The link is pro golfer Phil Mickelson and his wife, Amy, who addressed the issue of math and science education at a forum on Monday at Liberty Science Center in Jersey City.
The forum's panel, moderated by ExxonMobil executive Ken Cohen, also included math and science education experts from across the country.
The experts addressed why U.S. students are falling behind a number of countries when it comes to math and science aptitude.
"Well, I think the interesting thing about math and science is that we deal with it every day, whether we know it or not," said Mickelson, pointing out that he uses math and science constantly in his golf game, and also when he and his wife are with their three children.
The Mickelsons, in partnership with oil company ExxonMobil, founded the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy in 2005.
Each summer, about 600 third through fifth grade teachers from school districts across the country attend a five-day program at camps in New Jersey, Texas, and Louisiana, designed to provide them with the tools to move students toward careers in science and math.
One of the camps was held Monday through Friday last week at the Liberty Science Center. About 200 teachers took part in training and went to the forum.
Attendees included nine teachers from the Bayonne school district: Kristen Calabrese, Nancy Jaros, Gerald Murphy, and Kathleen Ryan of Philip Vroom School; Annmarie Padula of Woodrow Wilson School; Mary Doolan and Marissa Pacilio of Mary J. Donahue School; Stacy Casais of P.S. 14; and Jillian Guerra of Lincoln School.America not on par
How badly are American students lagging behind their counterparts in other countries?
The Trends in International Math and Science Study, conducted in the U.S. by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2003, showed that U.S. students in the fourth grade ranked 12th in math and sixth in science out of 25 nations participating in the study.
Also, in December, scores came in from the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment, an international exam testing math and science knowledge among 10th grade students.
It showed that the average science score of U.S. students lagged behind 16 of the world's 30 richest countries. The U.S. students were even further behind in math, trailing their counterparts in 23 countries.
Statistics projected on a screen behind the panelists at Monday's forum revealed the vital importance of producing better math and science students in the U.S.
The statistics noted that 50 percent of all engineering degrees from U.S. engineering schools go to foreign nationals, and 50 percent of the current math and science educators are approaching retirement. Addressing the gap
The panelists at Monday's forum pointed to different reasons for the lag, and ways to get more young people and teachers engaged in math and science.
Amy Mickelson pointed out how she and her husband are constantly spending time talking to their children about space and other science subjects.
"It's amazing how when an adult, a leader, or a role model for a child has passion, the child is able to pick up on that passion," Amy Mickelson said.
James Rubello, executive director for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, said there was a "disconnect" from the public of how math and science applies to the world they live in, rather than just subjects in academia.
Dr. Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, said teachers of math and science lack the resources and education necessary to be well-versed in the subjects they're teaching.
Spelman College President Dr. Beverly Tatum said that there is a "lack of expectations" for American students, especially those of color. She offered the story of the Spelman College robotics team who competed in an international robotics tournament in Japan in 2005. She said they were the only African-American female team to qualify - nine months after the team was formed by a faculty member who she said had "high expectations" for his students.
"If we are going to continue to be competitive as society," Tatum said, "we have to shift our perspective on who is a scientist." Comments on this story can be sent to email@example.com.