PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century
Tammy L. Windfelder
F21 Class of 2006 Statement
Question: What will undergraduate STEM be like in 2016, given the urgency of new challenges and opportunities facing our nation?
I find it very difficult to predict what undergraduate STEM will be like ten years from now. On the one hand, given the technological advances in the past ten years, I can envision a very different STEM classroom in the future. Technology-enhanced classrooms have added new dimensions to our teaching that were non-existent when I was an undergraduate just 15 years ago. As technology advances at its fast rate, there will doubtless be new possibilities in the classroom to enhance active and engaged learning. On the other hand, ten years is a fairly short period of time for significant change. For example, I personally would love to see Drew University build a new science building with classrooms that facilitate active learning within the sciences, but that is unlikely to be a reality in 2016. Nevertheless, I can see our faculty working with the available facilities to give students the best undergraduate education possible.
As for curricular content, undergraduate STEM in 2016 must explicitly address ethical issues. Ethics have started to be incorporated in undergraduate courses, but it will be a significant and required part of the curriculum of the future. The need for this important curricular addition is obvious – we need scientists and non-scientist citizens able to think critically and speak intelligently on topics such as stem cell research and cloning, to name just two topics in the news of late. In addition, while there have been only a few cases of scientific dishonesty, I find these cases especially troubling. The publicized cases of scientific dishonesty have potentially done great harm to science as the general public may use these cases to justify distrust of other scientists' work.
Undergraduate STEM in 2016 will also rise to the challenge of educating non-STEM majors. It is absolutely essential that universities create well-informed citizens capable of thinking critically and understanding the scientific issues brought before them whether it be stem cell research or global warming. Along with these current challenges come opportunities. Will the undergraduates of 2016 be the ones to halt or at least slow global warming? Will they develop and incorporate the science and technology that will change current patterns of greenhouse gas emissions? Will they develop alternative sources of energy to lessen our dependence on foreign oil? The need to develop clean, affordable, and reliable energy was one of two key challenges identified by the National Academy of Sciences in the report Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. STEM must rise to this challenge. Ideally, we will have found solutions to global warming and our energy problems within the next ten years, and the graduates of 2016 will be ready to tackle new challenges.
Finally, not only will STEM have to educate the non-STEM majors on basic scientific principles, but it also should encourage those in other disciplines to create an environment that fosters scientific discovery. I worry about the future of the sciences given the current funding situation – we need to get back to a situation in which the sciences are valued and honored rather than demonized. Excellent undergraduate STEM education can foster that necessary respect and understanding.