Edwin L. Aguirre
Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, the newly appointed chairman of the Governor's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Advisory Council, kicked off a series of “STEM Roundtables” with an initial gathering on the UMass Lowell campus on Oct. 6.
The new council, created by Gov. Deval Patrick this past summer, will serve as the central body for coordinating STEM education policies and resources as the state strives to boost student interest and achievement in those fields. Murray wanted feedback from the public on how the state can grow and sustain a STEM-savvy workforce.
“Massachusetts is all about innovation,” Murray told his audience composed of UMass Lowell administrators and faculty, school teachers, industry representatives and consultants. “We want to make sure the state remains on the cutting edge of innovation. The governor wants to have subcommittees established soon. Right now, we want to hear where people see opportunities.”
Dean John Ting of the Francis College of Engineering highlighted UMass Lowell’s efforts in promoting STEM to middle- and high-school students through the University’s innovative DesignCamp, DesignLab and Assistive Technology Design Fair programs. He also noted that UMass Lowell’s engineering freshman enrollment numbers had grown by 86 percent from 2000 to 2008, while the national average had remained essentially flat during that same period.
Ting said the key to recruiting students to STEM courses is to start young, in elementary school, and to broaden STEM’s appeal, especially to girls, through assistive technology programs and service-learning activities. “Engineers can make a world of difference,” he said.
One of the biggest STEM challenges, said Ting, is retention. There is the need to focus on what is taught after MCAS in math and physical sciences, he said, and to have more teachers specializing in those areas in K12.
“We need rigorous, appropriate curriculums,” he said. “Many textbooks are not challenging or rigorous enough for students going into STEM fields.”
Terri Munson, the “Stand & Deliver” mentoring program coordinator at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, said that industry must be involved in STEM efforts.
“Our company is mentoring students on a one-on-one basis as part of Raytheon’s corporate academic mentoring partnership,” she said. “It’s a huge opportunity and we must get the word out to as many students as possible.”
Computer Science Assoc. Prof. Holly Yanco pointed out that iRobot Corp., in partnership with the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council and UMass Lowell, recently hosted the STREAM 2009 workshop for robotics education at its headquarters in Bedford. More than 45 teachers from middle and high schools as well as community and state colleges across the Commonwealth participated in four intensive hands-on sessions covering the STEM fields.
Pat Yates, UMass Lowell’s director of career services, said two things that her office found very successful were the STEM scholarships and the Commonwealth Covenant.
“We were pleased that the state could support these,” she said. “I’d like to see a long-term commitment.”
Murray; who is joined on the Coordinating Council by three state Cabinet secretaries as well as legislators, business leaders and educators; plans to hold several more roundtable discussions around the state, targeting different technology sectors at each gathering.
In the meantime, the University of Massachusetts will be holding the sixth STEM Summit on Oct. 20 in Sturbridge. The goal of the summit is to mobilize the Commonwealth’s STEM community in supporting the goals of the Massachusetts STEM Initiative. For more information, visit www.massachusetts.edu/stem.