From the New York Times: The Challenge of Retaining and Graduating STEM Majors

4 Nov

As reported by Christopher Drew for the New York Times:

The president and industry groups have called on colleges to graduate 10,000 more engineers a year and 100,000 new teachers with majors in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. […] And there are encouraging signs, with surveys showing the number of college freshmen interested in majoring in a STEM field on the rise. […] But, it turns out, middle and high school students are having most of the fun, building their erector sets and dropping eggs into water to test the first law of motion. The excitement quickly fades as students … in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash out.

Drew queries how the U.S. will remain competitive and innovative when American students are falling behind their international counterparts in STEM fields. Meanwhile, the big question for educators at colleges and universities is “how to keep the momentum being built in the lower grades from dissipating once the students get to college.”

Drew highlights some possible solutions for educators:

  • Use more interactive teaching techniques. Research confirmed in the 1990s that students learn more by grappling with open-ended problems, like creating a computer game or designing an alternative energy system, than listening to lectures.
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Massachusetts, updated its curriculum in the 1970s to make room for extensive research, design and social-service projects by juniors and seniors, including many conducted on trips with professors overseas.
  • Enable students to work closely with faculty members, build confidence and promote teamwork. Studies have shown that women, in particular, want to see their schoolwork is connected to helping people, and the projects help them feel more comfortable in STEM fields, where men far outnumber women everywhere except in biology.

Nazareth undergraduate students work closely with faculty on undergraduate research projects.

Nazareth has long been committed to many of these practices. For example, many biology, chemistry, and biochemistry students collaborate with faculty on undergraduate research projects–some even as early as their first semester. With a student-faculty ratio of 14 to 1, Nazareth students receive individual attention from faculty members who encourage them to pursue their interests while also applying their research to real-life problems. For example, current chemistry students are conducting research projects involving alternative fuels, the chemistry of wine, and molecular design at the interface of biology, chemistry, and medicine. Nazareth’s math program also focuses on problem solving. Nazareth students regularly compete in (and have won) the COMAP Mathematical Contest in Modeling, an international competition in which students spend a long weekend applying mathematics to the solution of a real-world problem.

And with the opening of the state-of-the-art Integrated Center for Math and Science in fall 2012, the College will continue to enable and improve collaboration between students and faculty as well as prepare the next generation of students to teach, heal, discover, and transform the Rochester region and beyond.

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