High school students primed for success in STEM

December 13, 2010

After nearly three years, a successful grant-funded after-school program for high school students across Arizona is receiving recognition from the state and funds to expand the program to younger students.

In fall 2007, ASU’s Carole Greenes and colleagues received a $1.35 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund a three-year project to increase the number of students who enroll in and complete college majors in preparation for careers in the STEM sectors: science, technology, engineering and math. 

“The intent of the ‘Prime the Pipeline Project (P3): Putting Knowledge to Work’ is to increase high school students’ interest and achievement in STEM fields, as well as to update mathematics and science high school teachers’ knowledge of those subjects,” said Greenes, professor and associate vice provost of STEM education.

Students and teachers meet at ASU’s Polytechnic campus after school for nine weeks each semester and two weeks in the summer, and work in scientific villages on challenging STEM projects. With leadership from professors and scientists, villages have focused on projects in engineering design, alternative energy,  biotechnology, aviation, trauma simulation, computer gaming, design of computer applications for Apple devices, photography, music composition and modification, documentary movie production, and 3D modeling of structures for emergency services.

Data collected since the start of the project show that Pipeline students have significantly higher GPAs and have taken a greater number of advanced STEM-related courses in high school than their peers in the control group. The control group is composed of students who expressed interest or started in the project, but had to excuse themselves from it for varying reasons.

Another stunning finding is that at the start of the Pipeline Project, only 23 percent of students in both the project and control groups said they planned to attend college after high school. After more than a year, 100 percent of Pipeline students said they plan to attend college as compared to 43 percent of the control group. And when asked about an intended college major, 58 percent of Pipeline students identified a STEM field.

“Students participating in the  Pipeline Project see that they are able to compete with peers from other high schools, are able to get around a college campus without getting lost, and are able to communicate and understand professors. College is less intimidating. Most importantly, they realize that they are college capable,” Greenes said.

And for Blake Francis, a senior at Red Mountain High School in Mesa, the Pipeline Project brought him out of his shell.

“I’m a shy person, but participating in the program helped me grow and learn to communicate with all types of people,” he said. “Now, I’m looking forward to going to college to become a dentist or orthodontist.”

“Pipeline teachers are learning that students bring a great deal of knowledge and experience to the problem-solving exercises, that they are capable of a lot more than we expect, and that they want to be challenged,” said Mary Cavanaugh, director of the Pipeline Project and executive director of the PRIME Center. “It’s important to let the students explore. “

Pipeline teachers have learned new ways of teaching, including to step back and give students time to think and wrestle with new ideas and hard problems.

“The wind turbine village brought to light that really all we need to do is give enough direction to students and let them loose to discover, learn and be curious,” said Lisa Knipp, who has taught for 21 years and is currently a mathematics teacher and department chair at Highland High School in Gilbert. “From this experience, I developed a new course that is project-based and still meets the math curriculum requirement for the district.” Download Full Image

The program is making headway in other ways, too. In October, “Prime the Pipeline Project: Putting Knowledge to Work” was one of three after-school programs to receive the Arizona Center for After School Excellence Award.

And, in November, an expansion of the Pipeline Project to middle school students and their teachers, was funded by the Helios Education Foundation. “STEM in the Middle” (SIM) will focus on grades 5-8 students and their teachers. Several Pipeline Project students will serve as mentors to students in those scientific villages. Several Pipeline Project teachers also will participate as scientific village leaders in SIM.

“Starting the pipeline to college earlier in students’ educational careers will help to build a stronger STEM work force for Arizona,” Greenes said.

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Meldrum taking on new challenges

December 14, 2010

Accomplishments as dean of engineering schools leads to role guiding major ASU research initiative

Deirdre Meldrum goes into 2011 in a new role as the leader of one of the most ambitious research endeavors ever undertaken at Arizona State University. Download Full Image

As ASU Senior Scientist she’s directing the University’s Biosignatures Initiative. Its goal is to establish a national center to pursue the engineering and scientific advances needed for progress in personalized pre-symptomatic medical diagnosis and prevention of disease.

“She will guide work with the potential to have an immense impact on improving human health and the environmental health of the planet,” says ASU President Michael Crow.

Transformative changes

Meldrum has already made a significant impact on ASU during her four years as dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

She orchestrated a transformation aimed at breaking barriers long cemented in place by conventional ways of organizing engineering schools.

