Businesses Stress STEM Education

More than two thousand students packed into the UCR Regional Sports Center to talk STEM or science, technology, engineering, and math. But teaching STEM doesn't just benefit the students the stem initiatives also helps the workforce.

Whether it was working a prosthetic hand, or performing a mock lifesaving operation, students got some hands on experience at this year’s STEM Summit.

"I really like to build stuff," said Ben Gifford.

A 6th grader, Gifford, was just one of the students that was given a new perspective on STEM.

"I thought it was really cool that all these companies came and show these kids what they really do," said Gifford.

More than 60 business and organizations were there to talk with students about their careers.

"This is a great event we have a about 2,300 students coming from as far as 70 miles," said organizer Jessi Strinmoen.

The Rochester Chamber of Commerce that hosts the event, says it's about creating an educated work force.

"It's about thinking about more opportunities," said Strinmoen.

Organizers are hoping some of the activities like virtual welding will spark an interest in a STEM career.

“Today we struggle with finding skilled workers that can weld and design," said Crenlo engineer Brett Carlson.

He says learning those skills needs to start early.

"It's important for them to know the laws of physics, dynamics, and everything associated with science."

Crenlo isn't the only business in need of skilled workers.

"All these products here have been booming with new developments and technology," said Trevor Klaassen.

Klaassen works Prosthetics of Rochester  where they rely on new creative minds to improve lives.

"I'm hoping they come away with brand new ideas, like trendy new things can be invented to help companies and patients out there," said Klaassen.

Ben Gifford says he definitely wants to STEM to be a part of his career.

"It's really shown me that you can really do stuff with science."

This was the 6th year of the STEM Summit. The Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce plans to hold one again next year.


Coon Rapids gets fast-tracking biomed program

As members of the Class of 2017 step into Coon Rapids High School next fall, some also will be taking a first step toward a career in biomedicine.

After about a year of preparation and planning, Coon Rapids recently earned designation as a specialty school and the go-ahead to offer a four-year program in that area. The program will offer students a shot at college credit, community job contacts and individual counseling to help them create a high school path that will give them a head-start into a range of postsecondary education options and jobs related to health care, medicine and medical technology.

School officials cited figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which predicted that health-care jobs will have increased by 62 percent between 2010 and 2020, well ahead of the expected 14 percent average job growth trajectory. This program will catapult students into the center of a growing field.

"We think we're going to be putting kids on that path at a point in their education where it really makes a difference," said Jeff McGonigal, the district's associate superintendent for high schools.

The school will use a curriculum provided by the group Project Lead the Way, a national Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) advocacy group based in Indianapolis. The Anoka-Hennepin district, which includes Coon Rapids High School, already has a relationship with Project Lead the Way through the engineering program already in place at Blaine High School.

Similar programs exist in other metro-area schools, but this will be the first to be offered in the north metro, McGonigal said. The program will be available to any student in the district and to others through open enrollment. Transportation, however, is limited to within the city limits. The district has begun the process to make Coon Rapids High School a magnet program through the NorthWest Suburban Integration District, which would expand busing to any interested student in the eight-district cooperative.

'Strategic investments'

The new program is one of several "strategic investments" the district is making this year, made possible after a budget surplus last year brought about by a series of cost-cutting and efficiency measures adding up to more than $11 million. At its outset, this program will require a $90,000 investment for startup renovations and equipment, and has been allocated $80,000 a year for operation thereafter. The school is working on getting federal grant funding targeted at career and technical education programs, and other local and national grant money.

"We would like to have more money to have it bigger and better, but we have enough to make it really good and get it started," McGonigal said.

District officials estimate that the program will start next fall with a class of about 30 students.

Starting in either ninth or 10th grade, students can take two trimesters a year, moving from Principles of Biomedical Science to Human Body Systems, Medical Interventions and finally Biomedical Intervention.

Students who complete four biomed classes and four years of math and science will graduate as Biomedical High Scholars. They can test for a range of college credits at participating colleges, including the University of Minnesota and St. Cloud State University.

