Montana first lady Nancy Schweitzer credits good teachers with helping develop her youthful interest in science.
In third grade, her teacher was a birder and shared that hobby with her students. By seventh grade, her life science teacher let her stay after school to help clean animal cages.
Schweitzer holds a science degree from Montana State University. Her chief interest, she says, is botany, particularly medicinal plants and native species.
Schweitzer was the guest speaker Wednesday afternoon for the biology club at Helena High School. The club meets regularly to hear speakers from around the community talk about their careers and maintain its native plant garden.
Schweitzer spoke about her Math & Science Initiative, which she launched to encourage students to take more math and science classes.
“When Brian got elected we noticed the lack of students going into math and science,” she told the club members. “To keep inventiveness going, we need kids to study math and science.”
One of the initiatives is flash cards with facts such as “As of 2010, seven of Montana’s 10 largest power plants use hydroelectric power made from flowing water.” Last year, a food and agriculture edition of the flashcards was released. One reads: “Montana farmers harvest over 12 tons of pinto beans per acre each year. You can recognize a pinto bean by its mottled skin, which resembles the pinto horse.”
Since 2006, she worked with the Montana Department of Transportation to install nearly 50 roadside geology markers that describe geologic and paleontological wonders. She says Montana’s highways are the hallways to an outdoor classroom.
Schweitzer said her focus now is on school and community gardens.
“I think science is really interesting,” she said. “You kind of get to be a kid your whole life — getting dirty and doing experiments.”
One student asked how the first lady feels about medicinal plants. Schweitzer said they’ve been used for thousands of years and if it’s for a religious ceremony, such use should be allowed. She says she prefers basic and natural approaches to medicine whenever possible.
“It’s good for the environment and our bodies,” she said.
HHS junior Austin Burns asked how she feels about using genetically modified plants to meet the food needs of the ever-increasing global population.
“Most plants are modified in nature,” she said.
Schweitzer did say however that she doesn’t like non-natural approaches like putting a fish gene into corn for example.
The Governor and First Lady’s Math and Science Initiative encourages Montana youths to discover the opportunities to learn about science and math before they graduate. It also encourages them to explore career opportunities in math and science in the Treasure State.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081, email@example.com or Twitter.com/IR_AlanaListoe