Improved Science Education Key to a More Competitive U.S.

October 6, 2009


Copper Development Association Member Companies Create Innovative Programs to Increase Science Knowledge and Keep Kids in School

NEW YORK, NY— It's a sad fact. American school kids lag in science and math compared to students globally. But Copper Development Association (CDA) member companies are determined to do their part to turn it around.

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc., based in Phoenix, Kennecott Utah Copper, near Salt Lake City, and Southwire Company, of Carrollton, Georgia, each have created innovative programs in their communities to promote science education and careers along with outreach efforts to keep kids in school.

American's science and math scores haven't improved. It's a well-documented problem. Science scores for U.S. fourth-grade children have declined or remained stagnant since 1995, according to the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS). The study compares science achievement for fourth graders in 16 countries that collected data in both years. According to the study:

  • Neither U.S. fourth- nor eighth-graders showed any detectable change in science achievement in 2007 compared to 1995.
  • The average science achievement of U.S. fourth-graders in 2007 was 539 compared to the average score of 542 in 1995
  • There was a lower percentage of U.S. fourth-graders performing at or above the advanced international benchmark in science in 2007 than in 1995 (15% vs. 19%).

It's difficult for schools to recruit and retain science and math teachers. In 2003, the median salary for full-time high school mathematics and science teachers was $43,000, while salaries of professionals with similar educational backgrounds such as computer system analysts, engineers, accountants and other professions, averaged $50,000 to $72,000, according to the National Science Foundation Science and Engineering Indicators 2008. More than half of public middle and high school mathematics and science teachers said they were not satisfied with their salaries.

Ruthanne "Rudi" Thompson, M.S., Ed.D, assistant professor of biology at the University of North Texas in Denton, teaches college students who want to be elementary school science teachers. Science and math instruction is vital as we live in an increasingly complex world, she says.

"Look at our economy today - that's why we need more experts in math and science," she says. "These situations come about when we don't problem solve with the future in mind, and that's something we need to be taught."

Thompson recommends science teachers provide "hands on" instruction, giving students opportunities to problem solve, rather than merely memorize facts. Teachers "have the best intentions in the world," she says. But not all schools provide the money, materials, resources and support to allow science teachers to be successful.

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc., an international mining company based in Phoenix, Ariz., also supports a hands-on approach. In 2008, Freeport-McMoRan invested nearly $30 million in education and training programs globally. In the U.S., they invest nearly $340,000 in college scholarships with partner universities annually. They also focus more than $1.8 million on the improvement of science, technology, engineering and math education at the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels to improve students' ability to compete in the local and global marketplace.

Freeport-McMoRan's Copper: More Than Metal newspaper is full of activities and information about copper and mining. Developed for students of all ages, the newspaper explains the mining process from exploration to reclamation in easy to understand language, allowing individuals to understand the importance of copper and mining in our lives.

"One of our goals in investing in education is to advance critical thinking in students and teachers through in-depth learning processes," says Angie Harmon, the company's manager of social investment. "Ultimately, we are helping to build capacity through the organizations we're funding."

The Arizona Foundation for Resource Education (AFRE) is just one program Freeport-McMoRan supports. AFRE is a non-profit education organization that provides professional development for K-12 teachers using natural resource education as the foundation. For example, this month AFRE is offering The Wonder of Copper workshop for teachers. Participants will engage in hands-on activities related to Arizona's copper history from extraction to processing and into a finished product. Teachers will create an instructional plan to use in their classrooms, correlated to the Wonder of Copper poster.

Forty middle and high school teachers will participate in the September workshop, and will learn how Arizona's mineral wealth has shaped the state's economy. They'll also learn about the world's dependence on mineral resources and be able to take that knowledge back to the classroom to teach in a practical, fun and interesting way, says Karen Schedler, AFRE's education programs manager.

"The world of mineralogy is full of opportunity for kids," says Schedler. "It's exciting to see light bulbs go off in teachers as we capture their attention and interest."

