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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute To Lead Progressive Dialogue on Improving STEM Education With Emphasis on Women and Low Income and Minority Students

April 15, 2009

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute To Lead Progressive Dialogue on Improving STEM Education With Emphasis on Women and Low Income and Minority Students

Institute receives grant to focus on bolstering K-12 STEM education in New York state

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is initiating a “progressive dialogue” on ways to improve K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in New York state. The initiative, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will be launched in June. It begins with a summit of leaders from education, government, business and industry, foundations, and not-for-profit organizations and culminates in recommendations for increasing the number of STEM students—especially those from minority and low-income backgrounds — throughout New York state.     

For more than 30 years, Rensselaer has been working to build a national network of K-12 pipeline partnerships that focus on identifying, nurturing, and providing educational development for burgeoning scientists and engineers, with a special emphasis on women and underrepresented minority groups.

Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson has long warned of what she has dubbed a “Quiet Crisis” in America — the threat to innovation in the United States due to reduced support for research and the looming shortage in the nation’s STEM workforce. As current STEM workers retire over the next 10 years, there are not sufficient numbers of young people excited about and prepared for STEM careers to replace them. And while STEM jobs represent only five percent of the total labor market, they are critical to any future U.S. economic growth.

“Education is at the foundation of American democracy, providing our young people the opportunity to learn and grow and the freedom to create, innovate, and compete in today’s global economy,” President Jackson said. “As president of an institution of higher learning and as a scientist, I am committed to finding new ways to prepare the next generation of engineering and science students. We look forward to engaging leaders and educators across the state in broad, wide-ranging conversations on ways to enhance STEM education.”

The progressive dialogue will take part in two stages. The first will involve a summit held on Rensselaer’s campus in June 25-26. The event will provide a broad spectrum of decision-makers in government, education, and leaders from industry, private foundations, and not-for-profit organizations with an opportunity to discuss educational challenges facing New York state, as well as potential strategies to create a more diverse workforce to remain competitive in the years ahead.

The second phase of the progressive dialogue will focus on broadening the discussion with other educators and community leaders across New York state. The dialogues will provide the forum for the major stakeholders to share their thoughts and recommendations on opportunities to improve STEM education.

The results of the progressive dialogue will lead to a set of recommendations for implementing a statewide systemic initiative focused on increasing the number of students — especially those coming from minority and low income backgrounds — aspiring to and prepared for STEM disciplines.

“The world has undergone extraordinary changes, many brought to us through science and technology,” said Eddie Ade Knowles, vice president for student life at Rensselaer, and the project’s leader. “Effectively using technology in the 21st century is important for full participation in America’s economic, political, and social life. In order for the United States to remain competitive, it must have access to the best minds, and all of us must get engaged in the effort to excite, encourage, and prepare young people to pursue careers in STEM fields.”

As a leading educator in the STEM fields, Rensselaer is also committed to developing partnerships with nationally based programs focused on enabling more young people to experience the challenges and opportunities of a scientific or engineering career.  

Last summer, Rensselaer faculty members created a STEM-based summer workshop on campus for several Cleveland, Ohio, high school teachers and administrators visiting from MC²STEM High School Hub and the Design Lab Early College High School—new STEM high schools that focus on innovative teaching and learning opportunities for students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. During the workshop, Rensselaer faculty members provided several innovative project-based learning sessions that gave participants experience in integrating transdisciplinary STEM-based tools, technologies, and practices into their high school’s curriculum. 

The ongoing collaboration will expose participants to ways they can incorporate these technologies into classroom experiences using the principles of Rensselaer’s Studio pedagogy. Rensselaer faculty participants included Audrey Bennett, associate professor in Language, Literature and Communication; Ron Eglash, associate professor in Science and Technology Studies; Brad Lister, director for the Center of Innovation in Undergraduate Education; Don Millard, director of the Rensselaer Academy of Electronic Media; Dean Nieusma, assistant professor in Science and Technology Studies; and Lester Rubenfeld, director of the Center for Initiatives in Pre-College Education and professor of mathematical sciences.

Contact: Jessica Otitigbe
Phone: (518) 276-6050