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Penn's new Masters of Chemistry Education Program is off to a strong start. The masters program, a joint effort between the Chemistry Department and the Graduate School of Education, is one of the first of its kind to be implemented at the university level in this country. The MCE Program curriculum consists of 10 courses in both the classroom and the laboratory, requiring two full school years plus a summer to complete. MCE participants are primarily high school chemistry teachers who do not necessarily have an undergraduate background in chemistry. The first class of MCE students entered the program this past summer and are currently completing their second session. "In teaching these courses, we're modeling a way of teaching -- a pedagogy that is highly interactive," Chemistry Professor Bryan Roberts said. Both students and faculty praised this inquiry-based learning, which extends lecture into an open dialogue. The idea for the program was first generated four years ago by Chemistry Chairman Hai-Lung Dai in response to what he identified as a pre-college science crisis in this country. Dai pointed out that the U.S. is at the bottom of the chart for its scores in math and science compared to other industrial nations. While recognizing that an immediate solution to the nationwide problem is not feasible, Dai proposed the MCE program as something that could be done in higher education to aid the situation in the long term. The initiative received full support from the GSE and School of Arts and Sciences deans, and the University Trustees offered formal approval two years ago. About six months after receiving approval, the application process began. More than 40 people applied for 20 slots in the first class. The program currently offers full scholarships to all of its participants and receives funding from government agencies, industrial organizations, philanthropic foundations and individual donors. The estimated cost for the program will be $600,000 per year once they have two classes of students rather than just one. Money is certainly a concern for MCE coordinators, but Dai is currently devoting much of his time to finding more donors. Students and faculty have responded very positively to the results of the program thus far. "Studying science really gets you excited about the material and about teaching it," MCE participant Tracy Otieno said. Otieno, a teacher at Furness High School, added that it is an extremely valuable experience to be able to interact with fellow teachers. "I've never worked so hard in my 33 years of teaching, and at the same time, it's been incredibly gratifying," Roberts said. Members of the MCE Program -- coordinators, faculty and participants -- gathered for an inaugural luncheon on November 18. Before the lunch and remarks, MCE participants conducted one of the semester's labs while members of the Penn community and the local media were invited to observe and ask questions. In his remarks, Dai applauded the students on a fabulous beginning and urged them to maintain the same level of commitment to what he described as the "challenging road still ahead." Dai also said that if the program proves to be effective in schools, there has been discussion among deans and administrators about applying it to other disciplines, such as physics and mathematics.

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