[Events recap] Re-envisioning STEM Education and Workforce Development for the 21st Century
The Journal of Science Policy & Governance (JSPG) and Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society launched a call for papers and competition focused on Re-envisioning STEM Education and Workforce Development for the 21st Century. The call for papers and competition for op-eds and policy position papers will result in a Special Topics Issue of JSPG to be released in 2022 that will comprise the most compelling papers. Read the call for submissions.
As part of this partnership, JSPG and Sigma Xi hosted a series of educational webinars led by experts from Advancing Research Impact in Society (ARIS), New America, and the Association of American Universities (AAU) to examine policy changes in STEM education and workforce development, and a policy writing workshop for op-eds and policy position papers to help prospective authors improve their submissions to the special issue. View the event recordings.
In addition, as part of the JSPG Leadership Chat Series, our staff interviewed a number of established leaders in science policy at multiple career stages within JSPG, who discussed relevant and timely issues in the field as related to topics published in the journal. This includes JSPG governing board members and JSPG advisors.
Many of these speakers have deep knowledge on the topics included in this call for papers, including DEI in Science Policy (Mehrdad Hariri); Shaping the Future of Science Policy (Tobin Smith) and Shaping the Future of Education and Workforce Development (Shalin Jyotishi). The writing workshop provided writing instruction (Deborah Stine) emphasized the importance of science policy training for the next generation of leaders in science policy, which was emphasized in the chat on the topic of Professional Development for Graduate Students and Postdocs (Lida Beninson).
Below are summaries of the webinar series, written from the perspective of an early career participant (graduate student, postdoc levels), and a brief summary of the writing workshop. We integrated these chats into the respective summary, as relevant for that particular event leading up to the call for papers.
Pathways from K-12 to the STEM Workforce
Chat with Mehrdad Hariri
What drew you to attend?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the world witnessed the scientific process unfold in real time and broadcast through mainstream media. The demand for immediate results did not allow adequate time for scientific replication and further casted doubts about promising findings of new studies. For the general population, it is difficult to sift through numerous new information, and it can also be particularly challenging when knowledge about the scientific process is limited. I was inspired to promote K-12 STEM education so that young people adopt knowledge about the scientific process early on, enabling them to discern quality science upon reading new information. This important skill can be applied in the STEM workforce, through mentorship, and for developing good policies. Upon hearing about the expert panelists speaking on strategies for delivering quality STEM education to K-12 students, I was excited to learn what is currently being done by STEM professionals. The panel was moderated by Thomas Tubon and highlighted three experts in bridging the pathway from K-12 to the STEM workforce.
Takeaways from speakers
Natalie Kuldell developed a STEM educational program, originally supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and sustained the program by starting a non-profit organization that creates teaching labs for educators and students. Natalie noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has unveiled gaps and pitfalls of social systems, resulting in teachers and schools stepping in to fulfill the needs of students, especially for K-12 students from marginalized and underrepresented backgrounds. It is difficult to ask schools to have patience and to invest time with students until they have mastery in skill sets given how many responsibilities have fallen on K-12 schools. There cannot be a one size fits all solution to K-12 education due to a variety of needs across many different communities. There needs to be a connection between the quality of educational resources and empowerment of teachers.
With extensive expertise in STEM curriculum design and program evaluation, Teshell Ponteen Greene brings national attention to outreach and access to innovative and advanced STEM education for racially and ethnically diverse K-12 students. Teshell suggested partnering with large organizations and companies, which have already established outreach programs, in order to tap into a talent pool of young underrepresented learners. This will connect K-12 students with local industry employers and organizations. To diversify STEM talent in K-12 education, colleges must provide pathways for teachers earning education degrees with internship opportunities to work in multiple STEM labs. Lastly, educators can build and strengthen alliances by creating opportunities for students from various backgrounds to work together, even internationally, diversifying teamwork in STEM fields.