Counselors will help students to align the rest of their classes to their individual long-term plans and help them set goals, said Coon Rapids Principal Annette Ziegler.

"Kids know it's achievable, and they can chunk it out," she said. "It's something they want to be part of. ... It's really catering to what they're interested in, and what they want to pursue."

The location of the program is no accident. Minnesota is home to a range of high-profile medical device and innovation companies, including Medtronic, Boston Scientific, the Mayo Clinic and others. Mercy Hospital is only 3 miles to the west of the campus. Also, for the past few years, the city of Coon Rapids has committed to a business plan to draw and retain companies that specialize in biomedicine and technology. In their fourth year, students will have the opportunity to pursue internships and mentorships, and the proximity of the hospital and companies like Biovest, Bayer Interventional, RMS Co. and others could be a huge benefit, Ziegler said. She and others said the hope would be to forge partnerships with the city and with businesses there.

The program is aimed not only at high fliers en route to medical school, but at those students who will be a great fit for a range of careers attainable with a two-year degree, or for those who haven't yet considered their postsecondary options.

"We're hoping all students will want to take it because it will help them in their future," said Leah Sams, Project Lead the Way biomedical program coordinator at Coon Rapids. "It will be great for students who know they're going to college, and just as good for those who didn't know they should."




U of M STEM Education Center receives $8 million grant from National Science Foundation

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (09/25/2012) —The University of Minnesota’s STEM Education Center has received an $8 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation, to partner with 200 Twin Cities metro area teachers to increase science and math learning through engineering for 15,000 students in fourth through eighth grades.

The center, with the largest grant it has ever received, will lead an engineering, design-based approach to teacher professional development that will help teachers design curricular units for science topic areas within the Minnesota State Academic Science Standards. 

The project will include summer professional development and curriculum writing workshops, paired with a cognitive and content coaching model, to allow teachers to design curricular units focused on science concepts, meaningful data analysis and measurement. Each unit will go through an extensive design research cycle to ensure its quality and then will be submitted to, an online peer-reviewed digital library, for use across the United States and beyond.

“The project has the potential to change the way partner schools implement STEM education, as well as be a model for other schools globally,” says Tamara Moore, project principal investigator and co-director of the STEM Education Center.

“The work of the project is critical to the work of the STEM Education Center,” says Moore.  “The ideas that have come together for this project represent a holistic view of the best work that we as a team have done so far. Our past research on STEM integration curricular and teacher development is the heart of this project.”

The project name is EngrTEAMS: Engineering to Transform the Education of Analysis, Measurement, and Science.

Project partners include the university’s Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power and Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, the St. Paul Public Schools, the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District, the South Washington County Schools, the Metropolitan Cooperative Service Unit, and the Grants and Research Office of Intermediate Districts 287 and 916.

The school districts involved cover a diverse student population. In St. Paul, for example, many students come from immigrant or refugee families and 45 percent live in homes where English is not the first language. Teachers in the project who work with high-need students will not only be implementing the curriculum modules, but also documenting the learning outcomes of underrepresented populations. The project research findings are aimed to help practitioners, administrators and policymakers discover the best ways to improve student achievement and develop student interest in STEM careers.

The grant is among the largest awarded through the Mathematics and Science Partnership program by the Division of Undergraduate Education of the National Science Foundation, which is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…" With an annual budget of about $6.9 billion, it is the funding source for about 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America's colleges and universities.

Part of the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), the STEM Education Center includes researchers from five U of M colleges, with core faculty from CEHD’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction. The Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power is part of the College of Science and Engineering at the university. The Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement is part of CEHD.



In faculty hiring spree, U looks to fill spots in STEM fields first

After announcing a plan this summer to hire 100 new faculty members, the University of Minnesota has initiated the process across several of its campuses, with the first major rounds of hiring occurring in the science departments.

The process will require several years, and will vary per department according to hiring climates in individual fields.