One in three students starting first grade in a Carroll County, Georgia classroom this fall will not graduate. That statistic signals an alarming nationwide trend. Southwire and the Carroll County School System have worked together to create 12 for Life, an innovative program that seeks to place students at risk for dropping out of school in real jobs at a Southwire plant built specifically for them. The students earn wages and credits toward a diploma. Students attend class in a traditional setting for part of the day and then work a four-hour shift at the plant for the remainder. Southwire employees share their time and experience through a mentoring program that provides one-on-one support.

Guest speakers and tours of various Southwire facilities give students a broad grasp of the range of available jobs and a personal glimpse of what those jobs entail. The program recently expanded to include students from neighboring Heard County. Southwire also has opened a plant for students in Florence, Ala.

"The primary focus of the program is to create an environment that will keep these kids in school and facilitate them getting their high school diploma," says Richard Miller, Southwire's senior vice president of electrical manufacturing. "We want students to get their education - a high school diploma opens up a variety of other opportunities for them."

Some of the students have graduated high school and have gone to work at Southwire. Others have gone on to college or technical school. Completing the program gives these at-risk teens confidence and a work ethic. "It helps them be successful," Miller says. "They see they can finish their education."

By 2012, Southwire anticipates 175 students will graduate through the 12 for Life program. View a video of the program.

From Ore to More, a video presentation created by Kennecott Utah Copper, is just one of the many educational programs it supports, along with parent company Rio Tinto. This educational video is only part of the educational opportunities Kennecott Utah Copper provides to students in nearby Salt Lake City. The company offers speakers who go to elementary schools to tell the story of copper and the Bingham Canyon Mine. The speakers, experts in engineering and metallurgy, work for Kennecott.

"We're not only teaching about the mining industry - we're focusing on educating children about the importance of sustainable development and how important it is for us to be environmentally responsible in our community," said Felicity Fouche, a communications consultant for Rio Tinto.

In addition to the speaker's bureau, Kennecott works with five local colleges and universities, University of Utah, Brigham Young University, Utah State University, Westminster College, and Weber State University, to provide scholarships for prospective students.

Kennecott also has implemented a work-study scholarship program to assist technical and maintenance craft students. The program provided 18 scholarships to four technical, vocational, and community colleges in Utah. These disciplines are critical to keep Kennecott's operations running at the highest caliber. Participating schools include: Davis Area Technical College, Utah Valley State University, Salt Lake Community College, Ogden/Weber Applied Technology College, and Salt Lake Tooele Applied Technology College.

In addition, Kennecott's Bingham Canyon Mine Visitor Center has hosted more than 2.6 million visitors since 1992. Not only does the mine provide a unique educational experience for the public, the fees collected from visitors are donated to local charities. Since inception of the Charity Fund, the Kennecott Foundation has donated more than $2 million to local community charities and non-profit organizations.

About Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc.
Freeport-McMoRan is a leading international mining company with headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona. It operates large, long-lived, geographically diverse assets with significant proven and probable reserves of copper, gold and molybdenum. Freeport-McMoRan has a dynamic portfolio of operating, expansion and growth projects in the copper industry and is the world's largest producer of molybdenum. The company's portfolio of assets includes the Grasberg mining complex, the world's largest copper and gold mine in terms of recoverable reserves, significant mining operations in the Americas and the Tenke Fungurume minerals district in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

About Kennecott Utah Copper
As the second largest copper producer in the United Sates, Kennecott Utah Copper provides about 13 percent of the U.S.'s copper needs. Kennecott Bingham Mine is the largest man-made excavation in the world. It is one of the top producing copper mines in the world with the production of more than 18.1 million tons. Rio Tinto purchased Kennecott Utah Copper in 1989 and has invested some $2 billion in modernizing KUC's operations. Kennecott annually produces 300,000 tons of copper and is located near Salt Lake City.

About Southwire Company
Southwire Company is one of North America's largest wire and cable manufacturers. Its products include building wire and cable, metal-clad (MC) cable, cord products, utility cable products, industrial power cable, copper and aluminum rod and continuous casting technology. The company is based in Carrollton, GA.