“The U.S. needs 1 million more STEM Professionals over the next decade than it is projected to produce at the current rate.”
~National Math + Science Initiative
With the emphasis from President Obama to prepare students for the 21st century in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) careers, mathematics is a key field in which education for diverse students is critical. STEM student success has emerged as a critical area to improve within higher education due to political and industry demands. The need for a highly skilled workforce is dependent upon STEM student success. STEM students are struggling and a majority of diverse students at an even greater rate. The importance of classroom pedagogy and collaborative learning are critical for academically underprepared and traditionally underrepresented students. Research has concluded that STEM students who engage with the instructors and interact with the subject are more likely to be successful in the classroom (Stigler & Hiebert, 2004).
With all scientific research demonstrating the need to improve STEM education with evidence that higher education needs to help prepare STEM students for the workforce, what does this mean for Student Affairs? There is a lack of literature on the exact formula for STEM student success, but there are a few best practices that include involving Student Affairs, Faculty and the STEM Community. NASPA has a great article on tangible things Student Affairs can implement immediately to help diverse STEM students and close the historic achievement gaps.
Within this article, there are 5 suggested ways Student Affairs can improve STEM student success.
1. Challenge Negative Views: This is an area that Student Affairs can be a leader in teaching students self-advocacy as well as how important a diverse student’s contribution is within STEM. Thus, cultural relevance research and conversations are central to this first method.
2. Understand the Intersections: Student Affairs can institute mentorship programs that get students familiar with STEM careers and important characteristics for success. The key to this is begin earlier STEM outreach and work closely with the STEM community. Higher education institutions need to build partnerships within the K-12 community as well as with industry leaders for experiential learning opportunities.
3. Work With Faculty: As with any higher education institution, identifying and working with faculty who are student-focused is critical. A majority of the research explaining why diverse STEM students are not successful is due to instruction, thus this is an area of opportunity to improve teaching and learning, in which some Student Affairs programs have been successful is shifting pedagogy.
4. Think ‘Task Force’: The National Science Foundation and many other granting agencies are now encouraging faculty, Student Affairs and STEM community collaboration. Improving the higher education culture to support STEM students, especially diverse students, is to be more inclusive. It takes a village to make a difference and some programs are being innovative to achieve this mission by creating resource guides and building advisory committees to address this issue.
5. Focus on High Impact: Some Student Affairs programs have made large strides over the last 5 years in STEM education and within the community due to their emphasis on High Impact Practices. One program, STEM UP has created a smartphone app to help students map out their STEM degree plans from a 2-year community college to a 4-year university. This has increased graduation rates, while reducing the cost the student has to invest in taking extra classes that may or may not count toward this degree plan.
Thus, Student Affairs needs to be a central player in engaging STEM students, especially focused on diverse students. The success and future of STEM is dependent on the relationship with Student Affairs, Faculty and the STEM Community.