Message from the DeanStrengthening the roots of STEM
I'd like to talk with you for a moment about an issue I feel very strongly about. The dearth of college graduates in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields has received considerable attention of late in the national media. A report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology last year argued that one million additional degrees must be awarded in STEM fields to meet workforce demand in the next 10 years. The finding is astonishing.
Children are natural-born scientists, curious about how the world around them works. Moreover, children in the 21st century engage with technology daily. What, then, is happening?
To understand, we must look at our institutions of higher education. Currently, of those students who enter into STEM fields nationally, less than 40 percent complete degrees in STEM. Research suggests that low retention rates arise for a variety of reasons ranging from the mathematical backgrounds of the incoming students to the methodology of instruction in the undergraduate STEM classroom. With the explosion of digital technologies, the opportunities to foster increased interaction and experiential learning are endless and limited only by our imaginations.
Fortunately, the College of Science has remarkable faculty and students, who know no limits. In some classes, students use hand-held remote devices, or clickers, to answer questions or to indicate confusion during lectures, providing feedback in realtime to the professor and requiring students to participate. Think about the possibilities that tablets and smart phones create to expand clicker applications! Introduction of inquiry-based activities engages students in the process of discovery — key to the purpose of science — igniting passion among many and illuminating understanding in all.
At the root of this transformation is the ability to access content 24/7, such as video lectures of faculty, websites devoted to course materials, and MOOCs (massive open online courses), leaving more time in the classroom for informal interaction, dialogue, analysis, and team problem solving; all are critical in our future as a diverse nation. This idea of the "flipped classroom" is one that several of our faculty have adopted, requiring basic changes such as removing rows of seats that passively face the whiteboard and installing circular tables that facilitate discussion.
The improved student success in those courses, where our professors pioneer these approaches, speaks for itself. The mood is infectious. Redesign of courses is occurring throughout the College. We have opened the Math Emporium, a model first developed by Virginia Tech, for College Algebra, where students work at their own pace in the computer lab and have questions answered immediately by teaching assistants and instructors, who constantly walk the floor. The students have far greater ownership of the material and their progress. The addition of other courses, such as Statistics, is planned in the future.
All of this requires dedication. The College of Science has this in abundance. We have always had outstanding faculty and tremendous students, all of whom place a priority on excellence in the classroom. We are proud of our history of educational innovation, and our commitment to it today is stronger than ever.
The future of STEM education at UT Arlington is bright indeed. Please feel free to contact us anytime and share your ideas regarding ways we can do an even better job.
Dean of the College of Science