By Julie M. Hughes
A working group of faculty, staff and researchers at New Mexico State University is striving to develop a statewide center dedicated to expanding and coordinating Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs in New Mexico.
The future economic well-being of New Mexico and the nation depends on students who have internationally competitive skills in math and science, said Karin Wiburg, College of Education associate dean and director of the Education Research and Budgeting Office.
Wiburg, who co-chairs the NMSU STEM Education Working Group, and researchers in the education research office conducted a gap analysis study and found a gap between what New Mexico policy and structure provide and the number of students with the skills necessary to enter the STEM workforce. While 94 percent of those who graduate from New Mexico colleges and universities in STEM fields do stay in the state, there are not enough graduates to fill the STEM-related workforce opportunities that are becoming available.
“We need to think of a range of ways to get students interested in STEM fields. We also need to work toward equity for all students,” Wiburg said.
Wiburg identified the 49 percent high school drop-out rate, a lack of PreK-12 qualified STEM teachers, the lack of available STEM curriculum and little alignment between PreK-12 and post-secondary athways to STEM careers as some of the factors preventing the state from meeting this need.
Susan Brown, a member of the working group and program coordinator for several successful STEM programs at NMSU, has focused her energies on helping PreK-12 teachers and students gain access to the knowledge base and tools they need to effectively engage STEM curriculum in the classroom.
One of the many programs Brown has coordinated is the Southern New Mexico Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SNM SEMAA), a collaboration of NASA, the NMSU colleges of Education and Engineering, public schools and volunteers designed to encourage underrepresented youth groups into STEM fields. In the last five years, SNM SEMAA has served more than 10,000 students and collaborated with more than 900 teachers.
“Quality teaching translates to quality learning. We need to grow our own, and we can be more effective if we work collectively to identify the challenges at all stages of the pipeline,” Brown said. “These programs are working, and by combining our efforts we can create more opportunities for our students.”
Ricardo Jacquez, a civil engineering professor who also serves on the STEM Working Group, agrees. “Recognizing that STEM disciplines need to be more competitive, we have to ask how we can work together to impact education at all levels,” he said.
Jacquez, who serves as director of the New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation (AMP), which is a statewide collaborative that includes programs designed to increase the number of minority students earning degrees in STEM fields, said AMP is an example of how working together at a statewide level can make an impact.
Between 1993 and 2003, the collaborative, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, doubled the number of undergraduate degrees awarded to minorities by New Mexico colleges and universities.
“The STEM Success Center has the same vision. Many programs and projects would continue as they have and receive their individual funding, but if we want to impact the infrastructure of the state we have to work together, which is a philosophy that the National Science Foundation has been encouraging for years,” Jacquez said. “It is natural for NMSU to make a proposal of this nature to serve the state because we have a long history of doing things this way.”
“We are hoping to build on NMSU’s proven record of establishing successful educational intervention programs,” Wiburg said. The STEM Education Working Group has identified 58 successful STEM programs at NMSU.
Working in coordination with the Governor’s office, the Public Education Department’s Math and Science Bureau and the Higher Education Department, the NMSU STEM Working Group will seek funding from the New Mexico Legislature in January 2008 to start building the infrastructure for the New Mexico STEM Success Center. The group also will be submitting a proposal to the National Governor’s Association.
The working group has identified three goals for the center: provide a networking organization and clearinghouse that provides current information about all STEM education efforts and gathers evidencebased outcomes related to the success of the programs, including best practices; enlarge the STEM education pipeline by collaborating and combining resources; and increase the state’s capacity to improve teaching and learning of STEM subjects.
Each goal of the proposed center includes many objectives and activities. Working to provide a networking organization and evidence-based outcomes would include expanding NMSU’s existing database to include all STEM education programs in the state. The center also could develop resources, such as a collaborative Web site, hold STEM Town Hall Meetings and initiate public information campaigns.
The second goal of enlarging the STEM education pipeline would include an effort to align expectations for high school graduation with requirements in higher education for STEM education and to hold a professional development summit each year for educational providers, which NMSU has done for the last two years.
The third goal of increasing the state’s capacity to improve teaching and learning of STEM subjects would include redesigning pre-service teacher education and strengthening teachers’ ability to engage students in STEM subjects.
“Funding would provide stability and give us the technical support, communication, collaboration and faculty support needed to expand our efforts to be cohesive and collaborative statewide. We have the leadership capacity at NMSU to make this happen,” Wiburg said. “By working together we can build a workforce for New Mexico’s future.”