Education and active involvement are the keys to overcoming a national public health crisis, according to President Clinton's nominee for Surgeon General.
In her keynote address Saturday to an audience of about 70 at the Hynes Convention Center, Dr. Joycelyn Elders said society needs to confront such issues as poverty and drug abuse.
"Our children are in the oceans, surrounded the sharks of drugs and homicide," said Elders. "We're sitting on the beach moralizing about the issue rather than addressing a true public health problem."
Elders, who spoke at the 159th National Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), was awarded an honorary AAAS membership following her address.
She stressed the role of education in improving the health of the nation. "If you don't have a healthy population, you don't have an educated population," she said. "And you can't keep them healthy if they're not educated."
Elders also expressed concerns with teen pregnancy and spoke of the need for preventative health care.
"Children are becoming parents before they're becoming adults," Elders said. "My highest priority is to make every child in America a planned and wanted child."
Prior to Elders' address, a panel of Harvard and Yale students and a crowd of about 70 discussed the possible creation of a student branch of the AAAS to promote the concerns of students involved in science.
"[A student section] is our vehicle for our ideas, our hopes, our worries, and our dreams to express the way we see the sciences today," said Heidi L. Erickson, a Harvard extension school student and coordinator of the student caucus.
Panelists said a student branch in the AAAS could work to heighten interest and recruit future scientists.
"It's vital to reach these students before they eliminate the possibility of a career in science," said Tamarra L. Cadd, a fourth-year graduate student at the Medical School. Cadd is a member of the Boston Area Graduate Students Association steering committee.
Specifically, panelists noted the lack of diversity in the sciences.
Samantha F. Butts '94, corresponding secretary for the Harvard Society of Black Scientists and Engineers, said the number of women and minorities in the sciences is "frighteningly low."
Other panelists said they hoped the student section may help to maintain interest once it is attained.
"We need more incentives and support at the freshman and sophomore levels," said Ray Jayawardhena, former editor-in-chief of the Yale Scientific, Yale's quarterly science journal. "At Yale, almost one half of the people who indicate science and engineering as probably majors switch out of science within the first two years [of college]," Jayawardhena said.