UA STEM Learning Center Thinks Forward

April 11, 2013

To align institutional initiatives with regional and national priorities to meet demands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and workforce development, the University of ARizona is launching a new STEM Learning Center.

An expansive nationwide demand exists for individuals trained in the STEM fields. So pressing are the demands that U.S. President Barack Obama launched "100Kin10," a national initiative to prepare and develop 100,000 new STEM teachers in 10 years.

The UA is already a member of 100Kin10 and, at the time of the nationwide initiative launching, had already begun plans toward establishing the STEM Learning Center

In addition to meeting regional and statewide demands, the unique, collaborative UA center will become an important part of the national initiative while also serving as a national model.

"We are bringing people together in a coordinated way, and not many centers do that," said William McCallum, who heads the UA Department of Mathematics and co-directs the STEM center. "We have a concentration of expertise and resources in Arizona that will enable us to have a national impact."

A collaborative effort between the UA Colleges of Education and Science, the UA STEM Learning Center will be housed in existing space at the UA College of Science’s Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium. The center's priorities and initiatives include efforts to:

  • Serve as a central point of contact and communication by offering a physical UA presence, a comprehensive website and other activities.  
  • Integrate UA, pre-kindergarten-20 education, business and industry and also community expertise and resources around the STEM fields.
  • Engage UA students, faculty and staff in STEM initiatives; encourage and facilitate expanded UA interaction with educators, community organizations, policy makers, businesses and industry and also families.
  • Assist outreach for UA-wide grant proposals that include businesses and industry, community organizations, community colleges, businesses and industry and pre-kindergarten-20 educational partners.
  • Support interdisciplinary STEM initiatives across departments and colleges at the UA.
  • Develop evaluation metrics to measure progress toward goals and assess outcomes to determine effect and sustainability of STEM initiative models for leverage across the state.
  • Enable and support regional collaboration to meet STEM workforce demands.
  • Enhance the exposure of youth to the STEM workforce and potential jobs.

In addition to shifting the paradigm for improving STEM teaching and learning in Southern Arizona, the UA center is structured to create broad-based shifts for who is engaged in that process.

Commonly, faculty and researchers at higher education institutions earn STEM research grants, which often require educational outreach. The general path is for the institution to then create a STEM project, and then locate schools that fit the demands of the project.

"While this can sometimes result in good educational experiences for students, these efforts are often not aligned well with what schools actually need and often end quickly when the grant ends," said Bruce Johnson, who heads the UA Department of Teaching Learning and Sociocultural Studies and the new center's co-director.

"We want to flip that situation on its head by starting with what schools actually need and then look within the University to find ways we can help schools meet their needs," Johnson said.

Johnson also said the responsibility for improved STEM education does not fall independently to educators, businesses and industry, community organizations or policy makers, but to a combined effort involving each.

"We are trying to change the perception of who is responsible for STEM learning," he said.

Johnson and McCallum both emphasized the expansive range of high-level expertise that the UA and its partners hold, noting that the center will be especially adept at providing quality STEM education resources and support so that students will gain the core skills needed to be successful as members of the 21st century American workforce.

Given demands to be competitive in the global marketplace, and with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, structural and programmatic shifts like those the STEM Learning Center plan to advance are even more important.

"Priorities at the national and state levels can only be accomplished through implementation at the local level," Johnson said. "That is what we are working to accomplish."

A Community Event

The Tucson community was invited to campus for the STEM Learning Center Launch on April 12, 2013. Scheduled speakers included UA Provost Andrew Comrie; UA Senior Vice President for Research Leslie Tolbert; Tucson Mayor Jonathon Rothschild; and Laura McGill, the deputy vice president of engineering for Raytheon Company.

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Story credits: La Monica Everatt-Haynes, Marthat Ostheimer and Shipherd Reed, University Communications.