Back on Track: Colleges and Universities Readjust Their Focus on STEM Education amid a Declining Interest from College-Bound Students

By Stuart, Reginald | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, July 28, 2016 | Go to article overview

Back on Track: Colleges and Universities Readjust Their Focus on STEM Education amid a Declining Interest from College-Bound Students


Stuart, Reginald, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


President Obama may have spent much of his time in office as the nation's chief advocate for getting more students and educators STEM-smart for this Century. He's talked about it, held White House STEM events on it and persuaded Congress to allocate nearly $3 billion in each of the last two federal fiscal years for STEM and STEM education.

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No miracles yet.

With dozens of razzle-dazzle distractions getting young people's attention compared to their more focused generations before, today's educators in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, aka STEM studies, are finding there is no stampede to their classrooms, despite the president's appeals and widespread talk of the importance of STEM studies to the future of the nation.

Diversity outreach

The challenge is spurring new thinking about how to lure today's early college and college-bound students to give STEM more than a passing gaze. STEM is getting a top-to-bottom overhaul with diversity in mind and aimed at students who have lots of choices of what to do with their adult lives.

"In our society, people have been brainwashed that science is difficult and boring," says Dr. Sandra White, a professor and director of the Center for Science, Math and Technology Education at North Carolina Central University (NCCU).

"There is a paucity of teachers who have been put in classrooms to teach science who are not certified to teach science," says White, echoing college-level science education peers who note the lack of interest starts years before college.

Gone are the years of pure lectures, she says. "You have to have! creativeness, interactive content," White notes.

NCCU, which began direct outreach to middle school students about STEM studies in 2008, is among a growing number of institutions taking new approaches to make STEM studies attractive to potential students. How well these efforts are working at NCCU and other institutions is years away from measuring, White and others say, but it's a focused start, with diversity as a key component.

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From NCCU's Students Making Another Science Success Story (SMASSS), to the STEM Knowledge Center at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville to the new STEM summer camp for minority middle school boys at California State University, San Bernardino, the STEM push is picking up steam and is aimed at the most underrepresented Segments of society.

California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) is a 17,000-student, largely commuter college in Southern California that is more than 75 percent first-generation college students. It is among a dozen institutions across the country chosen this summer by Verizon, the giant telecommunication Company, to receive a $400,000 grant.

The grants are aimed specifically toward programs that appeal to middle-school minority males, considered one of the most at-risk groups of being lost to careers in STEM.

Support and funding

The Verizon STEM grants help CSUSB on a variety of fronts, says Ricki McManuis, director of development for the institution's College of Education. As a teacher's college, the grant will enhance the university's ability to get the attention of more male minorities about college and going into teaching. …

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