PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Cynthia J. Orndoff

F21 Class of 2006 Statement

Cynthia Orndoff is Assistant Director of Interdisciplinary Programs and Associate Professor of Engineering at Florida Gulf Coast University.

In the year 2016 I believe undergraduate education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will be even more focused on innovative, creative, and open-minded thinking. Faced with urgent new challenges and opportunities facing our nation we will be forced to experience a complete liberation of our thinking. This has to some extant been occurring over the past decades, yet there is still tremendous room for growth. As has been said, “Change is certain. Growth is optional.” Academicians have indeed risen to the tremendous responsibility to foster and encourage new frontiers in educating the next generation of STEM professionals, assuring growth in the profession. The community forged by PKAL has resulted in significant growth in identifying, creating, developing and sustaining what works in various academic contexts, circumstances, and missions thus serving the larger interests of society. Achievement in teaching, academic research, and service leadership are recognized and celebrated both inside and outside the academic community. Dedication to creative program development as well as commitment to problem and team based learning has allowed graduates to be more prepared for an ever changing world. Capitalizing on student learning environments, enhancing interdisciplinary aspects along with honing in on service component of STEM enables students to begin to realize their potential.

STEM undergraduate enrollment is increasing as public awareness promotes a broad understanding of STEM service to the national interest. PKAL spotlight on successful efforts on campuses across the country in addressing challenges facing higher education leaders has shaped undergraduate education of 2016. Colleges and universities understand they are part of a larger community, facing similar challenges and opportunities in a sprit of cooperation and encouragement. STEM professionals and graduates take seriously their role as leaders. Committed faculty members are increasing their students’ “hands-on” connections to the relationship of science and mathematics to real world experiences in 2016. Educators involve undergraduate students in their activities including research, professional participation and community service. STEM leaders display exemplary fostering of innovative thinking among themselves and undergraduates, birthing new perspectives that serve to strengthen our nation. Encouraging actual field experience whether as an intern or as coop results in new avenues for academia to successfully develop relationships via interaction with many external constituents of science, business, and technology. Networks of stakeholders, strengthened by communities of support and encouragement, take risks which fortify the proactive rather than reactive paradigm. The PKAL initiative involving all critical perspectives at the table (academicians, policy makers, employers, etc.) has resulted in a realignment of resources. Over the past decade groundwork has been laid to examine each aspect at each institutional level. Importantly, there is now “buy-in” across stakeholders in developing/evaluating curricula, faculty, facilities, budgets, etc. all tracked for effective asset management. Realizing the problems created by lack of preparedness in mathematics for many incoming freshman that occurred in the past decades, new programs have been developed to correct these deficiencies before the students graduate from High School. This is done through cooperative efforts between educators K-12 and higher education including businesses as well as policy leaders.

There are many challenges that still exist such as how can the education experience continually be improved so that activities do not hinder STEM professionals and graduates from being flexible in problem resolution. The global economy, broad based technology, societal issues, infrastructure management, environmental issues, and growing population are all constraints or if you wish opportunities for growth in our profession. Involvement in public policy and the civic arena is characterized in 2016 undergraduates and their educators as being active not passive. Ethics are bounded in truth. Strong analytical skills, creativity, ingenuity, professionalism, leadership are all actively developed in undergraduate education. Positive not negative thinking hopefully characterizes young STEM professionals. Students are warned against cultivating thinking “We have always done it that way.” Students are motivated toward their own self management. Personal responsibility is held at a premium. Social, inter personal, and emotional skills are promoted as is goal clarification. The consequences of apathy are exposed. Undergraduates are en route to assume the responsibility to be stewards of anything they have been given. Developing a love for learning together along with the process of learning is a challenge as immediate information and advancing technology feed the desire for immediate gratification. The value of close reading, time management, and visceral learning are conveyed to undergraduate students. Mentoring is a key element to these objectives.

I believe future efforts will look into new ways of regular constructive faculty development and encouragement through the dissemination of information such as through MP3/ I Pod downloads or similar provisions as technology progresses. I also envision new initiatives, beginning at the Doctoral level from institutions that receive federal funding where prospective STEM educators are required to be exposed to the results of national activities such as PKAL so that the investments in undergraduate STEM education bare full fruit, thus continuing to serve our national interest.