Teachers of Nation's Top Math, Science Students to Pool Ideas at WPI as Inventor Dean Kamen Receives First WPI Presidential Medal

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass.-Teachers of the nation's rising generation of most promising mathematicians and scientists will gather at WPI March 29-31 to pool their freshest ideas for using technology and making teaching even more productive.

Some 300 teachers, who are members of the National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science & Technology (NCSSSMST), will also hear remarks by inventor and WPI alumnus Dean Kamen, who will receive the inaugural WPI Presidential Medal. The medal recognizes individuals and organizations whose technology-related achievements began with a social purpose of global scale.

"Morphing Education by Infusing Technology," the 14th annual NCSSSMST conference's theme, covers 52 sessions ranging from data visualization to distance learning to minority recruitment and retention to classroom drama to humor and learning to technology and ethics.

NCSSSMST President Joan Barber, pointing to America's unending need for waves of energetic scientists, mathematicians and engineers, recalled that the "grandparents of today's high school students, when they were teens, gazed skyward wondering at the impact on their lives of the beeping Soviet Sputnik, earth's first manmade satellite. How could they know then what we know now--that a rigorous education in the sciences and mathematics requires a permanent place at the top of the national agenda for a better life. Anything less invites trouble at a dear price."

WPI is the site of the NCSSSMST-member Massachusetts Academy of Mathematics and Science, which is co-host of the conference (the first of its kind in New England) with WPI. A $50,000 grant from the EMC2 Corporation, headquartered in Hopkinton, Mass., supports the gathering.

The Massachusetts Academy, a product of the collaborative of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, WPI and the high schools of Massachusetts, is a public high school for students in grades 11 and 12 with exceptional aptitude for math and science.

Key Speakers, Presidential Medal

Joining Kamen, a member of WPI's Class of 1973, as conference lead speakers are Aliza Sherman, who founded Cybergrrl, Inc., which seeks to empower women and girls through technology, and Sheila Tobias, an educator and writer who focuses on issues of science manpower education and placement, and feminist concerns in technology.

WPI President Edward Alton Parrish, in announcing the selection of Kamen as the first WPI Presidential Medal recipient, noted the relationship of the medal's purpose and Kamen's accomplishments.

"Since WPI's beginnings in 1865, we have offered a balance of theoretical studies and practical application, which prepares students to press the frontiers of science and technology in ways that serve the larger public good. Inventions, which are often messy in development, but elegant in their application, tell us about our hopes and give practical form to the opportunities we seek as a society.

"Ever since humans harnessed fire, made stones and sticks into tools, and invented the wheel, the ideas, insights and surprises associated with technological advances have made life an endlessly fascinating journey. Couple a passion for social progress with extraordinary technical prowess and an entrepreneur's talent for product design, production and distribution, and it is easy to understand the upward spiral of Dean Kamen's career of contributions."

Like Rock Stars

Driven to show youngsters that mathematics and science can be fun and exciting, Kamen in 1991 founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a non-profit group dedicated to changing the way Americans view science and technology. FIRST holds an annual contest in which high school students, working in teams with engineers from sponsoring corporations and universities, design and build robots that compete against one another in events modeled after sporting contests. (In the current competition, the robot built by the WPI/Massachusetts Academy team recently placed first in a regional competition on Long Island and will compete in the national finals at EPCOT Center in April.)

While still a WPI student, the restless Kamen, who believes that youngsters should admire scientists and mathematicians alongside rock musicians and professional athletes, invented the world's first portable drug infusion pump. Today he oversees DEKA Research & Development Corporation, based in Manchester, New Hampshire, which specializes in advanced medical technologies, including the IBOT, nicknamed Fred, a revolutionary stair-climbing wheelchair. Kamen has received the National Medal of Technology and an honorary doctorate in engineering from WPI, among numerous recognitions.

Parrish will confer the first WPI Presidential Medal immediately following Kamen's keynote address at 7:45 p.m. on Friday, March 30, in the Odeum in WPI's brand new campus center.

Aliza Sherman will deliver conference keynote remarks at 9 a.m. on Friday at the Crowne Plaza in downtown Worcester. Named by Newsweek Magazine as one of the top 50 people who matter most on the Internet, Sherman looks closely at the convergence of the Internet and feminist interests with the aim of empowering women and girls through technology. (The Massachusetts Academy of Mathematics and Science and WPI conduct Camp REACH, a two-week residential campus program designed to generate lasting interest and excitement about engineering and technology among middle-school girls, and to enable them to develop self-esteem and self-confidence in mathematics and science.)

Failure of Nerve

Sheila Tobias, the conference's keynote speaker at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Odeum, teaches and writes about mathematics and science. She has published widely and has held several college and university faculty appointments. Her research finds, among other conclusions, that students regard college level mathematics as difficult through a failure of nerve rather than intellect. Tobias will speak to the need to set a national agenda for math and science education

The NCSSSMST, established in 1988 as a non-profit organization, comprises a network of 68 secondary schools, enrolling more than 35,000 students, with 85 college and university affiliations in 24 states.

Pauline Lamarche, principal of the Massachusetts Academy of Mathematics and Science, in describing the students who have enrolled in her school since its formation in 1992, perhaps sums up all of the NCSSSMST member school student bodies: "Our academically talented students have a deep curiosity and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. But, they are still regular teenagers."