Linnea Fletcher spearheads initiatives to bring industrial biotechnology and cell therapy lessons into classrooms by assisting teachers in adapting to virtual teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Linnea developed a strategy to increase access to biotechnology in K-12 STEM education. Linnea believes that all education should be authentic by having students use applied science, technology, engineering, and math. An example of effective education is having middle school students create products that elementary school students can use. Another point Linnea added was that students working in the industry should get credit for learning new skill sets and translate this knowledge into credits towards their college degree. Industry partnerships are also necessary to deliver applied STEM in schools, and this creates a stream of skills building and opportunities to enter into the STEM workforce after graduation.
To solve a complex problem in STEM education, it requires creative solutions with a robust team of STEM professionals partnering with educators and industry partners. Diversifying science teamwork in education and expanding collaborations locally, nationally, and internationally would strategically create pathways from K-12 to the STEM workforce. Access to quality STEM education for students of all backgrounds benefits society as a whole and can lead to its betterment. Policymakers can re-evaluate lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic in regards to maximizing virtual education, expanding quality Internet access to rural communities, and providing equitable resources to low income communities. The goal is to relieve the added strain placed on teachers and schools so that they can fulfill their mastery of educating and mentoring students to be future STEM leaders and professionals.
The webinar pairs nicely with Mehrdad Hariri’s JSPG leadership fireside chat focused on DEI in science policy. Mehrdad discussed when he first entered into policy work at the turn of the new millenia, science and policy were separate. Therefore, he took on leadership roles bridging science and policy and paving the way for emerging scientists. Through regular attendance at the AAAS annual meeting and inspired by what he learned, Mehrdad encouraged early career scientists to connect with other science policy experts by attending AAAS events and to engage with them in learning how to be a changemaker, which also applies to students and young people from all backgrounds.
Higher Education for a 21st Century STEM Workforce
Webinar higher ed
Chat with Toby Smith
What drew you to attend?
As the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the transition of students into 4-year colleges and graduate programs, calls were made to bring classes online, shift to pass/no pass grading, and waive admissions tests as application requirements. Nearly two years later, postsecondary institutions are deciding which education policies to phase out or continue. When I learned about this webinar, I was curious to learn how 3 different institutions were ensuring a successful STEM experience for students and equipping graduates for the careers they would enter into. Toby Smith moderated this conversation, featuring leaders from a liberal arts college, a technical public college, and a private school focused on biomedical graduate programs.
Takeaways from speakers
Susan Singer shared that the pandemic highlighted the importance of the residential college community as an equalizer, providing all students with access to broadband and communication software. Susan also mentioned SAT/ACT test waivers as a way to increase access to education for undergraduate students, and noted that liberal arts institutions who engage in holistic admissions successfully incorporate multiple factors into admission decisions.
Noting that STEM skills can offer benefits even for non-STEM majors, Susan mentioned that incorporating research into general education requirements could be a way to increase access to these skills. This pathway enables all students to develop critical thinking, written communication, and research presentation skills, resulting in postsecondary graduates who are well-prepared for the careers of their choice. Alongside coursework, mentorship was highlighted as a key force in guiding students to “go to college on purpose” so that they may relate their coursework and extracurricular activities to employers as part of their career story about the grand societal challenge they see themselves contributing to. For example, a history major might complete a data science minor in order to enhance their work in an art gallery. Institutions can curate the optimal portfolio of courses through quarterly conversations with industry, a strategy Susan mentioned that 2-year colleges use to build what is needed to ensure well-equipped graduates.
With a focus on retention, Kaye Husbands Fealing illuminated options to resolve the “last mile” problem of college completion for enrolled students by reinforcing their sense of belonging and ensuring secured funding for tuition. With these measures in place, students can experience a greater sense of well-being, resulting in the ability to focus on their schoolwork. This work includes the sophisticated technical content that STEM is known for. One challenge in completing this work is accessing support. Kaye underscored the importance of creating culture shifts that facilitate advancement, retention, and graduation by removing this barrier. A key driver of this culture shift is reducing the stigma associated with asking for help, so that the high expectations and rigor are met with a welcoming environment to access support. With this support, students will be set up for success in the gatekeeper courses and beyond.
