New center rooted in STEM success

Livelybrooks (left) is working to improve STEM education
Livelybrooks (left) is working to improve STEM education

The goal is clear: Double the number of college degrees in science, technology, engineering and math awarded in Oregon by the year 2030. But how do we get there?

Oregon business and education leaders set the target in response to a national problem with student proficiency in STEM studies and a shortage of qualified college graduates pursuing those careers. And a new center at the University of Oregon has accepted the challenge, building sweeping partnerships to improve education and training for future STEM technicians, scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

The University of Oregon Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Careers through Outreach, Research and Education – UO STEM CORE – partners with educators, school districts and industry to improve instruction and secure funding for new programs and initiatives. The center’s faculty and researchers will use their expertise in technical fields and instruction to help educators in public schools provide primary and secondary students with the skills they need for STEM careers.

“Developing student understanding of STEM careers and their societal contexts – along with exposure to cool science, of course – will better motivate learning STEM content in the classroom,” said Dean Livelybrooks, a tenured senior physics instructor at the UO and a faculty leader for the center.

Each year, about 1 million high school freshmen declare interest in a STEM-related field – more than 1 in 4. By the time they graduate, more than half will lose interest in a STEM career.

 “The goal is to produce a broader and deeper pool of STEM talent in Oregon,” Livelybrooks said. “We also want to target underrepresented groups such as girls and women, first-generation college attendees and minority students.”

While overall interest in STEM majors and careers among high school seniors is increasing, male students are over three times more likely to be interested in STEM majors and careers than female students, according to STEMconnector, a resource for STEM education.

At the university level, the center is working with the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education to ensure that future teachers shape their classrooms with a mind to research-based and industry-relevant instruction. Jill Baxter, an associate professor in Education Studies, is also a center co-leader.

For example, the center has teamed up with 4J, Springfield, Bethel and other local school districts and industry partners for a series of hands-on projects with real-world applications to ignite student interest in STEM careers. Under this state-funded, two-year program called “Content in Context,” teachers receive training to support research- and industry-modeled curricula for grades 5 to 10.

Upcoming outreach projects funded through this Oregon Department of Education math/science partnership grant include:

  • “Solar Challenge: Designing, Testing and Racing Solar Electric Vehicles”: grades 7 and 8, Feb. 22 and 26, Bailey Hill Center, 4J, presented by EWEB school coordinators and Arcimoto.
  • “Biomimicry: Adaptations for Survival”: grades 5 and 6, March 11 and 12, presented by UO science and product design faculty.
  • “Green Schools Built for the Extreme”: grades 9 and 10, April 26 and 30, Springfield Public Schools, presented by the UO and Oregon Department of Energy.
  • “Building Nano-worlds”: grades 9 and 10, May 10 and May 14, at Bailey Hill Center, 4J, presented by Life Technologies and the UO.

The center is located in 146/148 Willamette Hall and is funded by the UO departments of biology, chemistry, geological sciences and physics, with matching funds from the College of Arts and Sciences.