A STEM for the fruit of tomorrow
UND hosts regional gathering for statewide effort to better prepare students in science, technology, engineering and math
By Juan Miguel Pedraza, University & Public Affairs writer
The Northeast North Dakota STEM Network recently kicked off its first meeting, hosted by the University of North Dakota at the Gorecki Alumni Center.
The STEM Network is a statewide initiative organized last year to produce better prepared students for the workplace.
"It was an amazing success," said Tim Young, a UND expert in supernovae and radiation hydrodynamics and associate professor of physics and astrophysics. Young's department is part of the UND College of Arts and Sciences. "Since it was the first meeting, I didn't know what to expect but I was so surprised at the willingness, cooperation and synergy of the group."
The STEM Network originated at the Great Plains STEM Education Center and now is led by Executive Director David Demuth at Valley City State University. The network aims to transform education and answer a growing industry need for workforce in emerging science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, according to the North Dakota Department of Commerce website.
Demuth and Young helped to organize this meeting. Mark Guy, a science educator and associate professor in the UND Department of Teaching and Learning, part of the College of Education and Human Development, was also one of the meeting organizers. Young and Guy are well known in the region for team-taught educational presentations about the Sun-Earth-Moon system and other science education efforts.
"The ND STEM Network is an ambitious but timely initiative that can truly impact PreK-20 STEM instructional programs in the region," said Guy. "With the recent release of the national Next Generation Science Standards, this project is well positioned to implement new and innovative practices of STEM across all classrooms."
Steven Light, UND associate vice president for academic affairs, said UND faculty in STEM education are leading the way on teaching and learning in both dimensions: substantive knowledge and skills.
"Yet the foundations for STEM success are built well before our students come to UND," Light added. "From K-12 through primary and middle school, it is essential that students get the building blocks to succeed at UND and in their careers."
That's why UND was proud to host the inaugural meeting of the northeast North Dakota STEM Network, Light said.
"The wide range of educator experience and expertise that came to our campus to determine next steps to make our region a statewide leader in STEM education – and to help make both North Dakota and UND national leaders – was incredibly exciting," Light said.
The network is supported by education—including UND--industry, government and nonprofit organizations that believe that outstanding STEM education is the key to North Dakota's future.
"An aim of this summer meeting was to gather an initial group of people invested in sustaining a strong STEM K-12 pipeline that will produce the career and college readied graduates our region and nation needs," Young said. "In that gathering we provided an overview of the ND STEM Network state-wide and then focused on the assets and opportunities available in the northeast region of the Network.
The ND STEM Network has been guided by the national organization TIES—Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM. Jan Morrison of TIES facilitated the meeting, held at Gorecki Alumni Center on the UND campus.
"We have voted on some key endeavors to pursue as a group, and at the top are aSTEM school and a STEM/Science Museum in our region," said Young, who, along with Guy were among a multidisciplinary team of UND faculty and students who were honored with a National Technology Leadership Initiative Fellowship award from the Association for Science Teacher Education
Young and his colleagues say the STEM movement is growing but needs to be stronger for the progress of the region, state and country to compete in a changing and increasingly global economy.
"UND recognizes that the state of North Dakota needs a highly trained, highly capable and flexible workforce to meet the needs of its changing economy," Light said. "At UND, we're committed to ensuring that our graduates have mastered their fields of study, and also have the skills that all employers want, including the ability to communicate effectively, think critically and creatively, and work in teams."
Doing STEM education right requires an integrated approach to teaching and learning, Light says.
"Mastery of the subject matter is important, yet how it's taught is equally so," Light said. "The committed teachers who were a part of this meeting —at all levels, from pre-K-12 through post-graduate education—recognize the effectiveness of cutting-edge teaching techniques that place active learning at the center of STEM education."
In the end, it's all about communication.
"The communication of education, political and business sectors of the northeast region is integral to the STEM pipeline and will benefit all who participate," Young said.
David L. Dodds
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