And as students become alumni and engage in the future of work, they may expect to encounter careers where they spend 10 years in one area, then switch to another area of science or even a new industry. In conversations with alumni from Georgia Tech, Kaye heard positive feedback on developing flexible skill sets including non-technical skills like writing, leadership, communication, and history. With an eye toward a robust lifelong learning process, where new skills could be added 20+ years post-graduation, colleges can look over the horizon and anticipate the professional education they might offer for those looking to refresh skills in their current area or train in preparation for a career pivot.
Cynthia Fuhrmann suggested that moving to online platforms has enhanced opportunities for students to complete graduate school milestones and diversify their career development options. Virtual qualifying exams, dissertation defenses, and committee meetings have been easier to schedule and are now recognized for being as viable as in-person sessions for these activities. Due to reduced registration costs and elimination of travel fees, graduate students and postdocs can explore more career options. While in the past it may have only been possible to attend conferences where they were presenting scientific work, they are now able to get more out of their conference budgets and attend virtual professional society conferences to learn more about industries they may choose to join.
With the apprenticeship model of the PhD strongly focused on being an academic scientist at a time where more PhD graduates are finding roles outside of the academy, Cynthia shared that being more deliberate in how students gain transferable skills like communication and team-oriented work is vital to the future of graduate STEM education. She referred to an NSF report that emphasized the importance of a student-centered pedagogy, where the needs of students inform the design of the program. Programs aligned with the needs of students entering careers outside of the academy produce scientists who communicate with empathy and are able to work interculturally, demonstrating leadership skills in any industry they enter.
The pandemic has heightened awareness of how access to post secondary STEM training can be broadened. From holistic admissions and inclusive retention strategies that promote well-being, through career exploration, launch, and reskilling, institutions offering 4-year colleges and graduate degrees can improve access for students from all backgrounds along the continuum by focusing on the needs of the students they serve. Undergraduate programs can ensure that STEM and non-STEM students receive a balanced education with complementary skills outside their areas of focus. Graduate programs can consider revisiting and revising the graduate model of apprenticeship to support students obtaining roles outside of academia. With these changes in place, graduates will complete their programs as lifelong learners who can translate their expertise to new industries and acquire new skills throughout their career journey as the landscape shifts. Whether another pandemic is on the horizon or not, students at these levels will be prepared for the road ahead.
This webinar dovetails with Toby Smith’s JSPG leadership chat focused on how early career scientists can be involved in shaping the future of science policy. Toby shared his experiences as a legislative assistant at MIT’s Washington Office, where he translated the work of scientists to policymakers and found that students were the most effective advocates for continued funding of scientific research. For early career scientists, he emphasized the importance of getting involved with organizations like AAAS to learn how science policy works, learning how to talk to non-scientists about the importance of science for the public, and in allocating time during graduate training to developing a robust set of professional skills applicable to careers outside of academic research. If you listen to Toby’s remarks during the chat, you will also hear highlights about the origins of the peer review process as the mechanism for determining what science should be funded, and equity-focused alternatives that have been proposed.
Career, Technical, and Community College Education for a Robust STEM Workforce
Webinar community college
Chat with Shalin Jyotishi
What drew you to attend?
In some higher education circles, the importance of career, technical education, and community colleges is not sufficiently addressed. Meanwhile, community colleges make up approximately one third of the undergraduate student population in the US, are lower cost and thus more accessible to students compared to 4 year institutions, are more diverse than their 4 year institution peers, and are important centers for continuing education and professional development. JSPG's choice to intentionally emphasize the importance of community colleges and career and technical training centers to the equitable and accessible development of the STEM workforce drew me to attend this webinar moderated by Shalin Jyotishi, a Senior Analyst in Education and Labor at New America and JSPG’s Senior Advisor. The webinar featured speakers from the federal government, private industry, and importantly community colleges themselves.