The College of Biological Sciences and the College of Science and Engineering  received funds for large-scale hiring through President Eric Kaler’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics initiative, an effort to increase the number of students at the University who are pursuing science and technology degrees.

Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, chair of the University Senate and Faculty Consultative Committee, said she is happy to see new faculty joining the University after cuts in recent years.

Funds designated for the hiring initiative total about $11.8 million. They come from part of a $25 million appropriation that was added to the University’s budget for fiscal year 2012, as well as a designated amount of almost $7 million from the 2013 budget.

The need to fill about 60 positions was identified when the Board of Regents approved Kaler’s budget in June, but additional positions are planned. The total number of new faculty will likely be about 100 by the time the hiring process is complete.

It was initially anticipated that the funds would ultimately cover 100 positions at approximate annual salaries of $75,000 plus fringe benefits, Kaler said in an email. However, he said, individual salaries may fluctuate.

 “We are very much in the marketplace for talent at all ranks,” he said at the June meeting.

The budget allotment from each year will fund hires in different colleges — $4.8 million from fiscal year 2012 will focus on the University’s coordinate campuses in addition to CBS, CSE, the Carlson School of Management and the College of Liberal Arts.

Funds from fiscal year 2013 will cover colleges and programs including the University’s Medical School, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, the College of Design and the Minnesota Population Center.

A growing demand

CSE hired 13 new faculty members through STEM funding last year and CBS is planning to hire 16 over the next two to three years.

CBS’s approach to this hiring is unique. New faculty will comprise “clusters” to work on collaborative research.

Funding for 11 of the new positions will come from faculty retirements, while the remaining six will be funded through a combination of STEM funds and the hiring initiative itself.

 “Having funds available today for six of the necessary 16 faculty positions aligns with that college’s immediate and long-term plans,” Kaler said in an email.

CSE received $1.5 million from STEM and subsequently hired 13 new faculty members last year, said Mostafa Kaveh, associate dean for Research and Planning.

The college, which is currently home to about 5,000 undergraduates, is gradually increasing its size to meet demand.

“There is tremendous student pressure in our programs and certain fields in particular are getting more demand by students,” he said. “To respond to that demand, we’re putting in positions in those areas.”

CBS was awarded a recurring total of $800,000 for filling the six positions. The amount will cover both salaries and fringe benefits for these faculty members during their time at the University.

Initial costs, such as setting up laboratories and hiring research assistants — which can range from $400,000 to $1 million per faculty member — will be covered by the college.

The college was among the first to receive a large grouping of new faculty members, both because of ever-quickening changes in the field and a growing student body, said Dean Robert Elde.

“There’s never been an explosion of knowledge and information in the history of science that rivals the past 10 years in biology,” he said.

These changes create a need for faculty members who have been trained recently.

“We want to maintain both the quality of the student body, … and we also want to maintain the quality of our instruction,” Elde said.

The college has the highest applicant demand of any at the University. Of 7,100 applicants this year, only 450 were accepted.

The number of available spots will increase to 500 in the next year, but there are currently no plans to expand the student body beyond that.

With this level of demand, 16 new faculty members are not enough, Elde said — rather, it’s what the college can currently afford.

He said, “There will be a perpetual need to hire for the sake of renewal and for accommodating growth.”




