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ASU invests in STEM education

October 31, 2008

Editor's Note: Download a PDF of ASU Insight's "STEM education" special section.

Education in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields is a vital component to the country’s current public education agenda.

The demands of a 21st century knowledge economy not only necessitate America’s citizenry to be highly equipped in what remains to determine a nation’s ability to compete globally, but warrants a fundamental shift in the country’s approach to educating their students.

Arizona offers a microcosmic view of this challenge, as it is a state saddled with a changing economy and substandard student assessment scores, most notably in math and science. Its goals, similar to those of the United States, include improving K-12 math and science education; strengthening the skills and aptitude of teachers through more specialized training; and building a pipeline of students prepared to enter the university and graduate with STEM degrees.

Helping to achieve these goals, Arizona State University has invested more than $100 million in research universitywide and has funded more than 72 official STEM outreach programs that extend to students in the K-12 system as well as its own college students.

“The state’s science and technology pipeline currently has two bottlenecks, greatly constricting the number and quality of its work force,” says Jim Middleton, associate senior vice provost for STEM education at ASU. “A low number of students are adequately prepared to even begin as a student at a university, as are the number of students that exit science, mathematics and engineering in their first two years of college. ASU must increase its capacity to feed grade schools with quality programs for students and teachers, and we also must implement programs to encourage college freshmen to pursue STEM degrees at ASU and support them through the process of learning and becoming successful.”

From increasing the number of first year math classes offered to providing more support, scholarship and research opportunities to freshman students interested in a STEM field, ASU is bulking up its efforts to graduate college students with strong abilities in these core areas. Meanwhile, the university’s myriad outreach programs aim to educate and garner enthusiasm among K-12 students, as well as better prepare teachers, to build on a committed interest in STEM education.

Trying to rope in all of the university’s opportunities for students and educators in science, technology, engineering and math is nearly impossible; Middleton projects that ASU’s reach extends far beyond its STEM programs that are officially on the map.

“ASU is a national leader in developing new models of teaching and learning,” says Middleton. “We are leveraging this knowledge to change the face of STEM education in our state and national community.”