Adult Learning

The STEM Revolution in Higher Education

I just got back from a fascinating conference about the state of STEM in U.S. schools, sponsored by U.S. News and World Report! I was compelled by the idea of a STEM revolution in higher education; as a middle school teacher, it really didn’t occur to me that colleges would be reacting in a similar fashion to the issues surrounding STEM in education. This is the second three-part part series on STEM in U.S. education; you can read part one about the state of STEM in U.S. schools here.
As an AVID teacher and coordinator, I was invited to San Diego to learn more about how to include STEM into AVID’s college and career readiness program. STEM is an acronym representing the intentional inclusion of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in our academic programs; STEAM adds in the arts.
Brian Kelly, Editor and Chief Content Officer, U.S. News & World Report, moderated a keynote panel on the STEM revolution in higher education. Panel members included Ana Mari Cauce, Ph.D., President, University of Washington, Philip J. Hanlon, Ph.D., President, Dartmouth College, Andrew W. Moore, Ph.D., Dean, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, and G.P. “Bud” Peterson, Ph.D., President, Georgia Institute of Technology.
It was amazing to me to hear these distinguished speakers profess their concern about recruiting and retaining students for the STEM fields in higher education, and forced me to rethink the way I would prepare my English 8 and AVID 8/9 students for participation in STEM classes in junior high and high school.
Ana Mari Cauce, Ph.D., the President of The University of Washington, spoke about cradle to college STEM education –  her statement that “before the underrepresented minority groups hit kindergarten they are behind” focused me on the urgency of integrating STEM for all ages. At the University of Washington, getting underrepresented minorities onto campus is a big deal. One of the unique aspects of UW is that the university offers a “red shirt program” – taking five years to graduate rather than four, students are part of a small cohort. I was impressed by the attention to creating a personalized community for students amongst a large institution;  the president’s message to students of “If I know why I’m learning something, I’ll learn anything” echoed my approach in the middle school classroom, as did her mantra, “It’s hard, but you can do it”. Dr. Cauce finds most promising that the teaching kids to be disciplined with themselves, to develop grit and to blur the boundaries of what’s inside/outside the university and between disciplines are a way of humanizing STEM, and “STEMifying” humanities that could easily be replicated in any classroom.
Philip J. Hanlon, Ph.D., the President of Dartmouth College, proudly shared that ½ Dartmouth engineering class was women! Read more about the class here: Dartmouth Makes History by Graduating a Majority-Female … At Dartmouth, students focus on learning experience vs. major, in which every learning experience had diverse student body experiencing it. Every engineering grad has gotten BA in Engineering first. At Dartmouth, all entry level engineering classes are project-based. Dr. Hanlon referenced the Thayer student project – a mobile student player – which created a mobilized tackling dummy that was featured on Steven Colbert! Watch the clip here: Stephen Colbert Learns How To Tackle A Football Dummy – Newsy … He also stated that “The onus is on us to present math better so it has greater effect” and “Some of the greatest ideas of humankind are in calculus and we keep them hidden” made me think about how math instruction has been drastically changing with the onset of the Common Core, and the importance of ‘humanizing’ math to help students understand why they are learning. Dr. Hanlon finds most promising the idea that “you leave with a quality of mind where you create a quality of mind”.
Andrew W. Moore, Ph.D., the Dean, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, proudly shared that the incoming computer science student class is 49% women, a high accolade considering the crisis of recruiting women and underrepresented minorities into the STEM fields. His focus was on how to utilize STEM in problem-solving and believes that “if your goal in life is to save the world, you’ve got to do artificial intelligence right now”. How cool would it be to add AI into our classrooms? He believes that today’s employers are looking for people who look at a tragedy and think about if there is tech that can do something to identify it in advance, to undo some of the problems we see around us in the world. Echoing Dr. Cauce, Dr. Moore believes economic disadvantage plays a large part in recruiting STEM for higher education- right now, rich wealthy education technologists can afford to live in the places where their kids go to a ‘great’ school district and have exposure to programs, but this isn’t replicated in economically disadvantaged areas. Math instruction is key, he believes, as students must be able to do the abstract thinking and have the ability to work on group problem solving – strong correlations to CCSS in my opinion. Dr. Moore finds most promising the ideas that students can study computer science, mathematics, artificial intelligence and be employable.
Finally, G.P. “Bud” Peterson, Ph.D., the President of the Georgia Institute of Technology opened with a discussion of Georgia’s new online master’s program in computer science, which has seen a huge success with 20k students enrolled the first day the MOOC opened! 85% of students are U.S. citizens/permanent residents, 50% are women, and there was a 30% increase in their on-campus program after it started. He feels the program has massive potential, as future employers can’t differentiate between online/residency program. Read more about the program here: Home | OMSCS | Georgia Institute of Technology | Atlanta, GA under 7k total cost. Georgia Institute of Technology is also targeting early childhood education in STEM with summer programs K-12 aimed at middle school women and underrepresented minorities. Dr. Peterson wonders why is it socially acceptable for people to say ‘I’m no good in math’ – how many of us have unconsciously influenced our students or children this way? He feels the most promising aspect of STEM recruitment in higher education is through maker spaces – helping kids learn math and not realizing they’re learning math.
Stay tuned for part three of the STEM revolution in higher education, focusing on innovative programs and classroom practices!
Click to VIEW the 2017 STEM conference SCHEDULE.

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