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President's Column: Next Steps for STEM at CSUEB

  • March 1, 2011

In his January 2011 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama spoke of the importance of science, technology, engineering and math—or STEM—education to the nation’s economic well-being. Hearing it, I felt proud of the work already underway at Cal State East Bay.

Beginning with the adoption of new academic and long-range strategic plans in 2008, CSUEB academic leaders, planners, and administrators anticipated the challenge that President Obama and so many other national, state and local leaders are now articulating. Working intently to determine how best to meet this challenge — together with the changing needs of students and employers — we have increasingly focused on the concept of teaching STEM "across the curriculum" at CSUEB as a means of ensuring both a high quality and relevant education.

Last year, in my monthly columns in The View, I shared my ideas as well as my conversations with our deans, the University Librarian and the Provost about how a commitment to developing our STEM education capacities can unfold in our academic programs, in the way we teach and learn, and in the work each of us does at the university. 

Town Hall Considerations & Findings

Last month, to broaden the conversation, I invited the campus community to participate in a series of town hall meetings to discuss the university’s evolving STEM education initiative. I was especially pleased that so many faculty, students, and staff — almost 400 participants — chose to accept my invitation and participate. I attended all seven meetings and listened carefully to their responses to the four topical questions posed by our moderator:

STEM-Centeredness — What you know and think about the idea of CSUEB becoming a more STEM-centered university, including potential benefits to our student as well as any negative aspects.

STEM-Centeredness and Mission — Your views on whether becoming a STEM-centered university is consistent with Cal State East Bay's mission and core values and also consistent with the needs of the communities and employers of our region.

STEM-Centeredness and Change at CSUEB — How this might change our work, how we teach, our scholarship, and what and how our students learn.

Priorities and the Future of CSUEB — Your assessment of what CSUEB's priorities should be for the next five years.

As always, I was impressed by the commitment and passion of the university community as they shared their views, ideas, questions and concerns about the implications of growing the university's STEM-centered capacity. A complete report is planned following completion of a careful analysis and consideration, now underway, of the more than 260 comments made at the meetings, submitted online or sent to me by e-mail. But, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge a number of key findings and consistent themes. Here's what I heard:

  • Preparing our students for meaningful lifework, successful careers and engaged citizenship remains central to our mission.
  • Although STEM has a role in the relevancy and currency of our academic offerings, that role is not yet clearly defined; how — and by whom, or by what means — it will be shaped also needs to be addressed.
  • A STEM-centric education, or "teaching STEM across the curriculum," must not exclude or come at the cost of liberal arts, fine arts and non-technical programs.
  • Increasing our focus on a STEM-centered education will require increased investments, but we cannot rely solely on the state and must therefore increase other sources of funding, including private support.
  • In pursuing an increasing STEM focus at CSUEB, we must maintain our commitment to diversity.
  • We must be prepared to provide the support our students require — especially those who are traditionally underserved, both at the university and in our region’s school districts — so they can succeed at STEM coursework.
  • Defining ourselves as a STEM-centric university may be an important opportunity for CSUEB, but how we define our niche and differentiate ourselves from other STEM-focused universities will require careful marketing and other assessment, analysis and consideration.
  • To be true to our heritage and values, we must approach STEM-centeredness holistically and with a focus on cross-college collaboration and interdisciplinary integration.
  • The university must work more closely with the corporate community, both to improve its understanding of what we do in STEM already and to strengthen partnerships with employers.
  • CSUEB should explore how we might better leverage technology, such as Web-based teaching and learning, both in terms of STEM education and everyday instruction.

Next Steps

These comments confirm that there is strong support within the CSUEB community for the direction in which the university has been moving over the last couple of years. But because the implications for our curricula — what and how we teach and our students learn — are, in fact, the central considerations, the discussion of implementation will now move ahead under the leadership of Provost James Houpis. By taking up the matter of next steps within academic affairs and including the academic senate, the involvement of faculty leadership in long-range university "futurecasting" and planning will increase, as it should.

Our Mission: Now and in the Future

In the wake of the deepest national recession since the Great Depression, together with the effects of increasing globalization and automation, a new economy is taking shape. The implications for our communities and for the students we serve — the next generation workforce and citizens — are profound. According to projections from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Bureau of Labor, for example, seven out of 10 new jobs are in STEM fields, and of the 25 highest-paying jobs, 16 are STEM-related. It's clear the best hopes and opportunities for our students to attain economic inclusion and a comfortable, sustainable lifestyle will depend upon their ability to attain a quality, relevant and STEM-centric college education. The facts are that the economic vitality and social vibrancy of our communities depend upon it. To be true to our mission and values, and to our stewardship commitment, we must seize this opportunity to define and transform not only STEM education, but also education across the P-20 continuum for the 21st century.

As the university moves ahead with our consideration of the future and the next steps in our STEM-centered evolution, I welcome your continuing participation, thoughts and comments.

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