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Cornell and UB STEM Speaker Series Highlights Innovations to Help STEM Students Thrive

While continuing to hear stories of underrepresented and first-generation students lagging behind or switching out of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors, three women, one at Cornell and two at the University at Buffalo (UB), saw an opportunity to shift the story. They created a new online speaker series, The Next 10 Years: Helping STEM Students Thrive, where faculty, staff, and students can share ideas, learn from one another, and build a community. The first discussion in the series aired on October 11, featuring Dr. Lynne Molter, Dr. Julia Thom-Levy, Dr. Elisabeth Etopio, and Dr. Richard Lamb on the topic of trends and innovation in higher education.  

The creators behind this original online collaboration quickly learned of the global desire to better understand how to help STEM students thrive when 102 people from 53 institutions, three countries, and 23 states registered for the first event. Institutions spanned four-year colleges, community colleges, K-12, and the private sector: Paris Île-de-France Digital University, Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, Greenfield Community College, Harvard University, Penn State, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Union College, Schreiner University, Cornell University, University at Buffalo, and the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, to name a few.

Dr. Molter discussed her work with the Consortium for Undergraduate STEM Success (CUSTEMS), highlighting research that supports the importance of early mathematics experiences on both choice and persistence. “This is something we can do something about," said Molter. Results of her research indicate that 19 percent of women and 20 percent of underrepresented minorities migrate out of a STEM major.

Next, Dr. Thom-Levy shared her experiences implementing active learning in the classroom. She said that while students were not initially happy about the new teaching style, ultimately they grew to appreciate and enjoy it. She stressed the importance of monitoring that the overall time commitment remains the same, and making content applicable to the different types of learners. “I had many different majors in my physics class and wanted to make the content relevant to their careers and interests," she said. Class grades went up, and Thom-Levy believes largely due to the small group work that led to consistent learning, rather than cramming for tests, being engaged throughout the entire class, and an increased sense of belonging. Another outcome was that students who previously did not ask questions or go to office hours now felt more comfortable doing so, which contributed to their higher grades.

The session wrapped up with Dr. Etopio and Dr. Lamb sharing their project, a virtual reality teaching environment designed for pre-service teachers to simulate challenging classroom scenarios, developed through a SUNY Innovative Instruction Technology Grant. Lamb stressed the importance of “not just handing the teacher a shiny object,” but providing scaffolding and support so that the training method is implemented in a way that supports the pedagogical objectives of the course. Lamb used an analogy of fixing an air conditioner: "You wouldn’t just hand someone a broken air conditioner and toolkit, and say fix it.”

The next conversation with #STEMStudentsThrive is Wednesday, November 8, at 12pm ET. This discussion on institutional practices will feature an array of speakers:

  • Dr. Amy Godert, Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Vice Provost Initiatives (API), Cornell University

  • Dr. Nancy Shapiro, Associate Vice Chancellor for Education and Outreach and Special Assistant to the Chancellor, University System of Maryland

  • Dr. Renetta Tull, Associate Vice Provost for Strategic Initiatives, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Founding Director/Co-Principal Investigator (PI) for the University System of Maryland (USM) PROMISE: Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate; Co-Director/Co-PI for the USM Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation

  • Dr. Letitia Thomas, Director of STEM Diversity Programs, University at Buffalo

For more information, and to view discussion recordings and register for upcoming events, please visit The Next 10 Years: Helping STEM Students Thrive.

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