Progress continues on New York State STEM Initiative

The Empire State STEM Education Initiative has completed another stage in its progressive dialogue on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education in New York State. Since the inaugural meeting in June 2009, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has facilitated eight regional meetings across New York State in the areas of Long Island, Syracuse, the Capital Region, Yonkers, Buffalo, Rochester, the Southern Tier, and New York City.

According to Project Manager Margaret Ashida, a total of 61 group discussion groups met at 10 different venues across these regions for the purpose of “listening to and engaging” some of the different stakeholders involved in STEM education. Participants and meeting hosts included different types of K–12 schools, institutions of higher education, members of industry, state, and local government, and community organizations. The diversity of the groups that hosted the small group discussions, according to Ashida, demonstrated that “STEM is not only important to technology companies.” The Initiative is funded through two grants from the Bill and Melinda Foundation and a third from AT&T.

In addition to the STEM Initiative, Rensselaer participates in STEM education through several pre-college programs. Rensselaer has hosted the PREFACE program every summer for the past 30 years, engaging students from around the country who are underrepresented in STEM education, in addition to programs such as NYS5STEM and Tutor Time, which are run in collaboration with New York State and the Federal Government to benefit middle school students from the “Big 5” school districts and students from the surrounding community, respectively.

According to Mark Smith, dean of students, these types of pre-college programs provide opportunities for students, teachers, and parents alike by challenging students to learn beyond what they feel is achievable and also by enabling teachers to overcome curriculum and resource restraints. Rensselaer’s involvement in STEM initiatives is really “two pronged,” according to Knowles, with the goals of “providing more leadership for this statewide initiative … and to lead Rensselaer to continue to build a strong pipeline that engages young people precollege, not just in New York State but nationally.”

As a part of the Bill and Melinda Gates funding, the Empire State STEM Education Initiative maintains a connection to the five other states that have STEM initiatives that are also funded by the foundation: Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, California, and Washington. Since the funding will end in June 2010, Knowles stated that Rensselaer is working “to attract more funding to support the broader initiatives of STEM’, and that “…we are ready to go forward and we look to continued involvement of a number of our partners across the state.”

With the regional meetings concluded, Ashida expects to share the complete results at a culminating progressive dialogue by June this year.