LASER Classroom Introduces a Bright Idea in STEM Education
Minneapolis business owner Colette DeHarpporte has launched a new company, LASER Classroom. LASER Classroom sources, develops and distributes products and curricula around light, lasers, optics and photonics for the K-12 STEM classroom.
“It started with a new product, LASER Blox, and quickly became a much bigger idea,” DeHarpporte says. Frustrated by the expense and lack of choice in educational lasers, DeHarpporte created a versatile, high-quality, affordable laser system specifically for teaching and learning in the pre-college classroom. Designed with the input of instructors, LASER Blox are magnetic, stackable, battery-operated, and hands-free, making them highly user-friendly and ideal for classroom demonstrations and activities.
Soon, though, DeHarpporte realized that teachers needed more than products. They needed classroom support as science education shifts away from disciplinary, lecture-based teaching towards cross-disciplinary, hands-on teaching and learning. “A lot of teaching theory is grounded in excellent research,” DeHarpporte says. “But teachers can find it challenging to put that theory into practice in the classroom.” That’s when she expanded LASER Classroom’s vision to an educational mission, aimed at creating both products and curricula.
To write the curriculum, DeHarpporte connected with author and professor Yvonne Ng, founder of Engineer’s Playground and Engineering Education Specialist in the National Center for STEM Elementary Education at St. Catherine University. Together, Ng and LASER Classroom plan ready-to-implement interactive Learning Modules to help instructors teach STEM through the study of photonics. Each Learning Module centers around a specific theme—such as laser safety—and offers classroom activities, demos, and a capstone project to explore elements of photonics within that theme. The modules also include historical contexts to help integrate STEM with other subjects.
Photonics is the branch of science and technology that uses light and its fundamental unit, the photon, to solve problems and create solutions in fields as varied as medicine, defense, aerospace research, and telecommunications. Photonics is inherently interdisciplinary and puts STEM concepts, practices, and ideas into an exciting and meaningful context. By providing both high-quality laser products and ready-to-implement curriculum materials, LASER Classroom aims to bring photonics to the K-12 classroom and bring STEM to light—literally.
LASER Blox and other educational products related to lasers, light, optics and photonics are available now at the LASER Classroom website. The first of the Learning Module, “Laser Safety,” is also available. Three more Learning Modules, along with materials kits, are planned for release in December 2012.



Northfield teacher wins science fellowship

Jenny Goetz grew up in a family where science was regular fodder for dinner conversation.

Her father is a space physicist who often works with NASA and her mother is a professor of astrophysics at Carleton College in Northfield.

"I really grew up surrounded by science. It was great and it was weird," said Goetz, recalling her parents debating centripetal force at the dinner table. "I was raised by nerds."

That everyday exposure coupled with her own curiosity propelled Goetz into physics and now teaching. Goetz, 22, has won a prestigious science teaching fellowship with the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation. She is one of 34 new high school math and science teachers in the nation to receive the fellowship.

The foundation invests $175,000 in training and resources in each recipient to ensure that high-caliber rookie teachers remain in the profession. Nationally, nearly half of all new teachers leave the profession within the first five years, while 95 percent of the Knowles fellows stay in teaching.

"We cannot improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education without recruiting and keeping excellent STEM teachers like Jenny in the profession," Nicole Gillespie, the Knowles Foundation director of teaching fellowships, said in a written statement.

Goetz earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Carleton in 2011 and is earning her teaching credentials from the University of Minnesota. She spent the last year at Woodbury Middle School tutoring sixth-graders as part of the Minnesota Math Corps.

Goetz worked with struggling students, helping them catch up in math.

"She is a natural talent, no doubt about it, and her enthusiasm is beyond compare," said Louise Hinz, a sixth-grade math teacher in Woodbury who oversaw her work. "You would not be able to tell her from some of our seasoned teachers. She's just got it."

Connected to teaching

Goetz immediately connected with her students by having each pair come up with a team name, Hinz said. She made learning interactive, asking questions and drawing out solutions. And she made math fun. She worked with food including trail mix and fruit to help students grasp fractions.

"It was challenging and character-building but it was a real blast," Goetz said.

Her journey to the classroom started years earlier, Goetz said.

In college, she was named Minnesota's International Year of Astronomy Student Ambassador by NASA. She received money to set up community and educational programming in Northfield.

She organized a community night at Carleton College's Goodsell Observatory and founded the Northfield High School astronomy club. To keep the high school astronomy club thriving, Goetz created a feeder program: She coordinated an astronomy summer camp for junior high students.

Youth culture's bias

Goetz said one of the biggest obstacles to success is overcoming the bad reputation math and science have among American youth.

"It's not cool to be smart and it's not cool to do science in the U.S. culture," Goetz said. "Students are so concerned about their image. I was kind of oblivious to that in high school."

