PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Melodie Graber

F21 Class of 2006 Statement

Melodie Graber is Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Oakton Community College.

Question: What will undergraduate STEM be like in 2016, given the urgency of new challenges and opportunities facing our nation?

I do not know what undergraduate STEM will be like in 2016, but I have some ideas about possible improvements and maybe some will be realized.

The United States is lagging in its production of STEM educators and researchers. More money and researchers are needed for applied research in areas such as alternative fuel sources and global warming. As an incentive to students to study these disciplines, a government stipend or tuition reimbursement could be given to STEM educators when they complete their education. Initially, we need a stronger STEM emphasis in the K-12 system. When children are young, they naturally investigate their world with guided inquiry-based learning. As they grow older and enter the school system, this inquisitiveness can be discouraged and the students directed toward different styles of learning. We need to encourage K-12 teachers to maintain this level of inquiry-based learning by proving additional resources and training. In addition, the teachers in K-8 who teach most of the subjects in one grade level should be more versed in STEM topics. Due to gaps in the teachers’ own education and interest, these subjects may not be covered with the thoroughness required for students to succeed in more advanced courses.

As we build a stronger K-12 system, current college undergraduate courses can become more rigorous since time in the classroom can be spent on the topic at hand, not remedial learning. Professors at the undergraduate level should connect with local high school instructors and students to help provide an easier transition from high school to college. Undergraduate research which engages students should be promoted as well as individual student /professor mentoring programs.

In addition, web based learning will be greatly utilized for STEM courses and any courses in general. We will struggle with finding ideas of how to complete our students’ laboratory education with such wide spread use of the Internet.

Finally we must enhance general STEM education for non-STEM major students. These students represent the general public, which does not have a sufficient grasp of the value of STEM education and resources. This public is the voting base that controls governmental assets and personnel. When most individuals realize the importance of STEM disciplines and the impact on their personal lives such as gas prices, home heating costs, etc., perhaps we as a nation will become unified in promoting STEM.