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Mayor Bloomberg Honors Dr. Silverstein’s Pioneering Work in Fostering Science Education in New York City Classrooms


New York, NY, October 8, 2003 – Dr. Samuel Silverstein, the John C. Dalton Professor of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics and Professor of Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, will receive the Mayor’s Award for Public Understanding of Science at an October 8 ceremony. Mayor Bloomberg will honor Dr. Silverstein for creating a program to provide hands-on research opportunities and practical science experiences to New York area science teachers. Education research conducted by Dr. Silverstein and his colleagues shows that the program has significantly enhanced the interest and proficiency of students in the classrooms of the participating teachers.

“Dr. Silverstein has contributed immensely to science education in New York City,” says Dr. Gerald Fischbach, executive vice president for health and biomedical sciences and dean of the faculty of medicine at Columbia University.  “The Summer Research Program has given teachers – especially inner-city teachers from underserved areas – the opportunity to conduct hands-on research in an active laboratory.  The experience and knowledge they gain and then share with their students is unparalleled.”  

Dr. Silverstein created the Summer Research Program for Secondary School Science Education in 1990 because he felt that it was difficult, if not impossible for high school science teachers to bring the subject to life in their classrooms without having had the experience of doing discovery science themselves. “Science is a dynamic and constantly changing field.  Columbia’s program provides opportunities for teachers to do science with their own hands. These experiences enhance their ability to communicate the vitality of science to their students,” says Dr. Silverstein. “It is rare to find a basketball coach who has never played basketball. Successful coaches have a feeling for the game. We believe the same principle applies to teaching science,” he added. 

The program involves 20-25 secondary school science teachers who work in Columbia labs four days a week, for two consecutive summers, conducting experiments and research under the mentorship of a member of Columbia’s faculty. In addition to intensive instruction and the opportunity to attend lectures and a professional conference, the teachers receive a stipend and funding for classroom materials and equipment.

More than 750,000 science students have already benefited from teachers who participated in the program. With the assistance of The New York City Department of Education, and of the assistant principals for science in the schools where the program’s participants teach, Dr. Silverstein and his colleagues have collected data showing  that the program has had a marked effect on the students. Students whose teachers have participated in the program have increased interest and proficiency in science, as indicated by greater participation in science competitions and after-school science programs, and a higher success rate on the New York State Regents exams in Science.

In congratulating Dr. Silverstein on his award, Dr. Andrew Marks, Chair of the Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics at Columbia’s College of Physicians & Surgeons said “We are proud of Dr. Silverstein’s pioneering work in encouraging achievement among New York’s students by empowering their teachers with the ability to bring science to life in the classroom. The program has not only done a remarkable job of generating excitement in the classroom,  but it has also helped instill the interest and confidence that the students need to advance their studies in this subject.” Nearly half of the teachers participating in the program are minorities and most of them teach in schools that are predominantly African-American or Hispanic—minority groups that are severely underrepresented in the scientific professions.

Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons has made a major commitment to increase the ranks of underrepresented minorities in the fields of science and medicine. In addition to the Summer Research Program for Secondary Science Teachers, the University brings over 100 students from all over the country each summer for a Minority Medical Education Program created to improve the medical and dental school acceptance rates of minority students. In addition, Dr. Marks created a Summer Research Program, which brings 16 minority science students from Hunter College, all aspiring physicians and research scientists, to the medical school labs for an intensive, 10-week summer laboratory program under the mentorship of faculty members.

The Mayor’s Awards for Excellence in Science and Technology, which are sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences, are given annually in the fields of Biological and Medical Sciences; Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences; Technology; Young Investigator; and Public Understanding of Science and Technology. In recent years, over a dozen Columbia University faculty members have received these awards.

Dr. Silverstein is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; President of Funding First, the medical and health research policy program of the Mary Lasker Trust; and a member of the Boards of Directors of the Cancer Research Fund of the Damon Runyon Foundation and of Research!America.  He was President of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (1994-95); and has served on the Council of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and on advisory committees at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Harvard University, the University of Colorado, and the New York Blood Center. In 1967 he received the John Oliver LaGorce medal of the National Geographic Society for exploration in Antarctica.

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Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons

Established in 1767, Columbia’s College of Physicians & Surgeons was the first institution in the country to grant the M.D. degree. Among the most selective medical schools in the country, the school is also home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York state and one of the largest in the country. New York-Presbyterian Hospital is the primary teaching hospital for the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, providing international leadership in biomedical research and patient care. Columbia’s Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics is one of the nation’s premier scientific groups focusing on cellular physiology, cardiovascular biology, and neurobiology research.