Goetz wants her students to see that science can be hands-on and thrilling. And that it's part of everyday life.

In her free time, Goetz likes to paint and draw and she enjoys ballroom dancing.

Even then, she sneaks science into the conversation.

She was president of Carleton's social dance club. As she taught the waltz, she explained, "You are taking the momentum and transferring it between you."



 Pulling STEM out of compartments and into students’ everyday lives


While covering important events in our civic and cultural life, journalists typically focus on facts, controversies, issues and their impact. They rarely look through the lens of understanding leaders and leadership: who is leading the causes and creating change, how those leaders were motivated to tackle tough problems and create opportunities for their communities, and how they worked through the challenges that arose.

In this series, MinnPost is profiling such leaders in order to provide new insights — and, we hope in some cases, inspiration — for our readers. Each profile is paired with comments from members of a panel of experienced leaders and scholars of leadership. This project is made possible by a grant from the Bush Foundation.

Think about it. We are surrounded by science lessons if we choose to see Minnesota in that context.

 Ice fishing? Arguably crazy, but loaded with opportunities for examining the properties of cold water and its impact on fish. Genuine Minnesota wild rice? Potentially vulnerable to climate change. Weather? A Minnesota obsession that never fails to yield insights about nature.

 Professor Gillian Roehrig is on a drive to engage kids in that real-world science. U of M STEM Education Center co-director Gillian Roehrig is literally going the extra miles to prepare Minnesota’s next generation to thrive in a world of technology.

MinnPost photo by Sharon SchmickleU of M STEM Education Center Co-Director Gillian Roehrig is literally going the extra miles to prepare Minnesota’s next generation to thrive in a world of technology.

Reaching far beyond her responsibilities as co-director of the STEM Education Center at the University of Minnesota she literally is going extra miles to advance a cause that is critical to Minnesota’s future: preparing the next generation — particularly ethnic minority kids — to thrive amid ever more sophisticated science and technology.

“Improving STEM education is a huge challenge for Minnesota and the United States right now — frankly, across the globe,” Roehrig said. “We do not have enough scientists and engineers to solve all of the problems facing us on the planet.”

Doing her part, Roehrig has made herself a fixture on Minnesota’s Indian reservations helping hundreds of students, teachers and tribal elders with projects that include studies of the Earth’s atmosphere via weather balloon, studies of stream flow through reservations and studies of the energy power in the wind.



Fail: Minnesota Scores 9% on Recent K-12 Computer Science Standards Report

Four years after the first transistors were commercially available, a young man named Earl Bakken invented the first battery operated transistorized pacemaker in a Minnesota garage. Earl's innovative technology eventually led to the growth of Minnesota behemoth Medtronic, Inc. Similar stories have been told about the origins of companies such as Apple, Hewlett Packard, and Google - all businesses that essentially started in the garage, albeit outside Minnesota. 

Minnesota has a strong history in the computer systems industry as a result of companies such as IBM, Control Data, Unisys, and Cray. Sadly, our 'High Tech' leadership has eroded.

Where are the new tech businesses being started today?
We have progressed since the 1950s; many new global technology startups today are in software applications and the computers that are used to write the software have moved from the garage to the basement, bedroom — or wherever there’s a lap turned table.

According to the 2008 Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 510,000 employed scientists, 770,000 employed technicians, 1,600,000 employed engineers, and 3,390,000 employed in computer science across the United States .  I have spoken with representatives from several universities that teach computer science and they relate that many recent graduates with degrees in computer science have found positions before college graduation, even in this economic recession.  Anecdotally, I have also heard from various Twin Cities corporations that their greatest need is qualified applicants in computer science. Furthermore, CNN Money recently declared Software Architect as the #1 job in America for 2011.

Computers are used in (most) Minnesota high schools, but it is mainly the basic office suite (PowerPoint, Excel, Word, etc.) that’s taught — unless that is, a student is lucky enough to attend a school with an Advanced Placement Computer Science course. Currently 7% (34 out of 498) Minnesota high schools offer AP Computer Science, and only 5 offer AP Computer Science A/B.

