Rep. Holt stops by, stumps for science

Rep. Rush Holt encouraged science majors to help make the sciences more accessible to the general population. (Kate Stronczer / Photo Assistant)

Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District imparted his experience as a scientist last Friday morning to highlight the need for increased support for the science community.

“We need to reach out to the population at large and say, ‘Science is for you, even if you’re not going to become specialized,’” he told students and staff in the Biology Building room 144.

Holt specifically addressed some of the College’s Program to Enhance Retention of Students in Science Trajectories (PERSIST) in biology and chemistry scholars.

“Thanks for persevering, for persisting, in science,” he said.

The PERSIST program, according to its website, was created to “increase the retention of economically disadvantaged students majoring in biology or chemistry at (the College).” The program offers scholarships up to $10,000 a year for two years to each student at the College, the website states. It provides student support services to less fortunate groups who are seeking careers in STEM areas — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. PERSIST has been active at the College for three years.

As a member of PERSIST, junior chemistry major Melanie Hutnick knows the benefits of the program.

“Coming from a Dominican house with a single parent, I had to go to college out of necessity,” Hutnick said. “Without having a scholarship, it wouldn’t be possible.”

Holt said, “Anyone can think like a scientist.” He explained that teachers beginning at the elementary school level need to be more comfortable teaching the subject. “We’ve got

Rush Holt talks with students about the importance of science education. (Tom O’Dell / Photo Editor)

to do a better job of communicating the idea of science.” The way to do that, he said, is to make science more accessible and less intimidating to everyone.

Before running for Congress in 1998, Holt served the U.S. State Department as an arms control expert, taught several subjects, including physics, and worked as assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, a center for alternative energy research.

“I was honored that Rep. Holt wanted to speak at (the College). His appearance shows that he understands the importance of science and science education,” Hutnick said.

Present at the event were Provost Carol Bresnahan, Donald Lovett, biology department chair — who is also the program director for PERSIST — some of his colleagues and five PERSIST scholars.

“I know how capable you can be,” Holt told the scholars, reminding them of his own background in science.

“I liked the fact that he is for the support of the programs that are promoting science,” sophomore chemistry major Matthew Leon said, “because after graduation these people can help improve the work force in the industries and teaching areas.”

Alyssa Mease can be reached at mease2@tcnj.edu.