Q&A with Department of STEM Education Chair Jennifer Wilhelm
For more than a year, the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Education faculty worked diligently to create a new department that will facilitate training, pedagogy and research focused on STEM education. The new Department of STEM Education will become the home for the current undergraduate mathematics and science secondary education programs, the Advanced Master of Science in STEM Education program, and the Master of Arts in Education (with initial certification) in mathematics and science programs. Future plans include the creation of new bachelor’s (STEM PLUS) and doctoral programs in science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics education. The proposed STEM department will focus greater attention on the marketing and recruitment of students to help alleviate the shortage of highly qualified STEM-certified teachers and researchers.
After the proposal received department and college support during spring 2010, the Senate Academic Organization and Structure Committee reviewed the proposal and sent it to the Senate Council and Faculty Senate with the recommendation that it be approved. The Senate Council approved the proposed department on December 6, 2010, and the Faculty Senate approved it on December 13, 2010. The Board of Trustees approved the department proposal on February 22, 2011, with an effective start date of July 1, 2011.
Why is this department necessary for teacher preparation? What can it do that could not be done in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction?
The Department of Curriculum and Instruction is the largest department in the College of Education. It houses education programs in all of the content areas (e.g., literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, business education) for K-12 teacher preparation, as well as programs in instructional systems design. As such, a more generalized focus was adopted to address the needs of all programs. The new Department of STEM Education will provide us the ability to focus on programs to foster growth and expertise in the STEM education fields. This was not possible in the prior arrangement. For some time we have had great ideas for new STEM Education programs that would become lost due to the fact that the Department of Curriculum and Instruction had so many current programs and non-STEM priorities.
With this new STEM focus, we will be able to concentrate on creating more highly qualified science and mathematics teachers via innovative new programs and initiatives. One of the first actions of the department is to create an undergraduate program called STEM PLUS, which stands for Producing Leaders for Rural/Urban Schools. STEM PLUS will allow undergraduate students to obtain a secondary teaching certification in the STEM areas without a master’s degree.
Currently, there is not an undergraduate program that provides teacher certification in the mathematics, science or computer sciences areas. This program will include much field-based coursework and experiences.
As the future chair of this department, what are your short-term and long-term goals in leading the preparation of STEM educators?
There are three phases to our Department of STEM Education plan.
Phase 1 (Immediate upon establishment of Department)
Phase 2 (February 2011 – February 2012)
Phase 3 (March 2012 – March 2013)
How do you see the relationship between the Department of STEM Education and the UK departments/colleges responsible for educating students in the STEM areas? Are they supportive of this new venture?
We have had a close working relationship with the College of Arts and Sciences over the years. They have been integral to program decisions in mathematics and science education. We are excited to continue this relationship and develop a close working relationship with Engineering. As stated earlier, we will have reciprocal joint appointments between Engineering, Arts and Sciences, and Education faculty. In addition, we have received letters of support regarding our new department from both Dean Thomas Lester (Engineering) and Dean Mark Kornbluh (Arts and Sciences) as well as chairs from the Departments of Physics and Astronomy, Chemistry, Mathematics, Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Is there anything else you'd like to comment on that is not covered above?
Presently, we are aware of only three institutions that have STEM Education departments (North Carolina State University, Old Dominion, and University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth). None of our benchmark institutions are forming STEM Education departments, precisely one of the reasons why UK should. STEM is no longer simply an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; it represents not only disciplinary focus, but also a unification of the disciplines. It is its own entity and is much greater than the sum of its parts. UK needs to position itself now as the leader for STEM Education in the Commonwealth. The time is right, the people are here, and we are ready to make an immediate impact on innovation, investigation, engagement and praxis in STEM Education.
updated 04-29-2011 by Brad Duncan