PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Michael Reagan

F21 Class of 2006 Statement

Michael Reagan is Associate Professor of Biology at St. John's University.

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

Undergraduate STEM teaching/learning is a constantly evolving field. A cynic might say that in 2016 not much will be different in STEM teaching/learning. A utopian might say that by 2016 the entire STEM teaching/learning structure will change into a more vigorous mode in which critical thinking skills are honed, real-world problem solving is integrated, and active, hands-on learning is required in all STEM tracks. In reality, STEM teaching/learning in 2016 will probably be something different and better than it is now, but something less than the utopian vision.

It seems to me that perhaps the greatest change in the scientific and economic spheres over the past couple of decades has been the development of the unprecedented connectedness of the world today, what author Tom Friedman coined the "flat world." As worldwide educational capacities, industrial capacities, and science and technology capacities have exploded, we in the U.S. can no longer take for granted overwhelming superiority in STEM fields as we could for so long in the postwar era. In a world where X-rays generated at Massachusetts General Hospital are being transmitted to India and examined by doctors there, where Europe has become an enthusiastic world leader in stem cell research, where science and technology research centers with staggering budgets are sprouting in places unimaginable a few years ago, we need transform STEM teaching/learning to maintain our position in this new flat world. Our economy and our science research superstructure demand that we produce graduates who are capable of entering the industrial and academic worlds with the skills to compete with the worldwide legions of highly educated and skilled STEM graduates in other countries.

Another strong driver of change in STEM teaching/learning will be the drive for accountability and transparency. The STEM community is slowly learning to come to grips with the concepts of assessment and learning outcomes. As higher education costs continue to climb and as federal and state governments, accrediting agencies, and parents and students demand proof that these large sums are being well spent, the STEM community will have to strive to demonstrate that the graduates that we produce have been worth every penny that has been invested in them. It seems to me that we in the STEM community need to work to prove that we indeed are making a measurable difference in the skills of our students. Continued support of higher education may well depend on unambiguous documentation of student abilities.

Finally, demographics tells us that in 2016 the student population will be different than it is now, with greater numbers of traditionally underrepresented students in our schools and colleges. We in the STEM community will have to grapple with how to reach these students effectively so that we can help them to achieve to the best of their abilities. This may require changes in our approach to learning and teaching that we will need first to understand and then to implement.

Paul Harvey said "In times like these, it is helpful to remember that there have always been times like these." While there are significant challenges for the next ten years of STEM teaching/learning, I do believe that we can evolve so as to meet these challenges and continue to be successful in producing graduates who are ready to thrive in the new, interconnected world.