Progressive dialogues begin

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is initiating a “p.rogressive dialogue” on ways to enhance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in New York State. The Empire State STEM Education initiative, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, launched on June 25 with a colloquy entitled “Carpe Momentum—Seize the Moment” in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies Auditorium.

STEM has become an educational challenge facing New York State. RPI has, over the past few decades, worked to build a national network of K–12 pipeline partnerships that focus on identifying, nurturing, and providing educational development for students aspiring to become scientists and engineers, with a special emphasis on women and underrepresented minority groups.

For the initial stage of the progressive dialogue, President Shirley Ann Jackson was joined by Vice Chancellor of New York State Board of Regents Milton Cofield, President of the American Museum of Natural History Ellen Futter, President of AT&T Foundation Laura Sanford, and President of the University of Rochester Joel Seligman for the colloquy, followed by a Q&A session and a keynote address delivered by New York Governor David Patterson.

The morning began with opening remarks by Jackson, in which she detailed that the “mission during this inaugural dialogue is to escalate STEM education as a means to several multifaceted ends.” The primary aim is to find ways to reignite the desire to discover and invent among students, which will then lend to the economic recovery that the nation will soon have to undergo.

The colloquy discussed both the potential for STEM in New York State, as well as how to overcome possible problems that the state could encounter.

Seligman discussed how Rochester’s economy has been affected by the economic crisis and is faced with the challenge of reinventing itself. The University of Rochester will also be offering scholarships to students from the Rochester area to assist them in pursuing STEM education, if they meet certain criteria.

Sanford was mainly concerned about how STEM education is delivered, noting that when curriculum is presented, it must be tied into how that knowledge will be applied in later life for it to be successful. Cofield also discussed what the government’s role would be in helping develop the STEM education program in New York State.

The following day, Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation David Ferrero and Vice President of Education and Philanthropy for Battelle Memorial Institute Rich Rosen gave a lecture titled “STEM Networks to Make STEM Work.” The second day closed with closing remarks from Jackson.

This two-day event was the first stage for the STEM progressive dialogue. The second phase will focus on broadening the discussion with other educators and community leaders across New York State. Ultimately, these talks will provide the forum for the major stakeholders to share their thoughts and recommendations on opportunities to improve STEM education.

The results of the progressive dialogue will lead to a set of recommendations for implementing a statewide systemic initiative focused on increasing the number of students aspiring and preparing for STEM disciplines.