Takeaways from speakers
Van Ton-Quilivan shared her former experience as the Executive Vice Chancellor of California Community Colleges, the largest system of higher education in the USA, where she successfully established workforce development as a state priority and recruited expanded public investments in the system. In addition, she shared insights into the workforce demands of the allied healthcare industry with workers who are often trained at community colleges, via certifications, and in the industry itself. She made a convincing argument for the role of community colleges as affordable, accessible, and inclusive destinations for developing competencies for the middle skill STEM technicians, which do not require a 4-year degree, while also serving as a stepping stone into 4 year institutions for students planning to obtain advanced degrees. With over 1200 community colleges in the US, the community college infrastructure already exists to solve workforce development and upskilling challenges at scale in an inclusive and efficient manner.
Amy Kardel offered insights from an information technology perspective, fueled by her wide experience in the sector with Comptia- the computer trade industry association- and as a tech entrepreneur. She identified the importance of retaining diverse talent in STEM, highlighting the leaky pipeline problem which the technology sector faces. She also discussed certifications as a “ticket into tech” which verify worker competencies and can be completed anywhere, including in the US or internationally, in high schools, or community colleges.
Working to assist manufacturing companies grow as part of the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST)’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), Mary Ann Pacelli offered perspectives on the importance of the manufacturing industry in the US. She highlighted that the sector has over 12 million jobs with average earnings between $28-29/hour, but faces a critical challenge of employee recruitment and retention amid the changes brought about by automation. This is exactly where community colleges come into play, as they offer opportunities for short term skill development programs. In addition, she advocated for more young scholars to be exposed to and to consider careers in manufacturing.
The webinar made apparent the need for continued collaboration between industry, community colleges, career and technical education, and other degree granting four year institutions. Young scholars should be exposed to and encouraged to consider STEM careers which are accessible to them via short term training programs, certifications, or associate degrees at community colleges. Data documenting the program outcomes and the employment and earnings of community college program completers may help with student awareness and uptake. Additionally, the existing community college infrastructure in the US is uniquely positioned to support short term upskilling and non-degree credentials. Finally, as Van Ton-Quinlivan implored us, education and workforce development must seek to “follow the siren call” of what employers need while, as Amy Kardel highlighted, intentionally working to retain talent in STEM.
The webinar pairs nicely with Shalin Jyotishi’s JSPG leadership fireside chat focused on shaping education and workforce development. There, Shalin emphasized new models for career preparation of middle skilled workers, reduced use of proxies for skills amid better verifiable records of student learning and competencies, and expanded demand for quality jobs which offer a living wage, benefits, and scheduling predictability. Listen in to the chat for his hopeful message for how the new technologies and the next generation of the US workforce will demand more from both their education and their work.
Chat with Lida Beninson
In addition to the webinar series, the policy writing workshop was meant to equip students, policy fellows, and early career researchers with the skills needed to write effective, innovative and actionable op-eds and policy position papers on STEM education and workforce development. JSPG governing board member Deborah Stine provided instruction on elements needed to construct op-eds and policy position papers, followed by opportunities to practice outlines for writing proposals in breakout rooms.
The workshop pairs nicely with Lida Beninson’s JSPG leadership fireside chat focused on professional development for graduate students and postdocs. There, Lida emphasized reforms needed to support the next generation of scientists and the value which input from early career researchers brings to these reforms. She also discussed university barriers to change, and how early career researchers themselves can take action towards reforms in graduate education through particular organizations and scientific societies.
Early career perspectives expressed in this post reveal the topics that the next generation considers important in STEM education and workforce development, and ways in which they can shape the future of policymaking in this area. Submit your ideas to this issue of JSPG by January 23, 2022!
Post compiled and edited by Adriana Bankston.
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