PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Cynthia A. Martin

F21 Class of 2005 Statement

Cynthia Martin is Assistant Professor of Mathematics at McMurry University.

What should the STEM learning experience be in the first two years so that students are motivated to persist in the study of STEM fields, become STEM majors, and pursue careers in STEM fields?

Why does someone pursue a particular career? Why does someone pursue a particular major? Why does a student take a particular course? All of these questions have many specific answers, but in general two basic answers: Necessity and Passion. There are many varieties on these answers and the following are some of the ways. Necessity in terms of the career takes on the form, this career pays good money, there are a lot of opportunities, and a lot of other reasons. Passion for a career covers those who love what they are doing, and cannot imagine doing anything else, it covers choosing the career based on a driving cause. Necessity in terms of a major takes on the issue of a student knowing what they want to do and choosing a major to take them there? Passion for the major is choosing the major because they are excited about the possibilities and the subject area interests them. In terms of courses necessity is taking the course because it is required. Passion is taking the course because of interest, you want to take a particular professor, or you have heard great things about the course.

The first two years of the STEM learning experience needs to focus on the passion side. It all starts in the first course. This course should be designed to engage students. There should be some type of hands on discovery and learning. The course should be very interactive. In a perfect situation there should be relationships built. Students should start developing a working relationship with at least one professor. The general student should have some type of connection to the course. Even in the first course the general student should start doing science. So often only the majors are able to conduct real research and get any non-manufactured research experience. One of the major ideas is showing the student who has low self-confidence in their ability to succeed a STEM field, that they can succeed, and that the material is not boring.

Continuing beyond the first course/year each year should build on the first year experience. By the second year at the latest, students should be introduced to literature. They should be taught how to read the literature. They should be seeing more specific and in-depth research. They should start participating in group-projects. Somewhere in the first two years need to visit with someone who has a non-academic career within the specific field. The idea is to let students start seeing the possibilities. Once they see the possibilities they will go further, and want to develop the skills needed to get there.

The first two years should be a positive experience. The experience comes from doing, not just passive learning. Every student in a STEM field course should be actively engaged. This leads to passion.