Breakout session:
Hope College: Preparing future STEM leaders via undergraduate research...

Breakout session:
Hope College: Preparing future STEM leaders via undergraduate research and interdisciplinary studies

Saturday, September 6, 2003
10:30 - 11:45 am

Mark C. Zrull, Associate Professor of Psychology- Appalachian State University

Christopher C. Barney, Professor of Biology, Department of Biology- Hope College


Hope College is committed to preparing today's students to be the producers, teachers, and users of the scientific, engineering, mathematics and technical knowledge of the future. This commitment is carried out primarily by the Division of Natural Sciences, which has traditionally utilized faculty-student research partnerships to provide in-depth, hands-on experience in science and mathematics to undergraduate students. These partnerships have been supported by NSF-REU grants to five individual departments, and NSF-AIRE grant, and a variety of other grants. As measured by undergraduate authorship of scientific presentations and publications, admission to graduate programs, and careers in STEM fields, this research approach has worked well. Recognizing that future 6 - 12 grade teachers would also benefit from a research experience, we have recently set aside some of our summer research positions specifically for students who plan on careers in secondary education. We have also used our research programs in an attempt to encourage high school students to consider careers in STEM fields by having local high school students work full-time for six weeks in the summer with the faculty and undergraduate researchers. This program was moderately successful but was limited by the number of faculty willing to supervise high school students and only partially met our goal of targeting primarily individuals from groups under-represented in science.

In addition to our research program, we have initiated other approaches to educating our students in STEM fields. Teams of engineering students work with local companies to solve problems in materials and process design. The new general education program at Hope College includes a requirement of ten hours in math and natural science. The General Education Mathematics and Science (GEMS) courses that most non-science majors take to meet this requirement emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of science and mathematics and participation in the discovery process. We have also begun to incorporate an interdisciplinary approach with students pursuing STEM majors. We initiated a biochemistry/molecular biology major and an environmental science minor, developed and offer a course in mathematical biology, and are currently envisioning interdisciplinary tracks in neuroscience and computational biology/chemistry. Our new science complex has been designed to break down departmental barriers and to facilitate faculty and student discovery of the interconnectedness of various STEM fields.

Surprising to us, although Hope has initiated and utilized several successful approaches to preparing undergraduates for the future in STEM fields, we have recently observed a decreased interest within our student population in pursing majors in these fields. Thus, we are very interested in learning from others of programs and approaches that work to encourage undergraduates to pursue STEM careers.