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What the world needs now

This year’s undergraduate commencement speaker believes boosting science literacy is key to solving the world’s problems.

Eric Jolly posing with large colorful plastic ball

Eric Jolly lives and breathes science education. As longtime president of the Science Museum of Minnesota, he observes the power of science to inspire and engage on a daily basis. Jolly is passionate about science literacy for all people and works to promote STEM (Science,Technology, Engineering, and Math) education. He offers his thoughts on how science education — and those with scientific training — can make the world a better place.

You’ve been president of the Science Museum of Minnesota for 10 years. What’s the best part of your job?

There are two great parts to my job: the daily joy of seeing a young person’s face light up at discovery and the conversations sparked by the museum’s exhibits and realizing the impact of the museum’s work nationally. We put together an exhibit on race in America that’s so popular it’s been to the 50 largest cities in the nation. Our exhibits offer people a chance to understand where science and society come together. It’s wonderful to be able to stimulate thoughtful dialogue on a whole range of topics.

STEM education is a particular passion of yours. What can young people in the sciences do to inspire others?

I believe science is an essential literacy. It empowers better civil engagement and fuels economic engagement and opportunity. There’s a saying in China that translates roughly “with knowledge of chemistry, physics and math you can stand anywhere without fear.” What that means is that as a scientist I can tackle any problem and find a solution. I think that’s a powerful thing and a great gift, and it’s why I believe that science education is essential. The more young people with science backgrounds can help others achieve literacy in science, the better off our nation will be.

What advice do you have for CBS students graduating right now who want to make a difference using their science background?

Get involved boldly. We need our best-trained minds working on our biggest problems, whether social or scientific. CBS students can help people solve problems and tackle big issues. It’s not so much about the content of the problems as the capacity to use the scientific process to solve them whether that’s in a lab, a classroom or a boardroom. Science provides a way to approach an issue and find a solution.

You’ve achieved a great deal as a leader. What are you most proud of and why?

In the days right after 9/11, I was privileged to lead a team in developing an award-winning curriculum that helped America and the world cope with that event. We released it less than a week after it happened and reached millions of students. The team worked out anxieties by doing what we knew best, which was to create curriculum. It was rewarding to see there was something we could do other than lay blame in reaction to the terrorist attack. I am proud of so many things — my work as a dean, our exhibits, my family — but working with such a dedicated group was incredibly rewarding.