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) did a study throughout 2009 and 2010 of computer science K-12 standards in each of the fifty states and released the results this past fall:


Minnesota scored 9. In contrast, Massachusetts, Florida, Idaho and Louisiana received a perfect score of 100 (Oregon, California, Ohio, Nevada, Georgia, Iowa and Indiana were all over 90).

The work environment has changed considerably over the past twenty years, but Minnesota’s educational system has not kept up technologically with the business world.   21st Century skills require more than basic computer literacy and we do not currently have any standards for computer science education for our K-12 students.  Technology is relevant in our student’s lives and it has everything to do with the future of our economy and quality of life that we’ve come to appreciate.

Let us fix this problem by teaching our youth the power of technology and software applications (and not just for the fun and games of using devices as passive consumers).  To get more students interested in technology, we should have them creating their own websites, making their own mobile phone applications, developing their own educational video games, or making their screenplay into a film, and creating means to deeply engage them in an interactive way of enabling technology.

What can we do to change our current system?

  1. Accept: What’s at stake is real.
  2. Vote: What is the position of your representative or senator in supporting technology in our schools?   Where are their priorities?
  3. Volunteer: Schools need volunteers for science fairs, parent organizations, and career days, amongst other things.  Schools also need people with entrepreneurial experience to share, inspire and mentor.
  4. Adopt: Many businesses have can adopt or support a school as a commitment to their community.  Employees have been involved in reading and math literacy and have spoken to classrooms about the importance of education in their careers.  There are even Minnesota companies that have offered professional development opportunities on software training to the teachers in the school they have adopted.
  5. Donate: The GetSTEMMN website is a “Craig’s List” of partnership opportunities between schools and companies.  Companies can “offer” equipment, speakers or materials that they no longer need.  Schools can “ask” for technology, speakers on specific topics or classroom materials.
  6. Learn: Change the Equation is a great resource to learn more about STEM Educationor you can follow STEMAhead on Twitter.
As Minnesota competes in our now global economy, what educational skills are required for our students to succeed?
Implementing new standards for computer science will require professional assistance for our educators and willingness for the public to support our schools to be technologically proficient.

As we look forward to the new businesses of the future and preparing a workforce for the economy of tomorrow, it is critical that we should be teaching these 21st century skills to our students.  Our innovative Minnesota start-ups and corporations of tomorrow could very well be started by a student doing their computer science homework on their laptop today.
The most considerate thing we can do for our children is to act now.



Franken stresses value of STEM skills


 U.S. Sen. Al Franken kicked off the Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ new policy discussion series Tuesday.

Speaking to a full auditorium of mostly faculty, Franken focused on the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics –– or STEM –– in state education.

The series, organized and moderated by Humprey professor Larry Jacobs, was created to be one-on-one platforms with public officials on topics of their choosing, said Anne Mason, a spokeswoman for the school.

Franken focused on the correlation he said existed between the presence of strong STEM skills in students and their ability to get jobs. He said manufacturers are not able to fill open spots despite the high unemployment rates because the applicants lack practical knowledge.

“It’s kind of news to these kids. They think of manufacturing facilities as where you work on an assembly line … I don’t think students understand the nature of what manufacturing is.”

Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota’s role in STEM education is a big one, Franken said, referring to the school’s emphasis on biomedical sciences.

Late last year the University announced it will increase student enrollment in STEM fields by about 1,000 undergraduate students starting fall 2012. In 2010, the school opened a center dedicated to working on issues surrounding STEM education processes.

“The U has a very active STEM center to improve 21st century skills,” said Janet Dubinsky, a neuroscience professor who attended the discussion.

Franken said he has a role “to go around to schools and talk about STEM.” He said he has been pushing for legislation boosting the STEM programs. To Dubinsky, the senator’s speech seemed as an indication that he is “very clear he is working hard on the Senate side.”

After his speech, Franken answered questions from the audience, which focused on strategies to improve STEM curriculum.