Keynote presentation: Establishing the larger context

Motivating Students to Pursue Careers in STEM Fields
The 2003 PKAL Assemblies
What Works - What Matters - What Lasts: The Roles and Responsibilities of Leaders in Undergraduate STEM

Oberlin College
September 5 - 7, 2003

Keynote Presentation: Establishing the larger context- Reporting on the NSB Task Force on National Workforce Policies for Science and Engineering
Friday, September 5, 2003
3:00 - 4:15 pm

Norman Fortenberry, Director, Center for the Advancement of Scholarship on Engineering Education, National Academy of Engineering

George Langford, Chair, Education & Human Resources Committee, National Science Board
Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College

Elizabeth F. McCormack, Asociate Professor & Chair, Department of Physics, Bryn Mawr College
James E. Swartz, Vice President for Academic Affairs & Dean of the College, Grinnell College


The task force preparing the NSB report reviewed workforce trends over the last twenty years, the present and the future needs in regard to the S&T workforce; and the impact of federal policies– present and proposed. Langford emphasized that the taskforce took the long-term view, based on historical data as well as on the marked shift to a global S&E workforce. He emphasized one societal change that will require new approaches by academic institutions and all other stakeholders– that by 2025, 47% of traditional college age students (18-22 years of age) will be from groups currently under-represented in the study and practice of STEM fields.

The task force gave particular attention to the impact of introductory courses on the motivation, retention or attrition of majors. Langford also outlined specific steps for the federal government to take to encourage increased numbers of STEM majors:

  • provide financial aid in the form of scholarships

  • provide incentives to institutions to expand capacity in areas of current and anticipated national need

  • support bridge programs for students between two- and four-year colleges

  • expand funding for graduate students from under-represented groups

  • fund graduate students at a livable level.

Langford posed three questions to the assembly:

  • what incentives at the federal level would encourage colleges and universities to expand their capacity to prepare students for careers in science and technology fields in areas of national need?

  • what incentives at the federal level would encourage better linkages between the community colleges and four-year institutions to facilitate the transfer and credentialing of the significant number of ethnic minorities who begin their undergraduate career in a two-year institution?

  • how do we connect the need to expand capacity and the need to give attention to human resources in community colleges to serving under-represented groups more broadly and in a more coherent manner?



Establishing the larger context- Reporting on the NSB Task Force on National Workforce Policies for Science and Engineering



Throughout the assembly, the challenges presented by Dr. Langford elicited many responses. His remarks also set the stage for the plenaries and breakout sessions that followed. Following the assembly, the broader PKAL community was invited to respond to Dr. Langford's remarks, in particular to his query about the role of introductory courses in moving students into or out of STEM programs.

  • Elizabeth McCormack F21, Chair, Department of Physics– Bryn Mawr College suggested that understanding the full impact of undergraduate research would suggest strengthening and expanding federal programs that supported faculty and students involved in such efforts. She also suggested that the community knows much about what makes successful partnerships (bridges), and that new and evolving federal programs should be cognizant of those efforts. McCormack cautioned about the approach of increasing capacity in a time of severe financial restraints, describing how Bryn Mawr– using existing faculty and facilities– has in place a program that brings in six post-docs who spend 2/3 time research and 1/3 teaching, with significant mentoring by host faculty.

    Other participants echoed Liz's response, proposing that NSF:

    • consider providing faculty summer salary for work with REU students

    • consider a broader set of programs to support colleges and universities having demonstrable success in motivating students to major in STEM fields, particularly women and minorities.

  • Carolyn Herman F21, Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Washington University suggests that to increase capacity at colleges and universities, NSF should fund programs for large-scale introductory course reform in chemistry, physics and mathematics because of the inherent difficulties in tackling real reform in large lecture format classes and institutions' tendency to put other resource-intensive priorities ahead of introductory courses. Dr. Herman also suggested that the curriculum at the community college level prepare students to be successful at the state's flagship school. Finally, in response to improving persistence of under-represented groups, she proposed establishing a pool of money available for pilot proposals with those programs showing demonstrable success being eligible to compete for substantially more funding.

  • Cornelius Bennhold and Gerald Feldman of the Department of Physics at The George Washington University outline their approach to turning an introductory physics course into a pump rather than a filter. By using interactive teaching methods and employing technology to participate, the professors are able to measure the learning and understanding of the students. Students are encouraged to work together in class as well as in the Physics Help Room where a professor or teaching assistant maintains hours.

  • Further responses from assembly participants:

    • the federal government needs to maintain programs over the long-term; the "stop-and-go" approach to program design and development is very disruptive at the campus level

    • someone should orchestrate a national conversation between two-year institutions and four-year colleges to explore how to streamline articulation (courses/requirements/etc.)

    • there needs to be a broader and more intense discussion about workforce issues– what kind of skills does the 21st century workplace require? What are the specific demands for the 21st century workforce?



The Science and Engineering Workforce Realizing America's Potential. National Science Board. Arlington, VA. 2003.