Academic journal article Science Educator

Addressing the Call to Increase High School Students' STEM Awareness through a Collaborative Event Hosted by Science and Education Faculty: A How-To Approach

Academic journal article Science Educator

Addressing the Call to Increase High School Students' STEM Awareness through a Collaborative Event Hosted by Science and Education Faculty: A How-To Approach

Article excerpt


The growth in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (STEM) related jobs has nearly doubled that of all other fields over the past decade (U.S. Department of Labor, 2007). The economic competitiveness of the United States is dependent on an adequate supply of high-quality workers in the STEM fields. However, many students who are academically qualified for postsecondary studies in STEM fields don't pursue those programs (U.S. Department of Labor, 2007). Concerns addressed in the seminal National Academy of Sciences study, Rising Above the Gathering Storm (2007a), still resonate today in that, absent a serious and rapid response, the U.S. will lose quality jobs to other nations due to an underprepared workforce.

Teachers are arguably the single most important factor in student achievement. But according to a 2010 survey by the American Society of Quality (ASQ) and Harris Interactive, while teachers have adequate science content knowledge, some do not provide students with adequate information about how science is useful to future careers (as cited in Causer, 2010). If teachers are not informing students about careers, then students may have little knowledge of the vast number of STEM career options available. In 2009, President Obama outlined a broad agenda to reinvigorate our country's STEM enterprise in an effort to increase the competitiveness of the United States in these important fields by urging STEM research faculty to play a vital role in this endeavor:

I want to persuade you to spend time in the classroom, talking and showing young people what it is that your work can mean, and what it means to you... to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering... [to] encourage young people to be makers of things, not just consumers of things. (National Science Foundation, 2009)

Responding to President Obama's call to action, business and education advocates formed the STEM Education Coalition in an ongoing campaign of events to: (1) improve educational outcomes, (2) inspire students to pursue STEM careers, (3) improve hands-on laboratory environments, and (4) raise student, parent, and public awareness of the importance of science and technology to our nation's future. A National Lab Network began enabling STEM professionals, in partnership with teachers and schools, to contribute knowledge and skills to improve secondary school laboratory facilities and foster educational activities that support learning in a hands-on environment.

The original concept behind National Lab Day (NLD) was to pick one day a year to facilitate and promote hands-on learning across our nation's classrooms. Later, the name changed to National Lab Network to reflect the spirit of on-going community and connectivity. This article describes a multifaceted, collaborative program developed to address the initial call to action of introducing high school students and their teachers to a variety of STEM majors and careers. Our event has sustained success for five years with year six in its initial stage of planning. We offer this descriptive article as a guide to help other faculty and administrators interested in holding effective National Lab Day events at their institutions. What follows is a depiction of the event, suggestions and rationale for each component, and evidence we have gathered to evaluate our success.

Our Version of National Lab Day


Our version of NLD consisted of three major components - concurrent interactive sessions in scientists' laboratories, lunch with the scientists, and a Major's Showcase - all sandwiched between brief opening and closing sessions. During the opening session students meet the guides who will escort them for the day, have pictures taken with campus mascots, and listen to a short presentation by a scientist comparing the STEM of the scientist's youth to the STEM of today. The students are also given a preview of what they can expect throughout the day. …

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