Ten departments have been reconfigured into five engineering schools that integrate traditionally separate engineering disciplines, with the goal of fostering more collaborative research focused on solving the world’s most pressing needs for technological progress – and ensuring students are better prepared to meet the demands of the 21st century engineering marketplace.

She’s led implementation within the engineering schools of the “New American University” directive set by ASU President Michael Crow and the “Grand Challenges” goals formulated by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Both plans challenge engineers to take leading roles in maintaining and improving the quality of life on a global scale.

“Dean Meldrum has steadfastly navigated the university’s engineering schools through a transformation in structure that provides a framework for research endeavors to meet the nation’s most critical engineering needs for decades to come, and ensures our students will benefit from the most creative innovations in engineering education,” Crow says.

Extraordinary vision

“She has led by example on a grand scale by supporting our goals to re-orient engineering education and by reorganizing engineering research and education at ASU around the Grand Challenges,” says Charles M. Vest, NAE president.

“Dean Meldrum’s leadership in organizing the ASU schools of engineering around the themes of the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges demonstrates extraordinary vision. It’s an inspiration to every engineering school in the nation,” says Richard K. Miller, president of the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts.

Miller credits Meldrum for being “among the first to recognize the great potential of the Grand Challenges to galvanize the talents and abilities of the best and brightest minds across disciplines to contribute to building a better future for the planet. She has also led efforts to use these ideas to reach out to today’s youth and attract more of them to study science, technology, engineering and math, a goal of great national importance.”

Under Meldrum’s leadership, ASU organized and presented an NAE Grand Challenges Summit in 2010. It was one of five regional summits for which the NAE selected some of the most prominent engineering schools in the country as hosts and organizers.

High-profile research

Meldrum not only handled the leadership duties of a large school – about 6,000 students and more than 200 faculty members – but has maintained and expanded the multifaceted research she brought to ASU when she departed the University of Washington.

In ASU’s Biodesign Institute, Meldrum directs the Center for Biosignatures Discovery Automation (formerly the Center for Ecogenomics). Its research capabilities led to a second five-year $18 million federal grant –  one of the highest individual grant amounts in ASU’s history – to continue her lab’s work with her National Institutes of Health Center for Excellence in Genomic Sciences. The center’s work focuses on better understanding of the causes of many widespread diseases and ailments – in particular, cancer and inflammation – and the search for cures.

Forefront of discovery

“She directs one of the most impactful and progressive research c enters in the Biodesign Institute,” says Alan Nelson, executive director of the Institute. “She has aggressively innovated breakthrough technologies to address the most pressing health care needs in the U.S., to advance personalized medicine toward discovering an individual's biosignature, predicting disease vulnerability so that treatments can be preventive. Her vision of the future of health care is a dramatic paradigm shift.”

Her center also continues its work with the National Science Foundation’s Ocean Observatory Initiative. Meldrum and her research partners are developing sensors and other sophisticated devices to measure biological, chemical and physical aspects of the sea-floor environs at the microbial level.

In addition, Meldrum’s lab is doing work to fight cancer as part of ASU’s Center for the Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology, one of 12 such centers in the country supported by the National Cancer Institute.

Engaged with students

One of the more lasting aspects of Meldrum’s legacy as engineering dean is certain to be E2 Camp, the orientation program for incoming ASU freshmen engineering students that she helped develop. For about three days at a wooded camp in northern Arizona, groups of 200 freshmen interact with other engineering students, faculty, staff and school leaders.

“E2 Camp is now a signature component of our undergraduate experience, and something that really sets us apart from other engineering schools,” says Paul Johnson, executive dean of the engineering schools. “What is especially unique is that it is run mostly by our upper-class students for the incoming students.  Dean Meldrum has welcomed each incoming class and been directly engaged and visible at E2 Camp each year.”

Meldrum’s ties to the engineering schools won’t be severed. She will continue to be a professor of electrical engineering in the School of Electrical, Computing and Energy Engineering, and to work with engineering faculty and students in her research center.

“I would be surprised to find anyone else who is a dean, directs a research center, mentors students and continues to produce research papers,” says engineering professor of practice Al Filardo, Meldrum’s chief of staff during her time as dean.

On top of all that, she’s put the restructuring in motion “that gives us a visionary new model for a 21st century engineering school,” he adds. “Altogether, I’d say this qualifies as phenomenal achievement.”


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Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering