.C. Now, the Rochester Museum and Science Center serves as a host organization, providing an office for Brauer and handling the project’s funds.
Science Linkages receives $125,000 this year, and an additional $54,000 for the Learn and Serve America program.
Though Brauer tempers her enthusiasm with a scientist’s caution, she predicts that Science Linkages in five years will be the premier organization for advocating science, math and technology in Rochester.
Says Brauer: “It’s the most gratifying thing, to realize that simply because our office is here and we’re doing this, that a lot of connections are being made.”


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