High school students in New Haven and neighboring communities are reaping benefits from a federal effort to encourage them to study science and engineering. Because fewer college undergraduates and graduate students are pursuing careers in the sciences than in the past, national organizations are asking researchers to help recruit the next generation of scientists. According to Kathie L. Olsen, Ph.D., deputy director and chief operating officer at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the percentage of students remaining in science and engineering after obtaining a master’s degree dropped from 23 percent in 1995 to 15 percent in 2003.

The NSF believes that if science were brought into the classroom and presented by scientists in a compelling way, more students might choose careers in science. NASA and other major funding sources, including the National Institutes of Health, have followed the foundation’s lead. As a result, since 2002 the NSF has required scientists to include a community outreach plan or a “broader-impact” component in their grant applications.

Yale faculty, staff and students were already running science outreach programs that brought more than 10,000 New Haven young people into free Yale-sponsored programs each year. The NSF broader-impact requirement meant that hundreds more researchers would be getting involved in science outreach.

Claudia R. Merson, the public school partnerships director in Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs, said reaction to the NSF initiative was immediate. “Suddenly, researchers were approaching us saying, ‘I want to do some outreach. What can I do?’ ” Yale responded by convening a science outreach advisory committee that recommended appointing a coordinator for community programs.

Joanna Price, Ph.D., whose degree is in molecular biology and biotechnology, took on the job earlier this year. Her goal is to support and expand the many science education programs being offered. She will help faculty members interested in science outreach identify potential partners within the university as well as in the community; facilitate information and resource-sharing among the university’s science outreach programs; and serve as a liaison to area schools. A new website, http://www.yale.edu/onhsa/science/, lists all of Yale’s science programs available for the public.

So far Price has helped with four grant applications and launched a number of initiatives, including a series of talks at Hill Regional Career High School. She’s also working on a $1 million project to enhance science education in public schools, a program undertaken as part of the university’s purchase of the Bayer facility in neighboring Orange and West Haven.

Price’s position is funded by the provost’s office, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the NIH and has the support of existing Yale science outreach programs and from the Yale University Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Now that Yale has a conduit between researchers and K-12 educators, Merson is confident that up-to-date information on a full range of science-related topics will reach and excite the scientists of tomorrow. “We have always had amazing people here doing world-class research,” she said. “Now we have an organized way to share that with the community."